On a hot summer day in Oakville Ont., I was watching the 2016 Calgary Stampede to get reacquainted with the faces and facts of the famous rodeo and chuckwagon races that I will be broadcasting this weekend.
I saw some crazy stuff. In the Novice Bareback event, Branson Baptiste of Hobbema, Alta., was bucked off his horse and as he summersaulted back to earth over the hind quarters of the bronco, he was kicked in the head.
I listened to the seasoned and measured voices of commentators Butch Knowles and Cody Snyder talk me through my fear. I couldn’t help thinking, I will be behind one of those microphones in the coming days, and I had better summon my Alberta know-how and be up to placing such an event in its proper context.
We live our lives judging the details of the day and we are on the lookout for suffering. We are upset by suffering, which is a good thing, but as one of my mentors John Ralston Saul says, “This emotional drama of judging what is happening can replace ensuring that the situation is dealt with.”
My Alberta upbringing always takes me back to such wisdom.
Branson is fine — the medics on the scene knew what to do, and did it. I felt better even before I knew the outcome, listening to Butch and Cody.
The same thing happened during the Rangeland Derby on Sunday when Chuckwagon driver Rick Fraser of Wetaskiwin, Alta., rolled his wagon.
Les McIntyre was calling the race but as Fraser’s rig disintegrated and adrenaline flowed, Les began counseling viewers to remain calm.
No one was hurt. We got lucky this time. There will be many righteous onlookers wondering about the necessity of these contests.
Then I watched a nice feature on Tie-Down Roper Dean Edge, who has qualified for the Canadian Rodeo Finals many times and works as an auctioneer selling cattle when not competing. Dean was extolling the virtues of his craft and the way it reflects the core of life on a ranch and at one point after praising his beloved horse, Sid, he hit a melancholy cord.
“Unfortunately most folks who hear about our sport are misled,” he said. “It’s like our beef, we’re always struggling for acceptance.”
And that really bothered me. Here was a man who is everything I admire, mixing his real life with sport, testing mind and body, and sharing his gifts with others. I felt like I do when I hear my game, hockey, getting kicked around. But you can’t control what others say. Dean and I realize this.
But it got me thinking. Alberta’s having a tough time. We all know the reasons. In 1973, Gordon Sinclair offered up an amazing editorial on Radio station CFRB in Toronto. It was titled The Americans.
Sinclair began with this: “The U.S. dollar took another pounding on the foreign exchanges this morning.” He explained the lows to which the dollar and American economy had plummeted and described the general scorn being directed toward the “war-mongering Americans.” And then he turned it around a cited the generosity the Americans had shown the world.
The USA and Alberta are both incurring hardship right now. I can’t begin to address the scope of issues percolating in the United States, but I do know that there needs to be an ability to put the situations ahead of the drama. Like High River during the floods or Fort McMurray during the fires, at the heart of these tragedies are examples of unity and of a love for something well beyond the self.
The disasters or difficulties experienced in one place or another are viewed from a distance, often with nothing more than points of view. In Alberta, sleeves get rolled up and work gets done. Talk is scarce. Whenever I’m at the Stampede, these lessons come back like an old song.
When Gordon Sinclair recorded The Americans in 1973, he worked alongside a Hockey Night in Canada legend named Jack Dennett, who was also a news reader at CFRB. Hockey Night had Foster Hewitt, Danny Gallivan and, by that time, Bob Cole. But the voice that truly commanded Hockey Night was Jack’s. He was the calming effect which seeped from the television like a spell. Jack started his career at CFAC in Calgary, where he hosted 1,662 episodes of a radio show called Toast and Marmalade before moving on to Toronto.
I started at CFAC in 1984 and I never quite found Dennett’s bedside manner. My boss at the time, John Shannon, said, “Ron, I like you, but from now on kid, no words bigger than marmalade or you’re toast.”
I’m grateful for Alberta. I’m grateful for America. Each is in a jam. If you’re looking to find the pitch perfect voice to discuss, I recommend you spend a few hours with the Calgary Stampede.