Veteran stampeders teach newcomers about cowboy culture

Veteran stampeders are using second-hand cowboy hats and history lessons to teach newcomers about cowboy culture.

Stampede partners with settlement organizations to welcome first-time attendees

Calf ropers gather before the start of rodeo action at the Calgary Stampede. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Veteran stampeders are using second-hand cowboy hats and history lessons to teach newcomers about cowboy culture.

The Calgary Stampede has been working alongside settlement organizations including the Centre for Newcomers to welcome first-time stampeders to this year's event. 

"The Stampede is really holding onto its roots and traditions but it's also looking forward," said Todd Hawkwood, chair of the Stampede's community projects development committee. 

"And how do we keep everyone coming feeling included, feeling like this is part of their community celebration?" 

For Hawkwood, creating an inclusive Stampede means teaching newcomers about the event and its employment and volunteer opportunities. 

'It's more than midways'

The Stampede created an outreach committee to lead community projects during its centennial year in 2013. 

In preparation for this year's event, volunteers helped organize Stampede 101, a primer on what to expect of the event and how to get involved as a newcomer. 

"We really try to talk to them, that it's more than beer gardens, it's more than midways — that there's a heart and soul, there's a history of the ag barns, of the rodeo, the chuckwagons, the community coming together," Hawkwood said. 

Many volunteers have also donated gently-used western wear to the Centre for Newcomers' clothing drives. 

Anila Lee Yuen, president and CEO of the Centre for Newcomers, said the partnership has been instrumental in helping new Calgarians overcome social isolation in their new home. 

"The most surprising thing has been how similar western heritage values and the cowboy code and the values of the Calgary Stampede are to so many newcomer cultures and that's because of the collective nature of many newcomer communities," Lee Yuen said. 

Immigrants make up 29% of Calgary population

Calgarians hail from more than 200 different ethnic origins.

The city houses the fourth largest number of immigrants of all Canadian cities, after Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — with immigrants making up 29 per cent of its population. 

By 2020, Calgary's immigrant population is estimated to reach almost half-a-million. 

Todd Hawkwood says many newcomers he's met are eager to both work and volunteer at the Stampede. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Hawkwood said the newcomer response to the Stampede has been overwhelmingly positive, with new Calgarians eager to learn about the tradition and the ways they can get involved and get their kids involved in youth programs. 

Earlier this week he led a tour of the grounds for a group of young newcomers from the Philippines, Thailand, Tibet, Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan.

He said the group was curious about all the traditions, including the reason attendees wear red bandanas — a question Hawkwood didn't know the answer to. 

A Stampede attendee dons a cowboy hat on the midway. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

"We found out the red bandana comes from the days of the carnies and the circus and the traveling rodeo shows. That was a sign of solidarity for the workers and they wear them," Hawkwood said. 

The Stampede encourages newcomers to wear cowboy hats when they participate, he said.

That's what his eastern European immigrant grandmother wore to her first Stampede decades ago, and what Hawkwood said made her feel at home in the city.

"She rubbed shoulders with her fellow Calgarians and celebrated where she lives." 

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


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