By Andy Clark
“Hey bud, don’t blink or you’ll miss it,” the guy behind the counter said after I answered his query as to where I was headed.
I had stopped to grab a coffee along highway 97, about a five-hour drive north into the mountains from Vancouver. My destination was the town of Falkland, named after a career British soldier, Colonel Falkland GE Warren who had settled in the area in 1892. The reason for my visit was to photograph an annual event very popular with those living in the area, named the 94th Annual Falkland Stampede. One of the oldest rodeos in Canada, the stampede began as a community picnic in March of 1919 to celebrate the end of the First World War months earlier. Each year as the event grew, area residents gathered to enjoy local cowboys riding broncos and in 1969 the little stampede was sanctioned as a professional rodeo.
I first became aware of the Stampede while covering forest fires in 2003 just north of the area. I had seen a very weathered sign by a roadside and thought it might be worth looking into as a photo essay. Nine years went by, with me forgetting about the Stampede until the end of the event, until I finally arranged to shoot it.
As the coffee jockey had said, Falkland was a very small place nestled between two valleys. With about 10 shops and homes on the main street it wasn’t hard to find the stampede grounds. The old wooden stands with signs of recent repairs surrounded the small dirt ring, lined by white metal fencing and animal staging chutes at each end. For a photographer, finding places like this causes one to quietly say…Yesssss! As some will say, small rodeos like these are nothing new. Many have been photographed before and as I like to joke back, “That’s very true my friend, but not by me.”
For many photographers, covering events these days can be an exercise in futility when it comes to taking photographs. So many organizers are uptight about “their message” or “controlling photographers” that many times by days end I ask myself if its even worth it anymore. Not so at the Falkland Stampede. Everything was the exact opposite and very laid back. Obviously I had to demonstrate through letters and e-mails I was there legitimately to photograph the event, but after that was established, I was on my own. I could basically go where I wanted as long as I didn’t enter the ring during competition which I assured them was not something I would willingly do.