From its fresh beginnings in 1965, the event formerly known as Rodeo 104 has always been an unlikely success story.
From a mischief-maker releasing dozens of stampeding horses into the town (as in 1972), to the torrential downpours that by 1974 would become the St. Albert Rainmaker’s namesake, no misfortune seems to hamper the St. Albert staple.
Started by the Kinsmen Club as a combination fundraiser and celebration of St. Albert’s 104th anniversary, the event remains one of the largest semi-professional rodeos in Canada. Steer wrestling, calf roping, bull riding, and the parade and pancake breakfast were all mainstays of the 1965 event, and have remained core attractions ever since.
Lawrence Hughes, current parade chair for this year’s festivities, has been involved in the Rainmaker for decades. Hughes served as rodeo chairman when St. Albert turned 130 (back in 1992), and said one highlight that sticks out to him from years past is the sense of community and good will.
“I’ve always remembered the camaraderie,” Hughes said, adding that he often felt it most in the build-up to the rodeo itself. “For weeks in advance, we were cleaning up the site and painting stands and doing all the little things that need doing in preparation for the rodeo.”
Hughes — who joined the Kinsmen Club in 1978 — described how the Rainmaker has evolved over the years from a rag-tag assortment of dedicated volunteers to a professional affair complete with hired security.
Originally held on the St. Albert Funeral Chapel site owned by the Oblate Fathers, the St. Albert Rainmaker moved to Riel Park in 1978 as festivities ballooned.
As its name might suggest, the Rainmaker adopted a playful fondness for the downpours that more often than not would wash out the event. In 1974, the “raindrop gang” — mostly composed of contestants vying for the title of Rodeo Queen — performed a choreographed dance to Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.
The mess of mud the rain brought with it would even bolster activities introduced in the late 1980s, such as mud bog racing. Hughes said the racing ended, however, when the portion of the park used for the mud bog became a spot for permanent trailers.
Despite attempts to embrace the rain, the downpours often wreaked havoc, resulting in substantial material consequences. Financial losses over the years became significant — for example in 1983, when lost funds due to the rain climbed to $18,000.
Eventually, organizers changed the date of the festival entirely, moving it up from June to the end of May in the hopes of better weather.
Though the St. Albert Rainmaker has shifted and adapted over the years, Hughes said it has remained consistent in more than a reputation for bringing in the rain. The spirit of giving back to the community through fundraising, and the unbridled fun, are both aspects that keep Hughes coming back, he said.
“I’ve always had a good time,” Hughes said.