Originally from the Spanish verb rodear, the word rodeo is commonly interpreted in English as the round up of livestock. The word was initially pronounced ro-day-o; however, it was later anglicized and acquired the pronunciation ro-dee-o. The term refers to the public demonstration of cowboy skills, which often accompanied celebrations, carnivals, and exhibitions.
Rodeo was first introduced in North American by the Mexican Vaqueros. In the late 1680s, these primitive cowboys gradually began to move north from the Hispanic territories, spreading their heritage and influencing the development of the cowboy life style in the United States and Canada. In the latter half of the 1880s, the Vaqueros' traditions, from which rodeo originated, rapidly matured in the Canadian prairies. The cowboy lifestyle was ideal for Alberta's countryside, which was dominated by wide plains and grasslands optimal for ranching and farming. During Sunday gatherings or holiday celebrations, men and women, most commonly referred as cowboys and cowgirls, would participate in informal rodeo events and competitions to refine their skills and test their ability.
The first recognized Canadian rodeo was held in 1903 in Raymond, Alberta when Raymond Knight sponsored and promoted a rodeo competition called the Raymond Stampede. It was not until 1912, when Guy Weadick, and four major investors, created the Calgary Stampede that rodeo began to attract several Alberta sports fans and spectators. Reassured by the outstanding success of the Calgary & Raymond Stampedes, other cities and towns in Alberta organized their own rodeos and festivals. World War I temporarily delayed the successful development of rodeo competitions in western Canada. However in 1919, Weadick's Victory Stampede, dedicated to retuning soldiers, reintroduced rodeo to Canadian sports fans.
In 1929, women's rodeo events suffered a major setback due to the unfortunate bronc riding accident and subsequent death of a famous American cowgirl. Tthis caused the Rodeo Association of America (RAA) to issue a regulation banning women from participating in rodeo competitions. In 1936, American and Canadian cowboys protested against the overpriced cowboy entry fee introduced by the RAA and rodeo producers. The cowboys involved in the protest staged the first strike in rodeo history at the Boston Garden Rodeo and formed the Cowboys Turtle Association (CTA) with the goal of organizing and representing cowboys as independent athletes.
By the late 1930s, several investors and businessmen began to sponsor rodeo events, transforming rodeo into a profitable career. In 1934, the annual average earnings of a cowboy were between $2,000 and $3,000, well above the standard salary for teachers and close to that of dentists'. By the end of World War II, the Cowboys Turtle Association and the Rodeo Association of America were merged and the Rodeo Cowboy Association (RCA) was formed. The RCA became one of the first sports' associations to have both athletes and managers as representative, therefore protecting the interests of both sides.
In the 1950s, the RCA began to promote the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) to determine world champion cowboys and cowgirls. Several Albertan rodeo schools, some founded in the late 1930s, experienced a boost in the number of enrolments. From 2005 onward, the RCA introduce a regulation stating that only the top fifteen cowboys who earned at least $100,000 in the course of the rodeo season could compete in the NFR.
Rodeo events were often accompanied by demonstrative chuckwagon races. These competitions were initially exhibition competitions, held in between rodeo events, to give cowboys enough time to prepare for the following competitions. However, in the late 1990s, this sport began to branch away from rodeo competitions, obtaining several sponsors and fans.
Chuckwagon races were introduced into the 1923 Calgary Stampede after Guy Weadick witnessed a similar competition at the Gleichen Stampede in Gleichen, Alberta. After the foundation of the Northern Chuckwagon Association (NCA) in 1997, chuckwagon racing gradually transitioned away from rodeo. The NCA was founded by the chuckwagon committees of Lloydminster, Pierceland, and Meadow Lake, and in 2000 this association became known as the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA). Through the years, the CPCA introduced safety equipment for drivers, penalties for dangerous driving, and covered wagons with a minimum weight of 1325 pounds. Another notable chuckwagon organization was the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) formed in 1986 by a group of successful businessmen and chuckwagon drivers. In 2011, this organization began promoting the GMC Pro Tour as the world championship of chuckwagon racing. In this event, competitors raced for thirty-eight days in eight cities across Canada, attracting over one hundred thousand fans per night. The popularity of this event sparked the production of a television reality series called the Half Mile of Hell. This television program aired from 2005 to 2007 on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) and in 2008, Zoom Communications took the series online, transforming it into a video-integrated website called Half Mile of Hell.com
Chuckwagon competitions were races between four teams consisting of a driver and, in some competitions, one to four outriders. The driver controlled a team of four horses pulling a chuckwagon, while the outriders were responsible for tossing a barrel and two tarped tent poles into the back of the chuckwagon. Each team of wagon and outriders then raced figure eight pattern around barrels in the infield and once around the track to the finish line. The running time of each chuckwagon was then recorded; with the addition of any time penalties for infractions committed during the race. Infractions ranged from minor penalties for starting ahead of the barrel at the starting horn, to major safety infractions such as wagon interference or hitting another wagon.
The following timeline provides a brief account of the development of rodeo and chuckwagon racing in Alberta. Significant achievements of Albertan cowboys and major rodeo organizations are also recorded.