So far I experienced a lot of firsts in my first few days in Manitoba: my first CFL game, my first fossil dig, and then on a sunny afternoon, my first rodeo. If there’s one place to immerse yourself in Manitoba cowboy culture for the first time, the 50th Annual Manitoba Stampede is definitely where to do it!
I drove into the town of Morris (about an hour drive east of Morden) which hosts the annual Manitoba Stampede, and I didn’t fully appreciate how popular the event would be. It is Manitoba’s only pro rodeo, after all, and it’s conveniently located south of Winnipeg.
As I approached the stampede grounds, the parking lots were full and I ended up having to park down the highway, about a 10 minute walk away. No worries though – it was all a part of the adventure into the unknown.
After a short lineup at the gates, I was in. My first impression of the Manitoba Stampede: this is the real deal. The people here live and breathe rodeo culture, that much is obvious. Of course, being in the agricultural heartland of Manitoba, this all makes perfect sense, but it was here at the Manitoba Stampede where it really began to sank in that I was no longer in coastal BC; I was in rural Manitoba, and I loved it!
I’ll try to describe the Manitoba Stampede to somebody who has never been before, and in a way it’s like a big country fair. There were indoor attractions such as trade shows, historical displays, bingo, poker tournaments, petting zoos and reptile shows.
Outside there were stables, show rings and stages where you could watch rodeo events such as pig scrambles and draft horse shows. In the main grandstand was where the major rodeo events took place: pony chuckwagon and chariot races, steer wrestling, tie down roping, bull riding, amongst others. This is where it varies from a typical country fair. But then there were the familiar aspects such as food vendors, beer gardens, local business kiosks and tents, ranging from the Canadian Forces to the Canadian Fossil Discover Centre.
There was a children’s corner featuring live entertainment, and the midway full of games and carnival rides. It seemed that you didn’t even have to be interested in actual rodeo sports in order to enjoy the Manitoba Stampede – there was something for everyone!
The atmosphere was definitely vibrant, and the stampede attracted families, cowboys, and new to my eyes, Mennonite families wearing their traditional clothing. All in all, a unique cross section of Manitoba’s communities coming together to enjoy the festivities.
I poked my head inside the exhibition hall where they were showcasing an entire display made from old newspaper clippings, brochures, photographs, and memorabilia from all 50 years of the Manitoba Stampede. The volunteers who put this together are truly passionate about the stampede, and it shows. Here’s a taste of what it looked like:
Food options consisted of going indoors to eat plates of comfort food, or going outside to the various vendors selling everything from smokies to pulled pork sandwiches.
In addition to the the typical hotdogs and hamburgers, there were carnival favourites such as mini donuts (sold in bags or buckets), cotton candy, caramel apples, slushies, and homemade curly potato chips, which – based on the never-ending lineup – seemed to be very popular.
Despite all the choices, I ordered an old fashioned smokie, slathered it with mustard, and then sat in the bleachers watching cowboys and cowgirls getting ready for their competitions.
I secretly envied their lifestyle…
While I meandered around the Manitoba Stampede grounds soaking up the scenery, I knew I wanted to catch an event at the grandstand, which was only open at 2pm and 7pm daily. The gates opened right at 6pm, and I joined the lineup of people and waited patiently for an hour until the events began. Sure, I didn’t necessarily need to wait that long, but it was nice to relax and enjoy the view. Here’s part of the view of the stampede grounds from the top of the grandstand.
Here’s looking from the very top down to the race track.
By 7pm the stands were completely full, and the events began. I stayed and watched an hour of the Pony Chariot Races, something I had never seen before or knew much about before, but now know it’s some of the most exciting rodeo events you can watch.
With the Pony Chariot Races, you have three teams of two, each with two horses and an old Roman style chariot. Each team arrives with two people, but one person jumps off the chariot to hold/guide the horses at the start line, while the other person stays on the chariot to race.
When the race begins, the teams must navigate a figure 8 around the barrels. Once they do that, they then race around the half mile track, travelling at racehorse speeds.
Usually the way the teams would navigate the barrels would predetermine who would win the race. Sometimes the horses would be slow to start or would have trouble navigating the figure 8. At least once there was a team whose horses had too much energy at the start, they had to be disqualified. Overall, the teams would do well at the start and would be neck to neck throughout the race. As the horses came around the final bend, people (including yours truly) would be standing up our of their seats, shouting and cheering wildly for their favourite team.
One by one the chariots would rush by the finish line…
Everyone would be cheering and going wild! Once the horses slowed down, the chariot would turn around and return back to the starting line in the order of their placements, and would receive applause from everyone in the grandstand.
Then, it would be time to start a whole new race, with new teams.
For an hour I watched a good half dozen pony chariot races, and I can definitely say it was the highlight of the Manitoba Stampede. I never knew if I was into rodeos before, but for this city slicker, it won’t be the last!