Remember when we were kids and you had to get up real early and rush down town to get a perfect spot to watch the Ponoka Stampede parade, rain or shine, but hopefully hot and sunny? It was a real thrill if we were entering our decorated bike or wagon in the parade or had been asked to ride on a float and smile and wave at everyone for two hours, and believe it or not, some of us were even brave enough to volunteer to walk with a shovel and wagon along the three-mile long route to work as the ‘Pooper Scoopers..
You might have to sit on the edge of the sidewalk or perch up on a planter for a while, but it was worth it because it was the best place to get close and personal with the parade to be able catch all the candy and treats that used to be tossed from the folks on the floats, as well as occasionally getting soaked by the guys and gals with the water blasters. Towards the end of the parade, we ran to stay near the front so we could be the first kids to get up to the exciting midway on the grounds. For so many thousands of people of all ages who always love watching those colorful and glitzy parades, we will always cheer for our favourite entries, including horses and riders, antique or hot-rod cars,trucks or motorcycles, flashy floats, kids on bikes, sports teams, Glen Crandall’s rumbling early steam tractor displays, native dancers, 4-H, firetrucks, convertibles full of celebrities, marching bands, clowns, and all the rest. Along the way, we will always get right into the Stampede and we love Canada spirit by watching the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in traditional costume carrying our flags and leading the way on their magnificent horses. Over the years, our friendly community has welcomed honorary guest parade marshalls such as John Diefenbaker, Shaun Johnston and many others.
The theme of the 2016 Ponoka Stampede Parade, which will start from the recreation omplex on Thursday, June 30 at 10 a.m. sharp is ‘8-decades of Stampede legends’ in the colorful era from 1936-2016. Along with the thrilling seven days of rodeo, chuckwagons and all the other family hoopla going on every day up at the grounds and around town, the gala 2016 event will salute many generations of Ponoka Stampede contestants and families, along with the officials, and founding and serving P.S.A. members, as well as thousands of faithful volunteers, sponsors and fans over the past 80 great years in and around our community.
A long and colourful history
It would be about the time when there got to be at least one settler for roughly every 20 coyotes around 1900 that the hardy pioneers in this area started holding annual picnics out at Ferrybank and countless other districts. Just for fun those free-spirited families from in and around Ponoka started arranging many other sports events that included pony/chariot and Roman races, bronco busting, horseracing, foot races, ball and basketball games, and on and on. The Ponoka Sports’ Association was formed in the 1930s to organize an annual one-day summer fair in downtown Ponoka, which included concession stands, games of chance, a horse-drawn Merry-Go-Round, and of course a gala parade.
Between 1932 and 1936, the annual summer family event grew so quickly that it was moved up to the present location on the big hill at the south end of town, and the first official Ponoka Stampede was held in early July 1936 under the direction of George McKeddie and the first board of directors. In those early days, the parade was formed in the Canadian Pacific Railway Depot parking lot on 50 Avenue, and then wound its way around town and headed up to the Stampede grounds, where the judges were waiting to view all the entries and hand out all the prizes in front of the jam-packed bleachers. It cost 25 cents a carload to park up in the grounds, which filled up fast with the rest being sent to the ball diamonds just below the hill.
After the parade had dispersed, the rodeo and races got underway in front of the grandstands, while out on the grounds the midway offered rides, games of chance to win a prize for your sweetheart, as well as mom’s cooking and treats for all ages. There was the boomerang, tilta-whirl, aerial joy ride, and Ferris wheel for the dare-devils, as well as cars, a miniature train, the merry-go-round, and a fun-house for the youngsters. When the sun went down the mid-way was flooded in sparkling lights, and then later in the evening everyone headed to the curling rink for the wind-up dance of yet another exciting Ponoka Stampede…a wild and wonderful community tradition that just keeps on going and growing.