RICH WITH HISTORY
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Soon after the Cochrane Lions were chartered in 1964, the club started searching for ways of making money so they could donate it back to the community. Cochrane at that time was very much a rural village, surrounded by farms and ranches and heavily influenced by western culture. Holding a rodeo to raise money seemed like a natural fit, so on the Labour Day weekend in 1966, the Cochrane Lions Club held its first annual rodeo.
“The Lions were looking for a lucrative fund-raiser,” informed Joan Westerson, a long-time Cochrane resident. “Cochrane was a ranching community, so why not a rodeo? We started the Lioness Club in 1977 and we as a club have always helped the Lions with the rodeo.”
The rodeo grounds that the Lions now occupy off of Fifth Avenue was just a pasture in the early 1960s before the Lions arrived. Syd Hall was grazing cows on the land.
“My grand-dad (Syd Hall) leased the land from the Village of Cochrane for a dollar a year,” stated Allan Hall, a long time member with the Lions. “Clarence McGonigle came along and asked my grand-dad to give up his lease because the Lions wanted to have a rodeo there. The Lions then leased it for a dollar a year from the Village of Cochrane. No one ever donated that land to the Lions. That’s the gospel truth. As far as I know Cochrane has always owned that land.”
A rodeo arena was built on the grounds and in 1965 the grounds held its first rodeo, although the Lions did not host it, Cochrane Lions’ members Alf Dionne and John Powell did spearhead it. The following year the Cochrane Lions held its inaugural rodeo, and it was named The Rangeland Frolics.
The little hamlet of Cochrane became a village in 1903 and in 1906 had a population of 158 residents. Five years later the village boasted a population of 395 residents. It was not until after World War II that Cochrane began a renewed expansion, and in 1971, the community was incorporated as a town with a population exceeding 800.
“I used to come to the rodeo when I was younger,” long-time Lions’ member Ted Westerson said. “My brother was in the Lions Club so we used to help out with the rodeo. I didn’t become a Lions member until the mid 1970s, but I always helped at the rodeo before then. I knew all the Lions members before I joined, because I had helped out at the rodeo. I think I have done just about every job there is to do at the rodeo. These old-timers started it and then we came along and took it over. We are now the outgoing old-timers.”
When the Rangeland Frolics started, adult admission cost $1.50 and it was only 50 cents a tickets for youngsters. But, 50 years is a long time, so it is natural that things change with time, and the rodeo grounds and the rodeo itself have gone through transformations. “We used to have a racetrack down at the grounds,” Ted Westerson stated. “We had pony chuckwagons and chariot races. We had wooden gates and after the rodeo a lot of the competitors used to ride their horses over to the creek. We had greased pig races and rooster races. We had pack mule races and everybody from around came to it. People like Bobby Turner and Mac MacKenzie competed in these races. It was a lot of fun. The races ended when they put the ball diamonds in and took the track out, in 1989. But times change. “It used to be all local, amateur competitors,” added Joan Westerson. “Now they come from all over the province. We use the FCA (Foothills Cowboys Association). I think it is awesome that the town supports people from all over. People don’t realize all the work that goes into putting on an event like this. All the organization is the hardest part, not the event itself.”
Besides the 50th anniversary for the Cochrane Lions Rodeo, it also an anniversary of sorts for the Westersons. “50 years ago this September we went to the rodeo dance at the community hall,” Ted Westerson announced, looking at his wife. “It was our first date." "We knew each other because we both grew up here, but we never talked to each other,” Joan Westerson added. “The next spring we got married.”
Cochrane residents have embraced the Cochrane Lions Rodeo and the popular dances they still host, 50 years later, and people, like the Westersons, are still finding love because of the rodeo. Talk about a true western romance.