Gold Highlights a Historic Stampede for War Heroes

It was a rodeo salute to returning soldiers, and a celebration of victory done Calgary style. From August 25 to 30, 1919, more than 57,000 people attended the Victory Stampede held at Calgary’s Exhibition Grounds. Those in attendance witnessed thrills and spills as hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls competed in events like bronc riding, fancy roping, trick riding, relay races and more. The Victory Stampede celebrated the end of four long years of war and victory in Europe. Despite being a one-off event, the “Great Victory Entertainment” planted the seeds for the 1923 western showcase that kicked off an annual tradition in “Stampede City.”

Ride back in time with our centennial commemoration of the 1919 Victory Stampede.

Designed by Michelle Grant, your coin captures the excitement of the roping competition at the 1919 Victory Stampede. In the background, spectators fill the original grandstand in Calgary. In the foreground, a gold-plated cowboy holds the reins tightly with one hand while twirling the lariat overhead, as the horse races towards the target. The gold-plated rim is a four-strand rawhide lariat that was commonly used for roping livestock in that time period. The obverse features the effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt.

“This coin is different,” says Canadian artist Michelle Grant, about the latest coin she designed for the Royal Canadian Mint. “After all these years, I never knew we held a Victory Stampede at the end of the Great War.”

The coin, which features a cowboy sitting astride a horse in full gallop, twirling a lariat above his head, marks the centennial of a rodeo celebration of peace after the First World War.

“I lost my great-grandfather to the trenches of France, my grandfather was one-year old when he left. Had the war begun one year earlier, I would not be here. This makes the discovery of this post-war celebration, and the meaning behind this coin, all the more powerful to me,” adds Grant.

In 1914, Alberta’s population was 500,000 and some 50,000 men aged 18-45 went to war. In today’s urbanized world it is difficult to imagine 1/10 of an entire community disappearing to the front lines, with over 6,000 never returning. Those who did come back often suffered from debilitating wounds and “shell shock.”

The 1919 Victory Stampede, which attracted over 57,000 spectators, was a rodeo salute to returning soldiers, who local media hailed as the heroic cowboys, having traded their lariats for rifles to win the war for the Allies.

Parade at the 1919 Victory Stampede

The Royal Canadian Mint’s 2019 $20 Pure Silver coin reflects Stampede history in every engraved detail, “the cowboy’s iconic gold lariat frames the silver design beautifully,” observes Grant, “and the engraving is so fine, you can almost feel the braided rawhide. Today’s lariats are made of nylon and are much stiffer.”

Now an accomplished horsewoman in her own right, Grant spent hours at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum combing through the archives ensuring every element of her design was historically accurate, “I used images of the actual winner of the 1919 calf roping competition as a reference. The saddle and bridle are the same ones that were on the horse. Even the cowboy’s floppy hat is from 1919.”

Cowboy performing a twister at the 1919 Victory Stampede

How did the artist capture all the grandeur of Canada’s Western life on something as small as a coin Grant chuckles, “some of my best art was tiny doodles I did during math class. It’s actually the engraver who finessed my design down to millimetres. For my part, the Mint required a drawing that is 8” in diameter. Since my initial designs and drawings are often smaller than that, 8” is actually a good size for me to work with.”

Grant goes on to explain that conveying a sense of power is less about size and more about getting the biomechanics and gestures right: “Do the legs have the right proportions, are they bending the right way, are the horse’s ears pinned back… it’s these elements that convey the emotion, power and movement of the horse.”

“The engraver did an amazing job preserving all these nuances, right down to the cowboy’s intense focus and the way his hands are tightly gripped. This coin is a work of art and the way the cowboy is plated with gold makes this special tribute even more powerful. I’m so glad I discovered this new perspective on cowboys during the First World War.”

1919 Victory Stampede coin and artist sketch that was issued in 2019

A proud Albertan, Grant is an internationally renowned award-winning artist who has a long-standing relationship with the Calgary Stampede and the Mint. In 2002, she designed the Calgary Stampede coin for the Festivals of Canada Series and in 2012, the Stampede centennial collector coin. Grant even designed the 2016 Stampede poster.

“I was four years old the first time I sat on a horse,” recalls Grant, “I ran up to a huge chestnut trotting down the street during a local Stampede street event. The cowboy scooped me up. I’ll never forget staring down the mane, between the horse’s ears. I was hooked.”

Did you know…

  • The Victory Stampede was the second Stampede held in Calgary.
    Despite the initial success of the 1912 Stampede, it didn’t become an annual affair until 1923. In 1913, promoter Guy Weadick brought the Stampede to Winnipeg, then moved it overseas and in the United States during the First World War. But in 1919, four Calgary businessmen (the Big Four) invited Weadick back to Calgary to organize an event that commemorated the end of the First World War: the Victory Stampede.
  • The 1919 Stampede wasn’t a financial success.
    Wartime inflation and poor crop yields jeopardized attendance, and the city moved to declare a civic holiday in hopes of a better turnout. The Stampede sold 57,456 admissions: $1 for admission, 50 cents for a grandstand seat. It barely broke even, and there were no profits to distribute to its charity beneficiaries. Still, the memory of the 1919 Stampede helped inspire the organization of Calgary’s third Stampede in 1923.

Source: The Royal Canadian Mint