Fans, protesters assemble at Montreal's urban rodeo

Hundreds of people, enthusiasts and protesters alike, were at Montreal's Old Port Thursday evening for the start of Nomadfest Urban Rodeo, a rodeo and country music festival that has drawn the ire of many in recent months.

Rodeo festival includes four rodeos, gourmet food and musical acts

Montreal's urban rodeo, Nomadfest, started Thursday amid protests. (Radio-Canada)

Hundreds of people, enthusiasts and protesters alike, were at Montreal's Old Port Thursday evening for the start of Nomadfest Urban Rodeo, a rodeo and country music festival that has drawn the ire of many in recent months.

Nomadfest calls itself a "contemporary rodeo festival, where country music, western-inspired gourmet food and equestrian competitions comingle." 

It is organized by the same group that runs the annual western festival in Saint-Tite, Que., and is being held at the Old Port's Jacques Cartier Pier as part of Montreal's 375th anniversary celebrations. It runs until Sunday.

At least two animal rights groups — Association Terriens and the Kebek Animal Rights Association — are protesting every day of the rodeo at the pier.

"Our main reasons for opposing it are that the rodeo is essentially making its money and profit off of individuals who are being used," said one of the protests' organizers Christina Vassilatos. 

Christina Vassilatos says the very idea of a rodeo is harmful to animals because of its aim to profit using them as entertainment. (CBC)

She said she purposefully referred to animals as individuals because "they want to feel a sense of security and safety, and rodeos put them in dangerous situations."

Sylvain Bourgeois, who is a producer with Nomadfest, told CBC News none of the equipment used is meant to cause animals pain or discomfort. He said it's to "tell them it's time to work."
Sylvain Bourgeois, a Nomadfest producer, says animals are well taken care of and are not harmed in the rodeo activities. (CBC)

If it were too tight, they wouldn't be able to move as much, he said, adding the animals are taught to buck when a rider is on them from a young age, with the use of a dummy at first.

"We dont want to hurt them," Bourgeois said Thursday. "We want them to perform so we make sure they like what they're doing."

Mayor unwavering in support for event

Despite calls to cancel the rodeo, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has been steadfast in insisting the show will go on. 

Thursday, at a news conference about the storm that wreaked havoc on Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Coderre said, "good for them!" when asked about the protests. "I heard Kiefer Sutherland is going to be there."

The actor recently turned singer-songwriter is one of the festival's musical acts, performing Saturday. 

Vassilatos says she feels the entire premise of rodeos is "essentially touching [animals] in areas that they don't like to be touched."

Two animal rights groups have organized "anti-rodeo vigils" for each day of Nomadfest. (Julie Marceau/Radio-Canada)

The SPCA, which is not involved in the protests, has also condemned Montreal's rodeo, calling it "barbaric" and saying it subjects animals to "stress and suffering solely for the purpose of so-called 'entertainment.'"

It also questioned the rodeo's link to the city's anniversary celebrations. 

Rodeo enthusiast Chris Harrison was heading into the event when he was approached by the protesters. 

"It doesn't change much for me, I'm going to keep going to rodeos," Harrison told CBC News. 
An animal rights advocate protesting outside Montreal's urban rodeo, Nomadfest, speaks with rodeo-goer Chris Harrison and his girlfriend. (CBC)

"But I don't think the population here is ready for it, I can see they really seem to oppose it here."

He said holding a rodeo in Montreal was unique and that he hoped it would help popularize the type of event in Quebec, but that if it doesn't stick, "we'll go to the United States instead."

The protests are being dedicated to a six-year-old horse, Grady, who died earlier this year during the Saint-Tite rodeo.

Grady collapsed suddenly in May with an apparent spinal injury, ejecting his rider. A report by the Université de Montréal veterinary faculty in July said the horse may have had a genetic malformation that weakened its vertebrae.

with files from Jaela Bernstien, Navneet Pall and Antoni Nerestant

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