Here are some of the stories, legends and folklore behind the original Big Gap Round Ups. The Big Gap 100 celebrates 100 years this summer July 9th, 2016 down at the original stampede grounds in Neutral Hills, Alberta. A century ago for four years, the best entertainment in the West was found over at the Big Gap Round Up. North of Consort, Alberta, the original Round Ups attracted attention in the region and beyond for their mix of rodeo, sports and historic re-enactments with a wild west flavour. The ranchers were savvy, choosing to name the events Round Up because it sounded unique and calling them rodeos or stampedes would imply disorder and disaster. It was an idea that worked: roughly 12 000 to 15 000 people attended the final roundup in 1919, with several high profile guests including the then Premier of Alberta Charles Stewart, and Mayor of Edmonton Joseph A. Clark. 2016 marks the centennial anniversary of the first Big Gap Round Up held near Neutral Hills, Alberta and thus, the Big Gap 100 returns this summer on Saturday July 9th, 2016. Events include cowboy poetry, bannock making, a photography booth, a wagon trek and trail ride – all held in the original rodeo grounds. As the Big Gap 100 nears, we found a few things hidden in historical books and records that we brought out to illustrate how one-of-a-kind the original Round Ups were.

Nobody Let Prohibition Get In The Way

By 1917, the provincial government was pressured by temperance groups to declare Alberta a dry province. For the 1919 festivities, two detectives sent by the provincial authorities were on hand for the Round Up to ensure nobody was flouting the then fledgling Prohibition Act. Despite the presence of bootleggers, some brazen enough to set up in broad daylight, the detectives were unable to make a single arrest. Local residents abhorred the Prohibition Act; it forced and encouraged residents to make their own homebrew, a process at the time considered unsafe and unsanitary. Thus they opted not to give any information to the detectives, leaving them high and dry while bootleggers walked away from the Round Up with hundreds of dollars lining their pockets. One notable resident, Bill Holford, set up a business selling oats, which happened to look perfectly legitimate if you didn’t know that for an extra couple of bucks, you could also get a bottle of his best overproof tucked away with the oats.

The Legend of Grey Ghost

One of the challenges at the Round Ups was in fact a test of endurance. The ranchers brought some of the wildest horses in the region to test the mettle of riders. The horses were certainly distinctive, sporting names such as Steamboat, Calico, Blue Sky and Thunderbolt. Chief among them was Grey Ghost. His snow white mane and infamy at the Round Up grew, giving Grey Ghost a healthy career including high profile appearances at the Calgary Stampede and beyond for several years. “I caused quite a stir, and became a legend as being unridable.” reads a first person account. “The press told of my killer instincts. They called me an outlaw, and I was quite the media attraction.”

Staged Robberies

Bert Coffey was a cowboy whose family grew up in the area. In 1919, the organizers decided to put Coffey in charge of publicity. Naturally, his marketing plan for the Round Up was a diverse, robust effort; he and nine others would come into Edmonton and stage mock hold-ups at banks, firing off blanks and riding off with fake bags of money. Strangely enough, the banks agreed to it. The Mounties even donated horses to the cause. It wasn’t all scary; at their first outing, Coffey took the time to tend to a senior who fainted during the faux robbery. Yet the effectiveness of the campaign was called into question during their second robbery at a bank on the outskirts of Edmonton. Once again, nobody but the bank manager was in on the secret, especially an ex-Mountie who lived across the street and saw what was going on and took matters into his own hands (and gun). Thankfully, he missed. Coffey lived to see another day but wisely learned that while all publicity is good publicity, a joke may not be worth losing your life over.

See You At The Big Gap 100

These are just some of the stories, legends and folklore behind the original Round Ups. July 9th, 2016 celebrate 100 years this summer with us! Head north of Consort to the original stampede grounds in the Neutral Hills for a day of history and Albertan fun.