The old, the new, and the country


How a 72-year-old rodeo keeps up with its community

In its 72 years, the Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair – set for this weekend – has changed as much as the community that hosts it.

It’s no longer two separate events, for one. Some of the traditions, such as the beard-growing contest, are no longer observed.

What is by far the largest change occurred in 2007, following the controversial death of a calf during a roping event. It was then that the Cloverdale Rodeo announced they would drop four roping events: team roping, cowboy cow milking, steer wrestling and tie-down roping.

Because of the change, the Cloverdale Rodeo can no longer be a part of the professional rodeo circuit.

“We’re now called a roughstock invitational rodeo,” said Shannon Claypool, president of the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Association.

“The change of format was necessitated by the big urban centre of Vancouver that we live in. Our patrons didn’t want to see calf roping, so we made a choice to change our format and it’s been very successful for us.”

“I believe that in 20 years, other rodeos will look at us and say, ‘Yep, these guys were ahead of their time.’”

Today, the Cloverdale Rodeo continues to evolve.

“Our objective as an organization is to have a family-friendly event that the City of Surrey can be proud of,” Claypool said. “It’s a bit of escapism for the city people. They can come out there and the kids can buy a straw hat and they can be a cowboy or a cowgirl.”

Penny Smythe has been a volunteer with the Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair for more than 30 years. She sat on the board of directors and served as chair for many of those years, but she stepped down this year in order to spend more time with her family, and, as she put it, to allow new people and new ideas to come on to the board.

Smythe first moved to Cloverdale in the early ’60s, as a teenager, in order to be closer to her family – her grandfather ran the town’s only butcher shop. Her first involvement with the fair came soon after the move.

“I was Miss Lower Fraser Valley Exhibition Association in 1965,” she said, laughing.

“My family is very community-oriented,” she said. “I was brought up with the belief that you give back to the community you live in.” Volunteering her time to the rodeo was how she chose to do that.

Smythe has seen many changes come to the rodeo over the three decades she has spent as a volunteer. She remembers when the Rodeo and Country Fair first joined forces as a single event.

“We used to have a big component of exhibition where we had baking and canning and all that kind of stuff. That seems to have gone away, a sign of the times,” said Smythe.

“That to me is a hard part of the transition. Because you don’t have the country fair component like we used to have.

“To fill those voids of what we used to have, they do a lot with the animals.”

“Fifteen years ago it was more display and interaction. Now it’s changed, and we have more educational things.

“You have to change your whole dynamic into thinking more of what’s socially acceptable now, than what was acceptable 15, 20 years ago,” she said.

“It changed when we became an invitational rodeo. It changed our dynamics, our thinking.”

“Our day-to-day operations stay the same. It’s just the way we look at putting on a production changes,” she said, mentioning the rodeo’s online presence through social media, and other online components, such as Wrangler’s livestream of the rodeo events themselves.

Livestreaming and tweeting is a long ways from the rodeo’s start in the 1940s, when organizers had to plan around challenges such as war rationing, and Cloverdale itself is now one of the fastest developing areas of Surrey, but certain core components have stayed the same, according to Smythe.

“We’re so close to the city, people don’t think of us as the country anymore,” said Smythe, but she went on to say that the roots of the rodeo, and the community, have stayed the same although the events themselves have changed.

“Cloverdale has grown so much, but we are still a small town, family community,” she said.

Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. all weekend, until 10 p.m. (5 p.m. Monday). Country fair admission is $10 (12 and under free).

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Rodeo performances

Every year, the Cloverdale Rodeo invites the world’s best cowboys and cowgirls to compete in roughstock rodeo events, including bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, and ladies barrel racing.

The top competitors, as determined by the 2016 World Final Standings, and previous years Cloverdale Rodeo and Canadian Pro Rodeo champs are invited to attend.

There will be four performances leading up to the finals on Monday: Friday, May 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 20 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m; and Sunday, May 21 at 2:30 p.m.

Performances include 2½ hours of entertainment, including 12 contestants competing in bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, and ladies barrel racing. Each of these performances will also have mutton bustin and specialty acts including vocalists, The Heels and trick riders Hearts of the West.

Friday evening’s performance will include a fireworks display. Stay in your seat at the Stetson Bowl, as it will have the best view of the fireworks that fairgrounds can offer.

The rodeo finals will take place on Monday, May 22 at 2:30 p.m., where the top eight competitors will compete. The winners in bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, as well as ladies barrel racing will be determined and awards presented.