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Memories for a dime: postcards of the Calgary Stampede.

The pictorial history of the Calgary Stampede has been well documented from the first western extravaganza organized by Guy Weadick fight through to present day, and for the first fifty years postcards were the main avenue of preserving and sharing the Stampede story. Thanks to developments before and after 1900 in both special format cameras such as Kodak's 3A Folding Pocket Camera and in the production of photographic papers for the specific printing of postcards, it became easy for anyone to take a photograph and have it printed in a postcard format. Today these postcards are known as real photo postcards, and the clarity of the image is readily apparent. These are in contrast to the commercially-printed, mass-produced images comprised of numerous small dots when scanned or viewed under a magnifying glass. A real photograph postcard on the other hand shows a smooth transition.

For the record, the first Stampede was held in September 1912, and the second one in 1919, known as the Victory Stampede, was held from August 25 to 30. The event was not held again until 1923 when the separate Calgary Exhibition and the Calgary Stampede came together, taking place in July on the first Monday following Dominion Day (now Canada Day). The parade was held Monday morning and did not change to Friday as it is today until 1968 when the Stampede switched to a ten-day celebration.






For many years the real photo postcards of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede have provided a comprehensive and detailed picture from the kick-off parade through to the championship finals. They are clear images, thanks to being real photographs, and many show remarkable detail. For example the 1912 Marcell postcard no. 13 with Lucille Mulhall standing by Spot, her favourite horse, shows something piercing her hat. When enlarged, it clearly is an arrow. Perhaps this was her unique way to keep her hat from flying off during a hectic competition!

Milward Marcell was the official photographer of the 1912 Stampede and his numbered postcards appear to run from 1 to 116. His official photographer status apparently gave him access to the main rodeo events, as contrasted with the other 1912 cards that mainly depict scenes from the parade. When one adds the A.P.K. Co. and other non-Marcell cards, the number of pictures of the first Stampede total more than 200. When the numbered postcards are scrutinized, it is readily apparent that the sequential numbering has no direct relationship to the day taken, as some of the opening day pictures are numbered in the 90s.

Perhaps Marcell was producing and marketing postcards right from the start of the Stampede, but if not, they certainly were available shortly thereafter. A copy of Leslies Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, dated October 3, 1912, shows four Marcell postcards in a pictorial essay. Under the headline "A Pioneer Day Celebration in Canada" the postcards are captioned "Striking scenes at the Stampede, a novel Festival, at Calgary, Alberta, in which both Whites and Indians took part."

Leslies Weekly also did a brief pictorial story using six Stampede photographs from the 1919 Stampede in its September 20 issue. As to the 1919 postcards, once again they were not numbered sequentially from one day to the next; nor did they start at No.1. Rather they began at 3,350 and ran to at least 3,402, and then the numbers jumped to 4,000 and ran to at least 4,098. There is no positive identification of the 1919 photographer, but perhaps it was W.V. Ring as he took the pictures used in Leslies Weekly.

The third Stampede in 1923 was the first where the postcards appear to have been numbered sequentially, as the series starts with parade scenes and seem to end with the rodeo finals. It was also the first year where two photographic studios were printing and selling postcards, McDermid Drugs and William J. Oliver. The 1923 Calgary Herald used the Stampede pictures taken by Oliver who had joined the newspaper as staff photographer about 1912.


Calgarians love a parade and the Stampede has always started with one lasting more than two hours, comprised of some 10 to 12 sections with hundreds of participants, and they have always been well attended. Reportedly the 1912 parade was attended by at least 80,000 people, a remarkable number considering the population of Calgary was about 60,000 people. Indians, Mounted Police, cowboy and cowgirl contestants, bands, horse drawn vehicles, and decorated floats kept the crowd captivated.

The general established format was to have the coordinator of the parade leading the grand procession. From 1923 to about 1955 Calgary's Fire Chief James "Cappy" Smart had the honours, but starting in 1956, and still adhered to today, special guests, called the Parade Marshals, led the parade. The marshals usually had the choice of riding a horse or in a carriage or touring car from which they could wave to the crowds lining the sidewalks.

The marshal was usually followed by Stampede board members, senior staff, and after 1946 the Stampede queens and princesses. The various sections included Indians representing the main tribes signing Treaty Number Seven, pioneers and oldtimers, youth groups, cowboys and cowgirls, societies and clubs, a mercantile or industrial section, and a miscellaneous section. Some of the larger sections were divided into several groupings spaced between other sections, and if enough entries were present, additional sections were added, such as decorated automobiles, livestock, Armed Forces, and a cadet section among others.

Banners were everywhere, usually being carried by young ladies or men, especially to identify the marching bands that led each of the sections. A typical year would find some 20 to 25 bands taking part in the parade and later entertaining the crowds on the fairgrounds or seated in the grandstand. Most were from Calgary and area but there were usually a dozen from other places across Canada, the United States, and overseas. The black and white postcards do not do justice to the colourful uniforms worn by majorettes and band members, not to mention the colourful floats and costumes of the western dressed riders.

The rodeo events and their order changed slightly over the years but generally they were much the same as today. From 1923 to 1957--the real photo postcard years--one would find wild cow milking, wild horse racing, boys & girls steer riding, men's steer riding, calf roping, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, steer decorating (earlier called bulldogging & later called steer wrestling) and bull tiding. In some years in the calf roping and bronc riding events, both North American and Canadian competitions were held, likely to give the Canadian competitors a chance to win extra money along with adding extra excitement for the home spectators.


The first couple of rodeos included women competing in their own cowgirl events, including cowgirl trick & fancy tiding, fancy roping, saddle bronc, and relay race. After 1923, women participated in the Stampede as entertainers rather than competitors, in events as varied as Roman riding, Cossack riding, trick riding such as jumping a horse over an automobile, and fancy roping such as lassoing a group of cowboys or jumping through a twirling lariat.

During the intermission period of the afternoon rodeo and even between some of the events, the audience was entertained by a wide variety of acts over the years. Not all were horse-related such as The Skymasters helicopter act, Jay Sisler and his sheep dogs, clown Fess Reynolds with his lion, and the popular musical tide of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Perhaps the favourite of all was the rodeo bullfighters/clowns coming within inches of the horns of a charging bull, jumping into a barrel at the last minute only to be pushed around the arena, and sometimes even letting the bull get its horn hooked on his baggy clown pants. Their role changed during the Brahma bull riding event where these fearless performers created a distraction to keep an angry bull from trampling or goring a fallen cowboy, or to release a cowboy caught in the rope and being dragged around like a rag doll.

It is impossible to mention all of the competitions, entertainment, and demonstration events held over the years, as so many were tried and dropped after a year or two. These included buggy races, California cart races, and even a cowboys' bed race. These along with the Indian races were held in the afternoon as well as the evening.

Dating parade postcards began in part due to a collection of 60 cards acquired from a woman named Alice who attended the Stampede as a young girl of about ten years in age. In 1955, the family came to Calgary on a business trip from Prince George, B.C. and availed themselves of the opportunity to take in the Stampede. The day after watching the parade, the young girl and her mother walked into McDermid Drugs, situated along the parade route, to see the parade pictures on display from the day before. Sitting on the counter, Alice asked her mom if she could get some postcards as a souvenir of their visit, and before she was finished Alice had chosen the 60 cards later acquired by the Stampede Archives.

Having so many postcards precisely dated to 1955 was instrumental in showing they had been taken sequentially. In addition they revealed details on the production and marketing of the postcards. Later, a photographer working for Rosettis Studio filled in the story. He reported that as soon as a parade was over, the film was developed and the negatives captioned for the ones deemed most suitable for sale. During the night, staff printed about 100 of each, distributing them to some six stores in the downtown area. A complete set remained on display in each store for the duration of the Stampede.

The unravelling of the postcard story started with the organization of the archival collections of the Stampede. Once completed, it became much easier and faster to answer specific questions from Stampede staff and the general public. Prior to 1999, volunteers of the Stampede's Historical Committee had established a database to record the winners of both the chuckwagon and rodeo events, but that database was not helpful in answering the most common enquiry of all: "I have been told that my grandfather competed in the early Stampedes. Can you please tell me when and in what events, and if he won anything?" Unfortunately the winners database did not list any of the names of the many contestants who tried and failed.

Thus it became necessary to compile a second database listing every contestant by event, day, and year as given in the daily programs from 1927 onward. The daily programs for the 1912 to 1926 Stampedes are spotty at best, and for 1926 non-existent at present. Also, these were the formative years when events and rules were changing, finally leading to the format that is still generally followed today.

In brief, all the information given on a daily program was entered into a database. This usually included the contestants name and number (the number often worn on the leg or back), the home town of the contestant, the name of the event, the event number (usually no more than eight to ten contestants competed in a specific heat, and therefore two or three groups competed on any given day), and the animal's name and/or number.





The contestant record is still not complete as 28 of the approximately 720 daily programs printed between 1912 and 2012 have not yet been located. For the early years, particularly 1912 and 1926, an effort was made to gather the names from the newspapers of the day, but even they did not give a full listing of the contestants.

What was not known when this database was created was how central it would become to dating the postcards of the Stampede. In 1999, it had only about 600 postcards and the majority of these dated from the early years to about 1930. The earliest postcards are the main ones with a date on them, including the 1912, 1919, and 1923 cards. Some 1924 cards are dated and Glenbow Archives has identified R.A. Bird as the photographer. It is interesting to note that several Bird pictures show William J. Oliver in the infield photographing the rodeo action. Infield access was presumably granted to him as Oliver by this time was staff photographer for the Calgary Herald. Most of the 1924 and later postcards, while not dated, were captioned with some reference to the Calgary Stampede, and many went further giving the name of the cowboy, the horse being ridden, and often the event. By checking these postcards against the newly-created contestants database, it was possible to identify the year that the picture was taken.

The second event that led to this postcard research occurred in 2003 when the loan of a collection of 1,200 Stampede postcards was offered in exchange for making a listing of all known postcards. That collection, the Stampede Archives, and another 800 or so cards held by Glenbow Archives, the Calgary Public Library, and a number of private collectors, resulted in a listing of more than 2,800 postcards. Such a large number of cards could best be analysed by creating a database recording the information observed on the cards.

Initially information that was readily apparent on both the front and back of the postcards was recorded. The front provided information such as photographer's name, series letter and number, name of the cowboy, horse's name and number, the event, and sometimes the date. Later fields were added to record the style of lettering (cursive, block, etc.), colour of lettering (black, white or a combination), placement on the card (left side, right side, horizontal, angular), orientation (vertical or horizontal) and whether or not the postcard had a border.

Information from the back of postcards included the name of the photographic studio/printer of the card such as The McDermid Photo Laboratories, McDermid Drug Co. Ltd., or the Calgary Photo Supply Co. The postage stamp box in the upper right-hand corner may be marked AZO, VELOX, CKE, ANSCO or KODAK. Other recorded information included the postal cancellation date (if the card was actually used), text added by the owner such as "We saw this cart in yesterday's parade" and any rubber stamped or hand written numbers.

The next step was to take the captioned information and compare it to what was recorded in the database that listed the Stampede contestants, and what a surprise it was to see how accurately many of the postcards could be dated. At best one hoped to be able to identify the year the postcard picture was taken, but in addition many could be dated to the specific day of the week. There were some four instances where a cowboy competed on the same-named horse in separate years, but even these could be dated by other information on the card, such as the series number.

The databases also revealed that the sequentially numbered postcards provided a running record from the parade, through the daily rodeo and entertainment events, to end with the rodeo finals.

Another interesting aspect revealed was a relationship between The McDermid postcards and those marked Calgary Photo Supply Co. The McDermid series ran 1923 to 1930 to be replaced by the Calgary Photo Supply cards from 1931 to 1950. In 1950, there were identical D-series cards with the names of both companies, and from 1951 to 1957 only the McDermid postcards again. The 1930 Calgary directory lists "Calgary Photo Supply Co. (McDermid's)" indicating that the two companies were one and the same.

While the dating of many of the Calgary Stampede real photo postcards is now established to the year if not the day, there is still much to be done when the postcards lack sufficient information. For example, postcards produced by the Rosettis and Progress Studio businesses are not yet dated to the year, much less knowing if they were taken sequentially. These among other cards do not give the names of the contestants or the horses, making dating very difficult to identify. Uncaptioned postcards are also all but impossible to date, but sometimes the event shown is enough as is illustrated by one of the chuckwagon postcards.

Other cards that require additional research are those simply captioned Calgary Stampede or Calgary Stampede Parade. Many are now being dated thanks to the photographer taking the pictures from a specific location, such as across from the Petroleum Building. The people by the buildings in the background seldom give up their viewing location; therefore, once one card can be positively dated, the dates for all others that show the same people in the background are dated as well.

Many of the parade postcards have pencil, ink, or rubber stamp numbers on the back, often on or near the postage stamp box. As the sample of parade cards increased, it became apparent that these numbers, like the letter/number series on the front, were issued sequentially. Some of these picture sequences captured the central float, carriage or riders with others following closely behind, and then the next numbered card showed the one behind as it too passed by the photographer.

Following the morning parade, the Stampede photographers moved to the grounds where they tirelessly toiled for the remainder of the week taking pictures of the afternoon rodeo events and the evening wagon races. It was important that the postcards be produced overnight for sale the next day to Stampede visitors or contestant family members who wanted a souvenir of what they had actually seen.

In the real photo postcard period, the photographic record of the parade, downtown attractions, rodeo, and infield entertainment events are generally excellent. The chuckwagon races are not as well represented; many of the pictures are from a distance and do not show enough detail to identify specific rigs. Some years include quite a few pictures of the Indian village, usually showing tipis and often family members posing nearby for photographs. Other grounds pictures, such as buildings and the displays and activities within the buildings, midway rides and concessions, performances, animal races and livestock, are included but poorly represented, likely simply due to the photographer not having enough time to get around the park. Events after sunset, such as the grandstand show, are poorly recorded but occasionally some pictures of the midway rides accented by lights or the closing fireworks were taken.



No one knows how many different Stampede postcards are waiting to be found but the series numbers suggest that there were likely more than 8,000 in total. Presently, about 4,000 different views have been recorded and preserved in the Calgary Stampede Archives, Glenbow Archives, and to a lesser extent the Calgary Public Library collections. All these institutions have a selection of postcard and other photographic images on line and researchers are invited to explore the Stampede story through them.

If one could go back in time, they could have purchased a copy of every Stampede postcard issued for only a dime a card. The Glenbow Archives purchased some cards from McDermid in 1957 for a dime each, and when one reviews the McDermid ad in the July 11, 1927 edition of the Calgary Daily Herald. postcards are advertised at 10 cents each or 3 for a quarter.

For more information when searching for Stampede pictures or rodeo contestants, persons can contact the Stampede or Glenbow Archives as they have many pictures and other resources not on line. They also are welcome to phone the author, Ronald Getty at 403-273-1132 or e-mail him at

Ronald Getty was Archivist for the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede from 1999 until retirement in 2010. Trained as an archaeologist, he was contracted by the Glenbow Museum about 1970 to locate the remains of Fort Calgary which led to a long career as curator of Glenbow's Cultural History Department. He actively pursues his interest in documenting the products of Alberta's once thriving pottery industry.

Appendix I

As a guide to date Stampede postcards, this Appendix dates the cards using a combination of photographer, photographic studio, and the series number. The dated postcards from 1912, 1919, and 1923 are not included.

The McDermid Drug Co. Limited (printed on the back left-hand side)

1924, cards numbered from 1 to at least 186, all starting with Calgary Stampede No.

The McDermid Photo laboratories (usually printed on the back left-hand side, and all with cursive style captions)

1925, cards numbered from 501 to at least 676

1926, cards numbered from 201 to at least 386

1927, cards numbered from 701 to at least 876

1928, cards numbered from 1 to at least 195

1929, cards in the A prefix series

1930, cards in the B prefix series

McDermid Drug Co. Ltd. (printed on the back left-hand side

1950, D prefix series

1951, E prefix series

1952, F prefix series

1953, G prefix series

1954, H prefix series

1955, K prefix series

1956, M prefix series

1957, N prefix series

Calgary Photo Supply Co. (printed on the back left-hand side)

1930, B prefix series, cursive captions (same views as McDermid B prefix series)

1931, C prefix series, AZO or PMC stamp box

1932, D prefix series, AZO or PMC stamp box

1933, E prefix series

1934, F prefix series

1935, G prefix series

1936, H prefix series

1937, I prefix series

1938, J prefix series

1939, K prefix series

1940, L prefix series

1941, M prefix series

1942, O prefix series

1943, P prefix series

1944, R prefix series

1945, S prefix series

1946, T prefix series

1947, A prefix series, Bromide Stamp Box

1948, B prefix series, Bromide Stamp Box

1949, C prefix series, Bromide Stamp Box

1950, D prefix series, Bromide Stamp Box



1924, circled number series

1925, cards numbered from 200 to at least 324

1926, cards numbered in the 400s

1927, cards numbered from 1000 to at least 1067

1929, A suffix series, number at start of caption

1930, A suffix series, number at end of caption

1931, B prefix series

1933, E prefix series

Oliver (bipartite number, the first number the year, the second the series number)

1934, cards start with 34-, running from 1 to at least 82

1935, cards start with 35-, running from 1 to at least 102

1936, cards start with 36-, running from 1 to at least 62

1937, cards start with 37-, running from 1 to at least 116


1948, various bipartite number series including 121-, 127-, 131-, 134-, and 144-

Cadman (bipartite number, first number the series number, second number the year)

1949, cards end with -49, running from 1 to at least 24

1950, cards end with -50, running from 1 to at least 49


1927, the only year recorded by this company
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Author:Getty, Ronald
Publication:Alberta History
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2012
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