New book documents history of Calgary Stampede

The cover of author Wendy Bryden's book "The First Stampede of Flores LaDue" is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Honourable Juliette Clagett McLennan

It's no secret the Calgary Stampede has attracted millions of visitors to witness some of the best ropers and rodeo acts the Wild West exhibition has to offer.

What many people don't know is the story behind the founding of the stampede.

In celebration of its 100th anniversary, the Calgary Stampede commissioned a book called "The First Stampede of Flores LaDue," written by local resident Wendy Bryden.

The history of the stampede begins with rodeo promotor and founder Guy Weadick, who had a vision for the first Calgary Stampede in 1912.

"Every child in Calgary knows he started the first stampede a hundred years ago," says Bryden, 70. "I used to wonder, 'Did he have a wife, did he have a life?' It was always something that intrigued me."

The woman behind him was Flores LaDue, a world-champion trick roper who was by his side as the Calgary Stampede was born. But nobody really knew about her.

Bryden says it was fate when she read an article in the Calgary Herald newspaper about the famous cowgirl. She was being honoured by The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2001.

Accepting the award posthumously for her (she died in 1951) was longtime friend and Longview, Alta., rancher Lenore Bews McLean, 72. She grew up next door to the ranch where Weadick and LaDue lived in the early 1950s.

"I phoned all the McLean's in the phone book," she says. "I finally got her. She was at the ranch."

Bryden lived only an hour away from the Bews McLean's ranch. She spent the better part of ten years driving back and forth, writing and re-writing the untold stories and memories of LaDue told to her by Bews McLean and her mother, Josephine Bews.

"Here was this opportunity to give her a voice through Lenore McLean who was a witness to her life," says Bryden. "It gave us such a wonderful opportunity to tell this familiar story of the Calgary Stampede in a new way because nobody had plundered this material."

LaDue ran away from her home in Minnesota as a young girl to participate in the Wild West shows. She and Weadick met during a Wild West show circuit in Calgary in 1906. Bryden says LaDue was scared of her feelings for Weadick when they met. She was an independent woman with no interest in dating.

Despite her reservations, they were married after being together for five weeks. She was 23, he was 21.

After touring in Wild West shows in Canada and the U.S. for years, the couple dreamed of hosting their very own stampede.

The very first Calgary Stampede was held in September 1912, attracting 80,000 people.

Bryden and Bews McLean spent ten years writing the story of Weadick and LaDue, just in time for the Calgary Stampede's 100th anniversary.

The stampede, which is set to run from July 6 to 15, will feature a special guest: Lenore Bews McLean. She will be riding in the Calgary Stampede parade using LaDue's saddle given to her by Weadick after she died.

Although Bryden did not know the couple personally, she speaks highly of them.

"They really were a tremendous couple and he was such a visionary," she says. "She was behind him."