The Stampede\’s Draft Horse Town


At the Calgary Stampede, they say it’s called The Big Shoe. Perhaps given the size of the subject material, it might best be described as a really, really Big Shoe.

“Yes — with apologies to Ed Sullivan,” chuckles Tim Lane.

A very popular exhibit of the Stampede is called Draft Horse Town. This part of the grounds which debuted in 2010, pays homage to the working-class gentle giants that helped build Western Canada. This year, the Stampede says organizers will be showing off their theatrical chops — with many of the individual demonstrations being corralled into a twice-daily, one-hour presentation called The Big Shoe.

“A lot of these demonstrations and presentations were great on their own, but we thought they would be even stronger if we pulled them all together, and added a strong narrative to it,” says Lane, the deputy mayor of Draft Horse Town.

For those who are interested in the heavy horses, this will be open every day at the Northern Lights Arena, from Friday, July 6 through Sunday July 15, at 1 and 5 p.m. There will be Draft Horse Town exhibitors such as the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Longview, Alta., the Calgary Fire Department, and the Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Heritage Society of Canada.

On site will be local blues musician Tim Williams will be performing original music, and playing the role of troubadour, for The Big Shoe. And after each performance, audience members are invited to step next door to Saddledome Lane, the home of Draft Horse Town, to meet the horses and their teamsters.

“We were looking for a better way to interpret the draft-horse story. Now, for example, when we present the Calgary Fire Department’s firewagon, we can pull it in, drop off the horses, show some original footage on a screen of burning buildings in Calgary, and actually spray water on it,” says Dale Befus, mayor of Draft Horse Town. “Sometimes, a simple explanation doesn’t resonate with everyone. We believe that in a setting like this, the audience will be thinking, ‘Ah — that makes perfect sense.’ ”

Draft Horse Town, is positioned between the Agriculture Building and the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saddledome Lane.

Also a part of the events, the Farm Equipment committee will be bringing in a new four-wheel-drive tractor as a stark point of contrast to a binder, a pair of seed drills, and a plough from a hundred years ago. The Roadbuilders Heritage Society will be doing the same thing, setting up a new front-end loader and a vintage Fresno scraper, cheek by jowl.

The Stampede says there’ll be four pens of heavy horses, including mares and foals, with the Percheron, Clydesdale, Belgian, and possibly Shire breeds represented.

For a little bit of important history the Stampede reminds us: The Bar U Ranch NHS, is credited with saving the Percheron breed in Europe after the First World War, and will offer visitors a chance to ride one of its famous equines. Stampede visitors will be able to take a spin in a heavy-equipment simulator, courtesy of the Roadbuilders Heritage Society, while smaller folk are sure to enjoy a sandbox with toy loaders, graders, and bulldozers.

Also as a heads up, Fort Steele Heritage Town, based in southeastern B.C., will return for a second year with its Michigan logging wheels and its famous black-and-white Clydes. The Draft Horse Town Historium will be combining the old and the new, antique photos mingling with SMART Board activities.

The Stampede’s Blacksmith committee will also be showcasing their skills, while wheelwrights will demonstrate the craft of building wood-spoked wheels. “The wood and fire and steel together, with lots of smoke being produced, draws a crowd every time,” says Befus with a chuckle. “That’s a little gold mine that we haven’t fully exploited yet — but we will.”


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