For one week each year, the Town of Ponoka balloons to more than 10 times its size to celebrate all things rodeo.
“It’s something that’s a part of my life, and part of everybody’s life here. It’s fabulous,” Barrie Carter, a long-time volunteer with the Stampede, said.
Carter was born into a Stampede family and this year its extra special. That’s because the Ponoka Stampede is celebrating it’s 80th anniversary.
“My grandfather, in 1935-1936, was one of the original four guys to supply bucking horses and stock,” Carter said. “I came to my first one when I was probably six months old because my mom and dad lived in Ponoka all their lives.”
The event grew from humble beginnings which included a two-day picnic, ball games and bull riding. Today it’s a week-long event with competitors vying for titles in several different arenas.
“We’ve got Bareback, Saddle Bronc, Barrel Racing, Tie-Down Roping, Team Roping, Wild Horse Race, Chuck Wagons, we got it all,” Blair Vold, Ponoka Stampede vice president, said. “The hotels are full, the restaurants are full, the shops and grocery stores. It’s a big thing for the town.”
The grandstand is sold out this year and there are over 3500 campers at the event. Organizers estimate over 80,000 fans will take in the week-long rodeo.
“It’s awesome to see the big crowds like this. The people, the atmosphere. There’s nothing better than this rodeo,” Cody Brett, a Calf-Team Roping Competitor, said. “This rodeo, in the CFR, it makes our whole year. If we do well here, it’s everything.”
“The cowboy way of life is sort of dying so as far as that goes, this is as important as it can get,” Carter said. “It’s part of our heritage.”
The facilities have gotten an upgrade in recent years with a new grandstand and corporate suites as well as a new track. But one thing that won’t change is the way the community embraces the event.
“I think it puts Ponoka on the map,” Carter said. “This is a sleeping giant that comes to life every year. It’s amazing.”
With files from Sarah Kraus, Global News.