Marriage of Cowboys, Dolls, Bicycles and Chopsticks

It’s culture shock when I return from sushi, salmon and ocean in Vancouver, to yeehaw hijinks of the Calgary Stampede. The Stampede is Canada’s annual and biggest bash on bucking rodeo sports, country western music and cowboy culture.

Cowgirl dolls --not your typical doll. Some paraphernalia at a local cowboy culture and accessories store.  Calgary AB.
Cowgirl dolls –not your typical doll. Some paraphenalia at a local cowboy culture and accessories store. Calgary AB.

Let’s face it, in the 21st century, there aren’t a lot of true cowboys and cowgirls in Calgary. More likely, there are just more Calgarians compared to other big Canadian cities, who own, ride horses or have keener interest in the equestrian world. Otherwise, it’s locals and tourists who like prancing around with their cowboy hats and butt-kicking leather cowboy boots for 10 days during the Stampede.

Line-ups at one of several free community breakfasts during Calgary Stampede. Photo by J. Chong 2014.
Line-ups at one of several free community breakfasts during Calgary Stampede. Photo by J. Chong 2014.

Cowboy Reality, Marketing and Myth
There is no other Canadian big city that flashes and struts a cowboy image to entice you to visit or buy a local product. It’s a myth that is nearly irresistibly ripe for fun, sexual inneundo and bravado in the marketing of Calgary.

Calgary Police wear their black Stetson hats as part of their year round uniform patrol attire. Photo by J. Chong 2014. Note: Horse patrol like most major Canadian cities, is only used for large crowd events and not often.

At times, you end up with some intriguing or well, head-turning efforts to integrate a piece of cowboy culture –year round. The Calgary Police all wear black Stetson cowboy hats –year round as part of their patrol uniform. Or a local

Local marching band's attire requires a black Stetson cowboy hat --year round. Calgary AB May 2014.
Local marching band’s attire requires a black Stetson cowboy hat –year round. Calgary AB May 2014.

marching band play their instruments with their cowboy hats, and boots in parades and elsewhere, on their tours as the city’s music ambassadors.

Calgary Fiddlers, a local group that plays a range of toe-tapping music year round. Photo courtesy of D. Schwenk 2014, an enthusiastic Calgarian blogger. Visit her blog.

Meanwhile there’s a popular group of young adults, playing a different strain of toe-tapping music, the Calgary Fiddlers who combine cowboy attire and Cape Breton Island, Eastern Canadian Maritime fiddle tunes.

Boot leather finery for fancy cowgirls.  Calgary, AB 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Boot leather finery for fancy cowgirls. Calgary, AB 2014. Photo by J. Chong

Bikes for Windows, But Not Much for Cowboy Wandering
Window dressing during the Stampede or ways just to kick up shoppers out of doldrums, means  creative attempts for cowboy celebration. What is possible, but not frequent, is the marriage of bicycles and cowboy/cowgirl. While some cowboy culture dressing does happen on a local fun bike ride during Cyclepalooza, one still doesn’t

Cowgirl decked mannequin astride an artfully wired bike art. A cheeky claim on a cowboy stud. Calgary AB 2014.
Cowgirl decked mannequin astride an artfully wired bike art. A cheeky claim on a cowboy stud. Calgary AB 2014.

see many Stampede celebrants hop on and off bikes at pancake, rodeo or pub events. Guess cycling is for wussies in the eyes of many locals. Dilutes the image of tough swaggering cowboy or sexy cowgirl. We’ll see in a few years.

Pedal-powered bike chuckwagon --for festival small load work and garbage container pickup. Calgary AB 2014.
Bike powered chuckwagon –for festival small loads and garbage container pickup by weaving amongst crowds. Calgary AB. Photo by J. Chong 2014.

There are some cowboy-themed and equestrian accessory shops in town. These are just fun places for the horse-cowboy initiated or just observers who have never sat on a horse. There’s loads of crazy, fun paraphernalia to try on or amuse for an hour or so.

Local attire and accessories shop serving real and urban cowboys. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Local attire and accessories shop serving real and urban cowboys. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Some cowboys can use chopsticks — sort of. Ad for a local Chinese-Canadian cuisine restaurant chain. Chinese family owner is originally from Guatemala.
Cowboy entertainer just finished bull-whipping a dandelion flower from top his head.  Street performance was a month long after Stampede was over. Calgary AB 2013. Phot by J. Chong
Cowboy entertainer just finished bull-whipping a dandelion flower from top his head. Street performance was a month long after Stampede was over. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

However you look backward in time, there are also honorable people and artifacts that do grace the whole historic trajectory of cowboy riding or just plain horse riding as work and people living a horse-dependent lifestyle.

A permanent museum exhibit honouring Calgary's ranching and cowboy history. Background features display of late 1800's black couple, Mildred and John Ware who owned and farmed their own ranch --a rarity for any Canadian black during that era. John was highly respected for his horse bronco riding, handling and cattle roping skills. His wife, a genteel woman from the East taught her husband to read and write. Glenbow Museum, Calgary 2013. Photo by J. Chong.
A permanent museum exhibit honouring Calgary’s ranching and cowboy history. Background features display of late 1800’s black couple, Mildred and John Ware who owned and farmed their own ranch –a rarity for any Canadian black during that era. John was highly respected for his horse bronco riding, handling and cattle roping skills. His wife, a genteel woman from the East taught her husband to read and write. Glenbow Museum, Calgary 2013. Photo by J. Chong.
Sign outside women's fashion clothing store. Calgary, AB 2014.
Sign outside women’s fashion clothing store. Calgary, AB 2014.

I think of John Ware, one of the rare black men in Calgary in the 1800’s who gained respect for his cattle roping and eventually owned his own farm. Or the nomadic Plains Indians who have an even longer tradition of horse husbandry and transportation. There is much to celebrate for real cowboy horsemanship , (or dressage for a less rough ‘n tumble exercise), hard work and even risky rodeo sports, despite our urban myth-making of cowboy culture.

So hold onto your horses because you ain’t seen nothing yet, when it comes to cowboy culture.

Note:  This  post embeds some alternative cowboy culture, local scenes  and unusual marketing ploys  –some with non-white people which is not featured much at all  in marketing of  Calgary cowboy prairie culture. Calgary’s population has become diverse over the past decade since it is Canada’s fastest growing city at this time.  But you wouldn’t know it from the cowboy tourism imagery.

A rare year when annual Calgary Stampede poster  featured a female horse rider. Most years predominantly male horse riders / cowboys. An occasional male-woman couple on horse graces some years. Permanent historic poster display by a transit station. Calgary AB.
A rare year when annual Calgary Stampede poster featured a female horse rider. Most years predominantly male horse riders / cowboys. An occasional male-woman couple on horses graces some years. Permanent historic poster display by a transit station. Calgary AB.
Symons Valley Ranch Farmers' Market on northern suburban edges of Calgary. Photo by J.Chong 2013.  Market is site of a former ranch.
Symons Valley Ranch Farmers’ Market on northern suburban edges of Calgary. Photo by J.Chong 2013. Year-round market is site of a former ranch.
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25 Comments Add yours

  1. Sue Slaght says:

    What a great collection of photos in those posts. Definitely thought provoking around increasing diversity in the marketing of the Calgary cowboy/cowgirl. I enjoyed reading this very much Jean.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Maybe this might water down Western Canadian cowboy culture and history: one could um..include cowboy traditions/performers from South America or Mongolia. Mongolians are very horsey in their culture and children learn to ride from 3 yrs. and up.

      But gets a bit boring of the same ol’ thing for the marketing, year after year.

      Thx for your visits always, Sue!

      Like

  2. A great post Jean. I don’t go onto the stampede grounds anymore during the stampede, but I love dressing cowgirl for those 10 days each year!

    Thank you so much for linking to my blog ❤
    Diana xo

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      I was checking out the cowboy hats since supposedly they should be cheaper after the Stampede. Maybe in 6 months. As for cowgirl boots, wow the pricing on some boots can be fearsome expensive! And they aren’t even lined for cold weather wear (which I could only justify hefty price tag over $200.00).

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      1. I paid $225 for my boots 5 years ago. Got them at the Alberta Boot Company. They are made well and locally, designed to last a life-time!

        I had a pair that lasted 10 years, I left them in BC, I bet they would have still been good. You pay a lot yes, but they mold to your feet and become the most comfortable footwear you’ll own!

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        1. Jean says:

          Actually I wanted to visit the Alberta Boot Co., just to shoot some photos since they are a local, long-time company making the boot. But I was eager to get this blog post out. A dizzying array of boot finishes and frippery for cowgirls.

          Admittedly it was a huge leap for me to pay over $200.00 for leather winter, pile lined boots. So cowboy boots would be another bigger leap OR studded winter bike tires for better grip on snow. 🙂

          Like

        2. velovoiceblogspot says:

          +1, Diana.

          I bought my first pair of cowboy boots in 1992, at a western outfitters in Eugene, Oregon. I think I paid USD120. I do remember I paid on layover over a couple of months. I was 24 years old. My brothers (much older) advised me: try on as many pairs of boots as possible – you’ll know the ones meant for you! They’ll mold to your feet and be the most comfortable footwear you’ll ever wear – pretty much word for word what you just said.

          And they were right. I wore those boots 22 years. Completely wore them out. It was really difficult to go shopping for new ones as I’d loved those ones so much. But finally did, a couple of years ago on a visit to Rock Springs, Wyoming. The new ones look completely different (brown suede with coloured stitching on the shaft vs. the old ones being shiny black with black stitching) but I love ’em.

          Like

          1. I hear ya! We are kindred spirits, you and I, on this issue!

            Like

  3. Lani says:

    I would have loved Calgary. I wanted to immigrate to Canada about 10 years ago, and I was definitely considering this area. In fact, I think I would have liked Canada as a whole! I’ve only been to Vancouver and I loved it! Anyway, I really dig cowboy culture, so this was an interesting post. Cheers 🙂

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      What made you prefer Canada instead of staying America at that time? A lot of Americans see Canada as “American Lite” because we lack the gun culture mentality, etc. Calgary is definitely different than Vancouver in ambiance and cultural history. Vancouver is actually…closer to Hawai’i in terms of people. That’s how I felt when I went to Hawaiian Islands twice. 🙂 Lani, I can imagine you having fun in cowboy hat and boots.

      Like

      1. Lani says:

        At the time, I was seriously involved with a man without a college degree, and Canada has this “point” system for immigrating, and we fell short b/c of this. We probably would have done it if the process wasn’t so complicated. We also looked at New Zealand, too.

        Hahaha. Cowboy boots are cool, but nobody needs them spurs!!!

        Like

        1. Jean says:

          Maybe I should have offered him a job to increase the score. LOL…when I was trying to find a job myself at the time. Filing immigration papers is complex and can be several years wait to get an answer from the Canadian govn’t.

          Spurs are cruel and yes, unnecessary when riding a trained horse.

          Like

  4. livelytwist says:

    It’s nice to read about other cultures. This cracked me up though;

    “Some cowboys can use chopsticks — sort of.” 😀

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      How could I not blog about that funny ad, livelytwist?! Looks like a Photoshop job for that chopsticking handling act. 🙂

      Like

  5. Rita Azar says:

    Never went to Calgary but, I have to admit that since I learned about The Stampede in primary school in my English class (yep, that’s what they use to teach in English classes in Quebec!) it’s actually on my bucket list.
    You made me laugh re: “Chinese family owner is originally from Guatemala.”

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      I guess cowboy culture event is more captivating than other Calgary history stuff for kids.

      What is taught to children in Alberta is that Calgary was Fort Calgary –it was originally established as a police outpost (Northwest Mounted Police, now the RCMP) to control the whiskey trade from the U.S. and other “law and order” matters in the settling of the West by the whites as well as later a major shipping hub for Canadian Pacific Rail.

      I’m certain the Aussieland outback has its cowboy history and probably different?

      The Chinese family has their own little video on their corporate website where I got the info. It’s a great piece of immigrant trivia as a contrast.

      Like

  6. Wonderfully colorful post, Jean, and sho’ nuff, a right mighty interestin’ one, too… : )

    (That was me speaking cowboy, which I learned from old movies and comic books.)

    Great photos, as always. Loved the black stetson, horse-ridin’ cop, the cowgirl fiddlers, the ol’ wrangler eating with chopsticks, and the Cowgirl Code!!

    You did a great job of contrasting the marketing myth with the reality. Yes indeed, there’s always a big gap between those two, no matter what city or locale one might be talking about!

    And if they sell bike helmets that look like cowboy hats, I think you should get one… : )

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Great to see you Mark. Your light-hearted commetns are appreciated. The blog post actually took some time to create: I had to take the right photos to illustrate my points. A cowboy hat bike helmet would be great conversation piece, if not also a traffic stopper. 🙂 I know a few cyclists would try it on.

      Like

  7. jbw0123 says:

    We just went to the Eugene Rodeo. What a scene. Nice post!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Am trying to imagine Eugene: was the rodeo with horses and bikes..since the community is quite bike-friendly with its permanent cycling infrastructure….?

      Like

      1. jbw0123 says:

        Cowboys, bulls and bucking broncos. It was a little disturbing.

        Like

        1. Jean says:

          Sounds like our Stampede…but except our event is over a hundred-fold. I’ve never gone to the main stampede stadium event which is 10 days of all these rodeo-cowboy competitions. Competitors come from the U.S. also. My partner had a farm in Ontario, raised a small herd of beef cattle and he had 3 horses. So he described to me what is acceptable vs. non-acceptable for treating horses, bulls. The strap around the belly that the rider pulls, is actually very tight and causes them to buck up..

          Like

  8. What a lovely read and I loved the photos. Also loved the focus you put on the less often portrayed sections of society as opposed to white males:)…Interesting insights.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      It’s just too convenient but narrow for our local marketing spinners, to promote local cowboy and rodeo culture as the same old thing over and over. While some locals really enjoy the annual festival by spending their vacation days, there are other locals who simply leave the city during the festival. Glad you got my alternate “message”.

      Like

  9. Lily Lau says:

    I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit feeding your virtual fishes… oh my! And apart of it, I liked your post very much, thanks for sharing 🙂

    Like

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