Our area is rich in natural history. Dating back to the end of the last century, the Stampede or “Sports” (as many old timers refer to it), has been an integral part of that history.
The North West Mounted Police (WMP) set up an outpost across the creek to the east of us in 1874. After Sitting Bull and his people crossed the “Medicine Line” in 1877, that small outpost had the attention of every bureaucrat in North America.
But that’s another story. You are at the “Wood Mountain Sports”. You are a part Canada’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo. Webster defines rodeo – “a public exhibition of cowboy skills”. As early as 1890, the NWNP promoted the “Sports” to celebrate Dominion Day. They invited local ranchers and cowboys to participate. In the early years the action consisted of foot races, ball games and horse races. The sport of rodeo was evolving during this period and it became the natural event to put on at the Sports.
By 1899 a Turf Club was organized to promote horse racing in the south country. By 1890, Wood Mountain was horse ranching country, and although bustin’ broncs was a part of life, it did not become part of the Wood Mountain Races until 1905. A jackpot was incentive for a few of the young cowboys to show their stuff. There were no chutes or corrals, only hazers to prevent the broncs from bucking into the bush. As interest grew in the bucking contest, the Club decided to award prize money.
At a time when the horse was the main mode of transportation in western Canada, it is not surprising that horse racing was the main feature at the Wood Mountain celebrations. Great pride was taken in owning fast horses and competition was keen to find out who owned the fastest ones. While the first races were run on the open prairie, by 1925 a tract and a judging stand were in place. Not long after racing stables and a grandstand which afforded a better view of the finish line were constructed. Racing continued as part of the Sports until the 1960s.
The Wood Mountain Turf Club was incorporated as a non-profit company in 1925. The purpose of the Club was to conduct sports of all kinds – rodeo, horse racing, ball games, and so on. The Club obtained a lease on the same site where the arena is presently located. To the facilities already on site – bucking chutes, race track, ball diamonds and bowery, the Club added a grandstand and stables.
Under the direction of the Turf Club the Wood Mountain Sports, as it was called, became one the main attractions in southern Saskatchewan. Crowds of 15,000 people were reported. The convenience of the automobile contributed to the high attendance. Campers stayed for a week and a circle of cars outlined the race track.
When Sitting Bull left Canada in 1881, a few Sioux families stayed behind. They lived here and there in the winter, but each summer they returned to Wood Mountain. When they were granted a reserve in 1911 at Wood Mountain, then began taking part in the races and the rodeos. By 1920, they organized an Indian Parade and a PowWow in the bowery. Their native costumes and dances added color to the Sports through the years.
Then came 1930 and hard times. Directors had to dig in their own pockets to keep the Club going. From 1931 to 1947, the Sports & Stampede was sometimes put on by the Turf Club, but more often by enterprising individuals.
In 1947, the Turf Club was reorganized as the Recreational Club with the objective of providing recreation in the community. Its main interest was the rodeo but the Club became involved in other ways. One of its first projects was to buy a CPR bridge east of Fir Mountain and with volunteer labour working under the direction of Tony Westergard (President), the timbers were used to rebuild the corrals and grandstand. The also Club built a swimming pool on its leased holdings.
The years from 1960 to 1990 were stable years for the Wood Mountain Stampede. In 1995, the Wood Mountain Recreational Club became incorporated as a non-profit company.
Little Britches Rodeo – Champions of the Future
Recognizing the difficulty for kids to get into rodeo competition, the Little Britches Rodeo has been held in conjunction with the Stampede since 1973.
Little Britches is a vital component of the sport of rodeo, playing much the same role as juvenile hockey and little league baseball do in their respective sports. Little Britches provides the opportunity for young people to get a feel for rodeo competition without having to pay a high entry fee and go up against the seasoned veterans of the CCA or CPRA. In 1983 the South Saskatchewan Little Britches Rodeo Association was formed.