High River a giant in chuckwagon history

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Thursday, Jul 17, 2014 03:43 pm

Jason Glass will race is checkerboard -wagon in his hometown of High River for the first time since he won the Calgary Stampede 2013.
Jason Glass will race is checkerboard -wagon in his hometown of High River for the first time since he won the Calgary Stampede 2013.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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The King has reigned over High River several times in his career.

However, he is a kind king and he and the other drivers did all they could to ensure the Guy Weadick Chuckwagons races would be a go in High River in 2014.

The races are scheduled for July 17-20 in High River after being cancelled in June due to poor weather.

Kelly “The King” Sutherland remembers how High River helped the drivers when they were shutout by the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth more than 30 years ago.

“We rented those (High River) grounds and there were a lot of people who did a lot of work in the High River area,” the 62-year-old Sutherland said. “We ran there for 10 days for three years in a row. The town and the area just supported us so much.

“I think we had 8,000 people on the final weekends.”

In 1979, the Calgary Stampede did not renew its contract with the Canadian Rodeo Association, which the chuckwagon drivers were a part of at that time. As a result, the High River Agriculture Society stepped up when the drivers asked if they could come down and compete in what would be called the Battle of the Giants. The event went head-to-head with the Calgary Stampede for three years.

“When Calgary made the deal with someone else, the chuckwagon drivers wanted a place to run and we said we would take them,” said Ralph Nelson, the president of the High River Ag Society at the time.

The Battle of the Giants was just that — it was the who’s who of the chuckwagon racing world. Some of the drivers included Ron David, Tom Glass, Kelly Sutherland, Richard Cosgrave and Ward Willard to name a few.

The drivers would return to the Stampede in 1982.

There were no hard feelings. The High River Ag Society and Stampede would work together for their respective events for years to come.

Sutherland, who has won the High River championship five times and the Battle of the Giants in 1979, won’t forget what High River did for them more than three decades ago.

“There’s not a lot of guys left who remember those days,” Sutherland said with a chuckle.

There’s one driver born after the Battle of the Giants who he is fully aware of High River’s history in chuckwagon racing — in fact he is now part of High River.

“My grandfather (Ron David) told me about the days when they had the Battle of the Giants when them and Calgary were at odds and they ran in High River,” said 27-year-old Jordie Fike said. “High River is wagon country and they were there for us.”

Fike’s wife Tamara grew up in High River.

“It’s her hometown and it’s my hometown now too,” said Fike. “High River is important to me.”

The wagons will be back in High River this weekend for the first time since Sutherland won the Weadick races in 2012.

The 2013 High River races were scheduled to run on June 20 — the day the flood devastated the community.

They were supposed to go on June 19 of this year, when the skies opened up again.

“I am on the track committee and it just looked like déjà vu there,” Sutherland said. “It was raining and the committee was inundated by phone calls to get their tickets back.

Cancelling seemed the right thing to do.”

This year the races were postponed, not cancelled.

“Getting back to High River is key. We want that show to go off for the community and the executive of the High River Ag Society,” said Sutherland. “We have run races there for a long time and we want to be there for a long time to come.”

Fike agreed. “Missing a show in 2013 was pretty small for us, compared to seeing what other people in High River were going through,” said Fike, who is also part of the WPCA track committee.

“After it was cancelled in June, we knew we had to come back. High River needs a show — they need wagon racing and something to help take their minds off things.”

Chuckwagon driver Colt Cosgrave was born in High River. Although he now lives in Hand Hills, he will have “High River” written across his tarp when he runs this weekend.

Cosgrave’s tarp was purchased by High River Autoplex and RV for the High River races — and others, including the Calgary Stampede — to promote the community.

“I’m glad to be going back,” Cosgrave said. “It’s the High River tarp and I know there will be a lot of people watching.”

When Jason Glass runs in High River this weekend, it will be the first time he’s competed in his hometown since winning the Calgary Stampede in July of 2013.

“Hopefully we can fill the stands this weekend,” said Glass a four-time winner of the High River races. “This is an important stop in our tour. We’ve been going to High River forever.

“Without these small communities, chuckwagon racing would never have survived.”

The Guy Weadick Races will go Thursday to Saturday starting at 7 p.m. Sunday will go at 4 p.m. There will be a cabaret after Saturday’s performance featuring Abby Powell.

For race tickets and information go to guyweadickdays.ca or call 403-652-3336.


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