History Slam Episode Seventy: First Nations, Calgary Stampede, and the 1923 Raid on City Hall

By Sean Graham

Perhaps best known for barrel racing, cowboy boots, and more pancakes than any human should ever consume, the Calgary Stampede is the biggest event in the city each summer. It’s so important locally that after the floods in 2013 that left the grounds under water, officials scrambled to ensure it opened on time only three weeks later. Rodeos have held a special place in the mythology of the West – we we looked at that in an episode with Mary Ellen Kelm in 2013 – and for a lot of people, the Calgary Stampede has been the central image of the imagined West.

As has been well documented, the romance of the rodeo has been clouded by gender inequality and the treatment of animals. But perhaps the biggest issue with rodeos is the treatment and representation of First Nations.

During the 2015 Canadian Historical Association Annual Meeting, Susan Joudrey presented on a generally unknown event that sheds on the representation of First Nations at the Calgary Stampede – the 1923 Raid on City Hall. The raid was an organized event to generate publicity for the Stampede where a group of First Nations men ‘invaded’ Calgary City Hall, expelled the mayor, and set up a new municipal government. While the event certainly generated plenty of attention in the local press, it speaks to role First Nations played in Stampede and the racial environment in which the event grew.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Susan Joudrey of Dalhousie University about Stampede and the 1923 Raid on City Hall. We talk about the logistics of the raid, representations of First Nations people, and the complicated legacy of colonialism.

Sean Graham is a William Lyon Mackenzie King post-doctoral fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University where he studies the history of Canadian broadcasting and the CBC. He is an editor at Activehistory.ca and host/producer of the History Slam Podcast. Like any red-blooded Canadian his ultimate dream is to be a curling champion while living on a diet of beer and poutine.

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