The Ponoka Stampede Association and our friendly community will proudly roll out the welcome mat as always for its gala 79th showdown from June 24 to July 1. As thousands of rodeo fans from near and far join in on the exciting summer week of family fun, hopefully they will all take a little time to browse around town, stop at the museum and the Rodeo Hall of Farm, and appreciate the humble beginnings of this great sport and keen camaraderie that started right here in our own back yard.
The Chesterwold/Ferrybank Stampede
Most of the early homesteaders who settled in the Chesterwold/Ferrybank district west of Ponoka in the early 1900s were from the United States, but it didn’t take them very long to realize that July 4 would not always be their best day to celebrate way out here in these parts. While the district quickly filled up with new families looking to establish their new homes and livelihood on these lush and rolling prairies, they also decided that, along with all the hard work and chores, there should also be a little time set aside for some good old kick up some dust fun.
The first Chesterwold Community picnic was held on July 4, 1909, but when Jim Winters built the Chesterwold Hall for Pete Cooper in 1910, there would be a dance hall upstairs and some storage for Pete’s Community Store downstairs, which was also used to host special occasions such as pay now and eat all you want suppers and many other events and family gatherings. These small picnics became an annual get-together, but then in 1914 a community ‘work bee’ was organized and a half-mile race track was cleared and graded, as well as a refreshment booth, a small grandstand, and a ‘bucking’ corral were built, and then the very first Chesterwold Stampede was under way. Contestants and spectators attended from far and wide, and many people, including Dr. Campbell and his sister, travelled by buggy and team all the way from Ponoka, 27 miles away. The list of sports for this rootin’-tootin’ family event was very impressive, and included half mile races for horses and men, relay races, saddle and Roman races, bronc riding, ladies’ horse race, children’s races, and baseball and basketball games.
The Chesterwold Stampede started at 10 a.m. sharp and continued all day until supper time at the hall, followed by a dance until the wee hours, with music provided by the district band under the direction of Mr. Johansen. The Alberta Women’s Institute handled the booth, and served delicious ‘down home’ evening and midnight suppers, with all of the proceeds going to the Red Cross War Relief funds, as well as for prize money for the many exciting events. When Jake Santee later bought Peter Cooper’s holdings, he hired master carpenter Jim Winters to build a large barn that could stable 26 horses, which became a great convenience for the folks of the district, especially for the winter dances, to which everyone attended on horseback or team. Santee charged 25 cents to shelter the team (without hay) and two bits extra for feed.
Contestants and teams for the many Stampede events came from far and wide, and all received wild cheers from the large crowds for their efforts. Among the riders in the half mile race were Frances and Cliff Clayton, Marcus Crandall, and George Rook, with the young Crandall always winning by a ‘country mile.’ The newest and most thrilling event of the Chesterwold showdown was the Roman Race, where brave young men stood on the back of two horses, hung on tight to the reins, and then dashed around the track at great speeds. J.C. Lee and son Carl and Earl Clark were the first Roman Racers in Central Alberta, and continued to race into the 1930s at stampedes in Jasper, Ferrybank, and throughout the province, with Earl Clark becoming some-what of a rodeo hero and district daredevil.
In the ladies’ horse races, such names as Nettie Clark, Madge Doran, Florence Larsen of Brightview, Josie Haney, Nettie and Marie Unland became crowd favourites, with Maggie Doran being the toughest and sassiest lady to beat. If one looks back in the old books of the Chesterwold Stampede, you will find names of the colorful cowboys and characters that entered into the bucking contests, which included Guy Kirk, Earl Clark, George McKeddie, Bob and Cecil (Buster) Doran, the Aylwin boys out of Ponoka (George Bill and Tom), the Zachery and Larsen boys from Brightview, MacMillan from Battle Lake, and many other ranch hands who showed up on the weekends to test those rugged broncs. Out at Ferrybank in the later years when the bucking chutes were in place, cowboys like George McKeddie, the Doran boys, Ollie Armstrong, Stan Caithness, Rutherford, Preston, and many others became stars, and many went on to make the ‘big time’ on the Alberta Rodeo circuit in search of a trophy buckle, saddle, and a little cash. Another exciting and dusty addition to the stampede scene were the cart races, and some of the great drivers included George McKeddie, Tom and Len Dorchester, Ray Graham, Ray Tompkins, Earl and Buster Doran, and many other colorful rein men with their rank and speedy horses.
In 1919, the school section was sold, so the popular stampede moved to a spot near the Ferrybank Hall, where the Dakota Junior UFA took over the food booth and did a booming business selling hot dogs, coffee, ice cream and soft drinks for 5 cents. After 24 great years of hosting this popular family event in the countryside, the last classic Chesterwold/Ferrybank Stampede was held on July 1, 1938. When the Ponoka Sport’s Association decided to host their two-day Stampede and Fair centred around the Dominion Day weekend, former legendary rodeo star George McKeddie took over the job as manager of the very first Ponoka Show in 1936, and the rest is history. There were countless individuals and families who were avidly involved as participants and promoters of rodeo and wagon racing in those colorful early years of our past, and this keen enthusiasm, spirit, and grit has carried on through several generations in our town and districts to keep giving avid fans that great western heritage, spills, and thrills that we love to cheer throughout each sizzling summer.