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June 19, 2024 June 19, 2024

Raymond Stampede to debut at new site

Posted on May 31, 2024 by admin
Lethbridge Herald photo by Delon Shurtz Raymond Stampede Committee members Ronnie-Duke Helgerson, at left, president Robert Heggie, Dalin Atwood, Kyle Steed and Colton Helgerson, install pens at the site of the new Raymond Stampede rodeo grounds.

By Delon Shurtz
Southern Alberta Newspapers

It was a tough pill to swallow when the Raymond Stampede committee had to concede defeat in the hard-fought battle to keep the original site of Canada’s first stampede.

The stampede grounds were abandoned right after last year’s rodeo, and the bleachers demolished shortly afterward to make room for construction of a new high school.

And although the old rodeo grounds are home to 121 years of amazing memories, new ones are about to be made when the 122nd edition of the Raymond Stampede resumes at its new site just a short distance away from the old rodeo grounds.

And as committee president Robert Heggie succinctly puts it, “new is always good.”

The loss is bittersweet, however. Afte rall, the town was built around the stampede grounds, Heggie points out. But in a few short weeks, the first stampede at the new site will be held, promising a couple of days of exciting rodeo action.

But there’s lots of work to do, first.

The committee, with the help of the town and occasionally other volunteers, is busy getting the new rodeo grounds ready. By the time the July 1 festivities begin, volunteers will have collectively put in many hundreds of hours of labour to avoid missing even one Stampede.

Heggie admits there was a time the committee worried the Stampede would have to be cancelled after it searched for, but was unable to secure, a new location. With no other options available and the committee about to lose hope, a last-minute donation by Heggie’s uncle saved the day.

“We were pretty down. It looked like it was done,” Heggie says. “We were dead in the water…until Ron Heggie gave us that land. It put life back in us.”

With that new life, committee members, with the help of the town and County of Warner, went to work. Dirt needed to be trucked in and graded because the land was too low for the new arena. The town bought and installed the new, maintenance-free aluminum grandstand – minus a roof – and it, along with some smaller bleachers, will accommodate about 1,500 spectators. The town and county did all the groundwork, as well.

More recently committee members have been busy erecting the pens, but despite the many hours of backbreaking labour, the stampede grounds won’t be completely finished by June 29 when the rodeo is expected to begin.

Heggie says underground services have not been installed yet and water will have to be hauled in for the Stampede, and generators will be needed to provide electricity.

The grandstand will also be roofless, and the object of the committee’s fundraising efforts for future rodeos. Heggie estimates the cost of the roof and to bring water and electricity to the site will be half a million dollars, about half the cost of the entire project.

“I don’t plan on stopping until we have what he had before,” Heggie says. “We had a really good facility for people to come and watch the rodeo. Rome wasn’t built overnight.”

On June 29 and July 1 rodeo fans can expect to see all their favourite events, and maybe a couple of extras. Bareback, team roping, calf roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing, childrens’ wild pony race, saddle-bronc, tie-down roping, ladies barrel racing, bull riding, and even some trick riders, which haven’t been part of the Raymond stampede for several years.

The event will continue under its pro rodeo roots under the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association and the U.S. Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and top world competitors will battle for a trophy buckle and prize money of $5,000 for each event to add to their total as they attempt to qualify for the showdowns at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, and the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev.

The Stampede begins at 6 p.m. on June 29 and 2 p.m. on July 1.

Bucking horses and bulls will be supplied by local contractor Duane Kesler Championship Rodeo Stock.

The new rodeo grounds will also be available for other users and many other functions.

“We’re working to make it a fabulous site for ourselves and for the 4H and for any horse events that want to take place in Raymond,” Heggie says.

He also hopes old and new rodeo fans will attend the Stampede, even though the location is no longer walking distance for as many residents as it was at the original site.

“I just hope we can bring the history and keep the tradition going by moving location.”

That history and tradition began in 1902, when southern Alberta rancher Ray Knight hosted the first rodeo in Canada in the town his family founded – Raymond, Alberta. His plan was to bring together local ranch hands to test their skills and determine who were the best working cowboys.

The cost of keeping the tradition alive at the new site is a challenge, however, and the Stampede committee is busy raising money. The immediate goal is to raise $250,000 to put a roof over the grandstand. Donations can be E-transferred to raymondstampede@gmail.com or through the Town of Raymond at contact@raymond.ca. Donations can also be mailed to Box 1032, Raymond, AB, TOK 2S0. The names of donors of $1,000 or more will be placed on a Stampede Builders Wall of Fame. Money will be secured in a Raymond Alberta Treasury Branch account.

The Raymond Stampede committee is also holding a surf and turf fundraiser from 5-7 p.m. June 15 at the Raymond and District Agricultural Society yellow building, to celebrate Father’s Day and help raise the roof on the new grandstand.

The take-away style meal, served by the Stampede committee and prepared by Fluff & Stuff Catering, consists of Atlantic lobster and locally raised beef brisket, four East Coast salads, a dinner roll, dessert and a drink. A ticket for the brisket meal is $75; $95 for the lobster and brisket meal; or $250 for a VIP package which comprises two lobster/brisket meals, two Stampede t-shirts and two rodeo tickets. The deadline for ordering tickets is June 5, and tickets can be purchased online at raymondstampedesurfturf.eventbrite.ca.

Guests can, among other things, dine-in or take their food to go; listen to live music from local artist Chris Poirier; shop at the Stampede merchandise table; and visit a selfie booth.

Anyone interested in checking out the new rodeo grounds can visit the site, which is directly east of Highway 845 as it enters the town of Raymond.

“I would just like to encourage the people of Raymond and surrounding area to come and see what we’ve done and what we’re doing; what we’re moving forward with,” Heggie says.

More history on the rodeo can be found online at http://www.raymondstampede.ca

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