Champions descend on the 75th Ponoka Stampede for reunion

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The Doran family is synonymous with rodeo in Alberta. Seen here are Darren Doran

The Doran family is synonymous with rodeo in Alberta. Seen here are Darren Doran

CHARLES TWEED/Ponoka News

If you’ve ever won and become a champion at the Ponoka Stampede, you’re a champion for life.

The Champions Dinner was held at the Stagecoach Saloon June 27 where stories flowed like the cowboy ties from 1936.

George Myren, from Viking, has been back every year since 1952 and his two bareback championships, two saddle bronc championships and a steer wrestling championship are a testament to his talent as a cowboy but Myren said there’s a lot of reasons cowboys still make time for the Ponoka Stampede.

“It’s like a family reunion, these guys are like family. It’s so nice because we are all gathered in one place. You go to other rodeos and people go their different ways and stay in different places,” said Myren. “There’ll be lots of good stories told and there has been already. They treat us like kings here.”

Myren recalled when he got Reg Gibson, a singer with the CBC, to come out to the Stampede.

“We took him fishing and dunked him in the creek and taught him the ways of the West. I think we might have gotten him into trouble with the CBC but he wanted to see what it was like,” said Myren.

Duane Daines won the saddle bronc riding in the early 1990s, his wife is a former barrel racer, and his daughter will compete on Thursday. For Daines, rodeo is all about family, and the Ponoka Stampede is the greatest collection of his extended family he sees once a year.

“There’s a lot of stories coming out and there’s four or five generations of cowboys in here today. The stories just get a little better each year,” said Daines with a smile. “It’s one of the best rodeos in Canada and there is so much tradition. They treat everyone really good and treat the cowboys good. They put up big money and get great stock.”

Norman Edge, from Cochrane, won the bullriding event twice in the late 1950s and comes by his cowboy name honestly.

“I’m not related to the Edges from Ponoka but we knew them real good and in fact their grandfather was named Norman Edge and my dad named me after him,” said Edge. “You always see some guys you haven’t seen for a long time here in Ponoka.”

Edge said it had been a while since he had been in front of a rodeo crowd and thought the experience would be fun.

“I don’t think I’ll get on a bull tonight but this is a good gathering of friends,” said Edge.

He believes the sport of rodeo has endured many changes in its history.

“The money is so much bigger, we used to win $200 and now it’s at least $2,000 and the stock is so good now. There are some real rank ones and before you never knew if you were gonna get a bucker but now the contractors make sure they are all buckers,” said Edge.

Darrel Doran was at the dinner with his brother and two sisters, representing Ed Doran, one of the original cowboys who started it all.

“It started in the Ferrybank area and dad competed back in the original stampedes in the ’30s,” said Doran. “It’s nice to catch up with everyone that we grew up riding with. I’m glad, especially for my father, that his name will be recognized and it would make him awful proud. It means a lot.”

That pride and hard work has grown into the largest seven-day rodeo in Ponoka and Shorty Jones has been a big part of carrying on the legacy local cowboys have left behind.

“The guys did a hell of job to bring back all of the people who have won before. It speaks for itself, the people come back and they want to come back,” said Jones. “Ponoka gets people because they know they’re gonna see a great show, even that’s why the old-timers come back.”

Jones said 1954 stands out in his mind as a watershed moment for the Stampede and really took the show to the next level.

Ryan Byrne will watch his son Tanner, who just won the Jace Harty Memorial Bull Riding Event, compete during the Stampede and believes in his career as a bullfighter, there is no better rodeo than the Ponoka Stampede.

“I said to a guy here that I haven’t seen in a while that I never had a real job till I was 45 and the great part is I had the advantage of being with my kids and being around rodeo the whole time,” said Byrne.

“This is the greatest rodeo going because they have never forgot about the cowboy and the western way and it’s a great honor to come back here.”

Byrne believes there’s good reason why every world champion comes to Ponoka and it was something he imparted on his sons growing up.

“You can’t beat the atmosphere here and the thing with cowboys is we’re athletes and we take pride in what we do and we take the time to meet the fans and let everyone be involved because that’s how we get more cowboys and they always get that right here,” said Byrne. “When Jesse first started bullfighting I said if there was one rodeo you had to get in your whole career it was Ponoka and once you get it you’ll never want to leave there.”

A champion is a champion is a champion and if you care what happens in that infield beside Highway 53, you’ll always be a champion at the Ponoka Stampede.