Photo courtesy Glenbow Museum Archives
Alberta Stampede Company
Peter Welsh was born in 1878 in Scotland and by 1910 he had immigrated to Canada, settling on Tudesco Farms, a former Canadian Pacific Railway property near Irricana, Alta. He soon moved to Calgary to operate the Calgary Sale Repository, one of the first livery stables in Calgary which also served as a sale ring for horses.
Welsh quickly earned the reputation as one of the finest judges of horse flesh in Canada. For many years, the Canadian Pacific Railway used the services of Welsh to purchase horses for new farm settlers. The savvy horseman naturally took the opportunity to purchase the finest for himself, and he soon owned a stable of high jumping horses. His six children were excellent riders.
The most famous high jumper that Welsh promoted was Barra Lad, a hackney stallion. Barra Lad, who was ridden by Welsh’s son Louis, toured across Canada and into the United States, out-jumping all competition. On September 12, 1925, Barra Lad entered the show jumping record books when he jumped an incredible 8 feet, 1½ inches in front of an astonished crowd. Tragically, 24 hours later the horse died. An autopsy later showed the stallion had ruptured a blood vessel.
After the tragic demise of his prized stallion, Welsh and his family’s career focus made an abrupt change in direction from the elegant world of show jumping into the dust and grit of the rodeo production business.
Welsh formed the Alberta Stampede Company after borrowing $10,000 to get the business started in a big way. He turned his practiced eye from jumpers to outlaws and began buying the best bucking horses on the continent. Midnight, “King of the Outlaws” was his first purchase for an astronomical price of $500. The superstar was soon joined by such greats as Tumbleweed, Bassano, Dynamite, and Gravedigger. Later, the Gold Dust Twins and Five Minutes to Midnight were added to the string. In less than three years, the Alberta Stampede Company was the biggest rodeo producer in North America and the outfit owned eight of the top bucking horses in the country.
On the basis of this top string of stock, Peter acquired some lucrative rodeo contracts in Edmonton, New Westminster, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Columbus, OH, and Detroit, MI. He developed a travelling competitive rodeo venture with first-class equipment, professional judges and a group of excellent Canadian cowboys. Among those Peter took with him were Pete and Harry Knight, Slim and Leo Watrin, Sykes Robinson, Jackie Cooper, Frank Sharp, Joe Fisher, Norman Edge, Dick Cosgrave and Pete Vandermeer. Welsh also recognized how the crowds thrilled to the sport of rodeo and he is credited as being the first promoter to take chuckwagon outfits on tour. Many who later visited the Calgary Stampede had already experienced Peter Welsh’s travelling rodeo.
The Alberta Stampede Company was initially very successful, but unfortunately Welsh and his right hand man, company secretary treasurer, Fred Kennedy, had a heated disagreement and Kennedy promptly resigned. Without his treasurer’s help, the company ran into financial difficulties and quickly folded.
By 1927 Welsh had moved his family across the country to Toronto where he started a clothing store.
Tragically, the great horseman died at the age of 55 undergoing an appendectomy in a Toronto hospital on July 11, 1936.
Yet the grand showman’s contribution to rodeo was not forgotten. On September 18, 1999, Peter Welsh was posthumously inducted as a Builder into the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.