Watrins were tall in the saddle at Stampede
Rodeo: Leo, Slim former Canadian champs in Calgary
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Jul 09, 2014 01:53 pm
Crossing western Canada by horse and wagon to homestead near Okotoks in the early 1900s might have provided the grit for the Watrin family to compete at the Calgary Stampede.
The Watrin brothers — Clarence (Slim), Eddie, Leo and Lawrence — were mainstays and champions in the saddle bronc at the Calgary Stampede in the 1930s.
“Their dad died when the boys were teenagers or younger,” said Lawrence Bews, a nephew of the Watrin brothers. “The boys were faced with farm life, riding horses and steers — I just think they were rough and tumble kids who learned to ride on their own.”
The school of hard knocks paid off.
“The two older boys (Clarence and Eddie) started riding local rodeos and stampedes — Black Diamond, Chestermere Lake, Hand Hills — before making their debut in Calgary in 1923,” Bews said.
The Watrins had already proven their toughness. The four brothers were part of a large family — 21 children (a first and second wife) — which made the trek from Minnesota to the family farm approximately two kilometres west of the now defunct Magcan plant off of Highway 2A. The rodeo brothers were 10 or younger when they made the journey.
Leo and Slim would set the Okotoks-High River area abuzz when they swept the saddle bronc titles in 1928 at the Calgary Stampede.
Leo won the Canadian bronc riding championship in Calgary that year, while Slim was the North American champion.
“They were separate events in those days — the Canadians could compete for the Canadian championship and everybody would compete for the North American,” Bews said. “The Watrins won them both that year.”
Leo nearly defended his Canadian championship in 1929 and 1930, finishing second both years.
In 1930 he was second to the legendary Pete Knight, the King of the Cowboys, from Crossfield.
Tragically, it would be Leo’s last Calgary Stampede.
“Leo was changing a tire just south of Calgary (not far from the current Okotoks overpass) and he got hit by a passing motorist not long after the Stampede,” Bews said.
“He was in the prime of his career when he got killed at 24 years of age.
“I think Leo would have been the best of them, but Clarence went on to win more championships.”
Clarence “Slim” Watrin would win the Canadian championship at Calgary in 1931, earning $750. His brothers Eddie and Lawrence also picked up day money in 1931.
Slim was inducted into the Canadian Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1984.
Eddie’s best Stampede was in 1930, when he finished fourth in the North American championship.
He would win several rodeos, including Portland in 1932.
However, it was seven years earlier that Eddie caught the rodeo world’s attention.
“Midnight was a very famous bucking horse and Eddie might have been the first to ride him in 1925 in Edmonton,” he said. “Pete Knight would ride him again a year later in Montreal.”
The Watrins brothers were heroes to the now 84-year-old Bews, who has scrapbooks and memorabilia of his uncles at his Lethbridge home.
“When I was a young boy I saw them ride in Calgary and a big rodeo in Black Diamond,” Bews said. “Uncle Lawrence, Ray’s dad, taught me how to ride bucking horses. It was kind of like a rodeo school — but he didn’t charge anybody.”
Although Lawrence was never a Calgary Stampede champion, he would provide a learning ground for future stars to compete. He, along with Harry Vold of the Vold family, were instrumental in bringing the Little Britches Rodeo to High River.
Lawrence’s son Ray would go on to win a pair of Grey Cups with the Montreal Alouettes as an offensive lineman and is now an Okotoks town councillor.
Ray also competed at the Calgary Stampede — winning day money in the boys steer riding as a teen.