100 Years of Bad Photo Ops

As you have probably heard a hundred times over the past month, the Calgary Stampede turns 100 this year.

Calgary has changed a lot over this time. A seat at the 1912 rodeo cost 50 cents. Calgary’s population was 70,000. And, oh yeah, back then Alberta was a Liberal bastion, with the Grits holding 6 of 7 federal Alberta ridings and 36 of 41 provincial seats. Times have changed.

So maybe then-Prime Minister Robert Borden can be forgiven for not braving the hostile frontier known as Liberal Calgary to visit the first ever Stampede.

The first notable political Stampede photo-opp I could track down came from 1928, featuring soon-to-be-Prime Minister RB Bennett. Bennett, after all, was from Calgary and actually once owned what would become the Stampede land.

RB Bennett left his Bennett buggy at home to walk the grounds

It’s not clear when it became expected for Prime Ministers to “go cowboy”, but I suspect the sight of Lester B Pearson in a three-piece suit and bow-tie may have been the tipping point that made politicians realize they needed to at least try and fit in. It’s hard to look more out of place than Pearson, so this photo may well have been his “leather vest” moment.

Mike Pearson lets loose at a 1960s Hays Breakfast

Next up is one of the most bizarre sights ever witnessed in Calgary’s history: The great satan himself, Pierre Trudeau, riding a horse down 6th avenue, in suit (with his trademark lapel rose) and cowboy hat, waving to the crowd. It’s a look any other politician would have been ridiculed about for weeks, but if there’s one thing even Albertans could agree Trudeau had, it was style.

And any time you can ride a horse with confidence, you usually get passing grades on the Stampede Fashion Report.

No, that’s not an effigy. That’s Trudeau himself. (1978)

Liberal Prime Ministers since Trudeau have not fared as well. While Jean Chretien delighted in telling the same story about his great uncle visiting Alberta in 1900 on each and every trip to Calgary, he always looked out of place at Stampede.

Paul Martin meanwhile, was always Paul Martin – trying too hard to make everyone love him. Photo ops galore with the Calgary Flames is one thing – the “I love Alberta Beef” sticker and full jean outfit was likely overkill.

Not only did he enjoy stealing Alberta’s money…the grinch himself stole their donuts (1995)

Paul Martin at the most important Stampede ever, in 2004

Which finally brings us to the most infamous Stampede picture of them all.

The year was 2005, long before then-leader of the opposition Stephen Harper hired a psychic/stylist. It’s too bad, because she could have cautioned him against the tight leather vest and backwards cowboy hat that made him look like one of the Village People. At the very least, she would have been able to predict the coast-to-coast ridicule his outfit prompted.

Mind you, 7 months later Harper was Prime Minister, so he got the final laugh.

Luckily, this picture doesn’t show the ass-less chaps.

Harper’s an Alberta boy, so he should have known better. But, for some reason, Albertans sometimes have great difficulty looking like Albertans.

Take Ed Stelmach who, in 2007, had one of the worst Stampedes ever. Stelmach kicked off his first Premier’s breakfast by welcoming everyone to the “Alberta Stampede“. Minutes later, he was nearly pied. To top it off, the man looked horribly out-of-place the entire time in a dark blue suit jacket and a “get me out of here” smile.

Miraculously, this picture was never used in a “flip flop” campaign commercial.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are others who had varying degrees of success in pulling off the “cowboy look” over the years.

Mackenzie King can be forgiven for leaving his cowboy hat at home in 1939, when the King and Queen came visiting.

Carolyn Bennett finds herself at the Hays Breakfast, after getting lost en route to an “ugly Christmas sweater” party

PC leadership candidate Gary Mar poses with the winner of the Gary Mar look-alike contest, in 2011

Harry Chase always shows up to Stampede breakfasts looking like he’s ready for a gun fight at the O-K Corral.

Jim Prentice poses with the Tory caucus, in 2009

Gilles Duceppe, during a rare visit to the Stampede grounds, in 1997

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics, Featured Posts, Federal Politics, Humour, Politicians in Cowboy Hats

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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7 Responses to 100 Years of Bad Photo Ops

  1. Fred

    Your picture of Martin doesn’t show the knives in his back, each and every one planted there by loyal Liberal Party of Canada operatives. Fess up Warren.

    And now we have young Turdoh, son of the Great Moral Coward, Turdoh the First, he who sat out WW2 and let real men, real Canadians fight Hitler’s hordes to preserve our freedoms.

    The Liberal Party of Canada . . still sliding down the morality shit shute into the bottom of Canada’s outhouse.

    Where it richly deserves to be.

    Have a nice stampede.

    • jared

      thanks for your input.

  2. Matt

    Entertaining article. “Winner of the Gary Mar lookalike contest”… funny stuff

  3. Don Mitchell

    Couple of things CG. PET (you are damn right he was the great Satan!) is wearing a Western suit and sporting a kerchief tie.
    Also, the only folks who wear chaps without wranglers or underwear are strippers and gay pride parade participants.

  4. CuJoYYC

    Thank you Fred for reminding us of the decline of political discourse under Dear Leader™. I know that you and your ilk think you’re being witty, but the rest of us know better. You’re a shining example of the decline in our educational standards too.

    Best line was “Winner of the Gary Mar lookalike contest”. Great stuff.

  5. Pingback: Liberal Leadership Round-Up | Calgary Grit

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