Authentic Cowboy Country

Kamloops, British Columbia. Photo courtesy Tourism Kamloops/Kelly Funk
Kamloops, British Columbia. Photo courtesy Tourism Kamloops/Kelly Funk

Towns & Cities with Western Spirit

At first I thought the task would be a cinch?—?choose a dozen communities across the West whose Western roots run deep and where visitors to the area can experience some authentic cowboy culture.

It wasn’t easy.

My criteria included a strong Western history of ranching and cowboys, authentic Western events (and to be clear, to me Western events are synonymous with First Nations), plus places and sites to see all year-round. I chose carefully because I am proud to have friends in every one of these communities…

Morris, Manitoba

Located 70 km south of Winnipeg in the middle of the famous Red River Valley, fur traders initially settled the Morris area in the late 1700s because of its strategic location along the Red River. Centuries of flooding created some of the richest soil in the world.

Morris has recorded a multi-century journey from voyageurs to cowboys and back again. This year, Morris is celebrating their 50th Annual Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition (Jul 18-21). Attracting thousands of spectators and participants from across North America, it features a professional rodeo, dairy show, light and heavy horse shows, cabarets, pony chuckwagon racing and perhaps the most unique feature?—?Ben Hur-style chariot racing. Nearby attractions include Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden; Threshermen’s Museum in Winkler plus great attractions in Winnipeg.

Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

Established in 1883, Maple Creek is located some 80 km east of Medicine Hat, Alta. Their history is rich with NWMP, First Nations, ranchers and cowboys. Nowhere else in Canada are there so many large cattle ranches still in the same family, century after century.

Maple Creek hosts many Western events, including the First Nations/rodeo cowboy hockey game, Battle of the Little Big Puck (Feb); Thundering Hills Pow Wow, Nekaneet First Nation, (Jul 5-7); Maple Creek Ranch Rodeo (Canada’s second-oldest ranch rodeo on Jul 6); Cowtown Pro Rodeo (Jul 17-19); and Maple Creek Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Western Art & Gear Show (Sep 20-22). Nearby sites and events include Fort Walsh National Historic Site; Murraydale 104th Annual Stampede & Picnic (Jul 9); and Reno Rodeo, Consul (Aug 3-4).

Wood Mountain?saskatchewan

Today Wood Mountain is a peaceful area, but at one time this was one of the most politically volatile spots in North America. Here Sitting Bull and 5,000 Sioux took refuge from the U.S. Army after the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. A monument to the great leader Sitting Bull resides in Wood Mountain Regional Park.

Wood Mountain boasts Canada’s oldest continuous running rodeo, the Wood Mountain Stampede (Jul 12-14); Little Britches Rodeo (Jul 12); and Wood Mountain Folk Festival (Aug 24). Some nearby attractions include Rodeo Ranch Museum (7 days a week May to Sep long weekend); Wood Mountain Regional Park; Grasslands National Park and near Coronach, the famous Outlaw Caves — the hideout of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.

Pincher Creek, Alberta

Located 200 km south of Calgary, the (now) town was named by a NWMP officer in 1874 who found a pair of pinchers in the creek.

This area is as famous for its scenery as it is for its cowboys. The town sports over 300 heritage properties so you know there is nothing average about this place; from its history to its famous Chinook winds that ushers in an early spring.

Pincher is home to the oldest ranch rodeo in Canada (Jul 26-27); Pincher Creek Pro Rodeo (Aug 16-18); 26th Annual Gathering of Cowboy Poetry (Jun 13-16); and the Family Fun Rodeo (Jun 16). Nearby attractions include Kootenai Brown Heritage Village; Heritage Acres; Crystal Village; Waterton Lakes National Park; Castle Mountain Resort; Castle Wilderness Area; and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

Nanton, Alberta

Pioneers first settled in the Mosquito Creek area in the late 1800s and by 1907 it was officially a town. Good farm and ranch land attracted the early settlers and today the community is an important historic hub of such diverse interests as Bomber Command Museum of Canada to the Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre. A good Western apparel shop, a custom cowboy hat maker and a wealth of antique shops also call Nanton and area home.

Nanton is the mailing address of many good working cowboys, and the town boasts the 20th Annual Medicine Tree Ranch Rodeo (Jul 19-20); Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival (Aug 16-18) and the Nanton Nite Rodeo Series (runs on weekends from the end of Jun to the beginning of Aug).

Cochrane, Alberta

Cochrane began in 1881 as the Cochrane Ranche, after Senator Matthew Cochrane, a rancher who is credited with amassing Canada’s first large-scale ranching operation. At its peak Cochrane Ranche totalled about 144,000 ha of range land (about 38 townships). Cochrane is located some 20 km northwest of Calgary and now, the once sleepy cowboy town, is the fastest growing community in Canada.

Cochrane features Cochrane Classic Bull Riding (Jul 27); Jimmy Richards’ 2nd Annual Foothills Bucking Horse Futurity (Jul 11); Cochrane Ranche Days (Aug 3-4); 44th Annual Old Tyme Country Fair (Aug 25); and the Cochrane Lion’s Labour Day Rodeo (Aug 31-Sep 2). Nearby attractions include the Cochrane Ranche Historic Site; Historic Perrenoud Ranche Art Centre; Men of Vision (bronze statue of a cowboy); and Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

Ponoka, Alberta

Ponoka is located 59 km north east of Red Deer. This cowboy town’s population doubles when the competitors and fans roll in for Canada’s largest and longest professional rodeo?—?the Ponoka Stampede?—?that also features professional chuckwagon racing (Jun 25-Jul 1). The rodeo grounds also hosts many horse-related events in summer.

Ponoka is also home to the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in the new Calnash Ag. Event Centre, a year-round arena and facility.

While in Ponoka stroll the Wolf Creek Trail along the Battle River and visit the Fort Ostell Museum (May-Sep) highlighting the history of the original Fort Ostell built in 1885 during the Riel Rebellion. Ponoka also boasts the world’s largest Saddle Bronc Rider statue, erected in 2004 to celebrate their Centennial.

Kamloops, British Columbia

The semi-arid city of Kamloops is located about halfway between Golden and Vancouver. The history of the area is peopled with First Nations people, train robbers and cowboys. Trade has always been huge here thanks to it being a transportation hub for over a century.

Kamloops hosts Canada’s biggest cowboy gathering, Kamloops Cowboy Festival (Mar) and boasts a nationally recognized art gallery and symphony. Worth experiencing is the Kamloops Heritage Railway (year-round); Secwepemc Museum (year-round) and the Annual Kamloops Kamloopa Pow Wow (Aug 2-4).The area is also home to Hugh McLennan’s Spirit of the West radio show, broadcast from nearby Pinantan Lake. Nearby events includes the 95th Annual Falkland Stampede (May 18-20); Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo, Merritt (Aug 30-Sep 2); and the North Thompson Fall Fair & Rodeo (Aug 30-Sep 2).

Williams Lake, British Columbia

Deep in the Cariboo is the city of Williams Lake, the largest urban centre between Kamloops and Prince George. The abundance of native grass made this region a natural for ranching and there are some massive cattle ranches around here, most notably the Alkali Lake Ranch.

The Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin is home to the BC Cowboy Hall of Fame, a showcase of the province’s outstanding cowboys. Williams Lake also features the legendary-sized sculpture, Heart of a Champion, dedicated to local bull rider, Gerald Palmantier.

Williams Lake hosts the Williams Lake High School Rodeo (May 3-5); and the 94th Annual Williams Lake Stampede, (Jun 28-Jul 1). The event features the famous Mountain Race; Ranch Rodeo and a Pony Express Race.

Saint-Tite, Quebec

Located just outside of Quebec City, Saint-Tite is the most famous cowboy town in Quebec and with good reason; it is home to one of the largest rodeos in Canada.

The Festival Western de Saint-Tite (Sep 6-15), developed from a rodeo inaugurated in 1967 to promote the area’s leather industry. The success of the festival has led to the remodelling of some of the town’s infrastructures to resemble a Western frontier town. Full rodeo, plus gymkhana events, stage shows, country dancing and equestrian activities are also part of the festival. Other sites and events in the Mauricie region include Les Forges du Saint-Maurice National Historic Site of Canada, Trois-Rivieres; and Innocenti?—?Spectacle équestre (equestrian extravaganza) Trois-Rivieres (Jun 8-Aug 10).

Dundalk, Ontario

Dundalk was incorporated as a village in 1887. Perhaps the most famous cowboy outfit in the area is the A-K Rodeo, a family of rodeo stock contractors producing rodeos in Ontario.

In nearby Arthur, Portugese?/Canadians keep the traditional (bloodless) running of the bulls alive at Ole Toiro ranch. In the “Horse and Buggy Trail” zone, shop for Maple syrup products to custom woodworking and of course, enjoy a horse and buggy ride. For light or draft horse owners, you might want to consider heading up the road about an hour to Wallenstein?—?home of Aaron Martin Harness. Some nearby rodeo dates include Holstein Rodeo (Jul 12-14) and Grand River Rodeo, Grand Valley (Aug 16-18). c