– This year marks the 97th annual Calgary Stampede, and the city’s
Jewish community knows how to celebrate. The “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”
runs from July 3 to July 12, and is the world’s largest outdoor rodeo,
attracting approximately 1.2 million visitors each year.
Sheila Martin (in cowboy hat) making eggs with friends
Although, at about
8,000 members, Calgary’s Jewish population seems miniscule next to that number,
its Stampede spirit is strong. On
Sunday, the Calgary Jewish Community Centre teamed up with the Congregation
House of Jacob-Mikveh Israel to host the world’s only Kosher Stampede
Breakfast. The Modern Orthodox synagogue began hosting the breakfast in 1998, said
volunteer and active House of Jacob member Sheila Martin. “The whole community
is invited. It’s nice to have a kosher breakfast—otherwise observant people
wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.”
This year’s event is especially notable;
not only is it the Stampede’s 97th anniversary, but it is the 100th
anniversary of the House of Jacob and the 120th anniversary of
Jewish life in Calgary.
It might be surprising to some, but
Jews have had a presence at the Stampede throughout its history. “Jews have
been part of the tradition the Stampede started from,” said Agnes Romer-Segal
of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta. There were many Jewish
cattle sellers and ranchers, fur and hide dealers, and Jews working in Calgary
Stockyards. Some Jews were homesteaders in Alberta, others were farmers.
were even a few Jewish cowboys, such as Curly Gurevitch, who in one 1930
photograph, wears flared leather chaps and a shirt with a Magen David and the
letters “AZA” (Aleph Zadik Aleph, the B’nai Brith Youth Organization) on it.
The most prominent Jewish connection to the Calgary Stampede is probably the
Smithbilt Hat Company, makers of Calgary’s famous White Hats. Smithbilt was
started by Russian-Jewish immigrant Morris Shumiatcher in 1919 and was later
owned by Isaac Aptowitzer. Inside the Smithbilt hats are the initials “CK,” for
Even those without much knowledge of
Calgary’s Jewish history had a great time. “It’s very funny watching a bunch of
Jewish people pretending to be cowboys,” said Josh Lamm with a laugh. Lamm and
his wife Rivki are visiting Alberta and Montana from Long Island, N.Y. When they told their friends they were
travelling to the Rockies, the Lamms were advised to stop in Calgary for the
Stampede. House of Jacob members Debbie and Nelson Halpern hosted the couple
during Shabbat. “We are so impressed by the hospitality of the shul and the
people,” said Rivki.
To many people at the breakfast,
Calgary’s Jewish community exemplifies the Stampede’s message of western hospitality
and inclusivity. “Calgary’s community is a wonderful, welcoming community,”
said Nava Wainer, a native Israeli who moved to Calgary 12 years ago, after
spending years in Toronto. “A lot of people have moved here from other places.
When you don’t have family, your friends become your family—we have that here,”
she explained. The Stampede was a bit of a culture shock, Wainer said. “When we
first moved to Calgary, my son, who was younger then, said: ‘What is this,
The Stampede is full of exciting
events, from chuckwagon races, concerts, agricultural competitions, First
Nations exhibits, a midway and more, so choosing a favourite might be a little
difficult. The Jewish community’s breakfast
makes the top of Helen Walker’s list, however.
came to the Kosher Stampede Breakfast because I knew I wouldn’t have to say no
to people bothering me to eat sausages, bacon, and pork products,” she quips.
“It’s great to be with people you know.” Shelley Cohen’s favourite Stampede
event will take place on July 12, when her 23-year-old son David, the pianist
for Nashville-based singer Johnny Reid, performs there. And Billy Cosman, 18,
loves how the city comes together and transforms for a “ten-day party” to which
everyone is invited, even the horses and cows.
Close to 1,000 people attended the
Kosher Stampede Breakfast, mostly from the Jewish community but quite a few
non-Jewish friends came to enjoy the pancakes too (along with enough
hashbrowns, eggs, fruit and other goodies to make your Bubby proud). People
danced along to the live music of the wonderful Calgary Fiddlers; kids enjoyed
pony rides, while others marveled at the CJCC and House of Jacob’s Centennial
Float, which made its debut in the Stampede Parade on Friday morning.
Shula Banchik, the CJCC’s Youth and
Adult Program Coordinator, helped House of Jacob congregant Larry Katz organize
the Breakfast. “Thanks to the great team of volunteers, and thanks to Larry
Katz who organized this,” she said. “The volunteers were amazing, the weather helped,
and the fiddlers were fantastic.”
so gratifying to see so many people in both the Jewish and non-Jewish
come to help celebrate the 120th anniversary of Jewish
life in Calgary and the 100th anniversary of the House of Jacob,”
said Katz. “I hope we can continue to have great events—this is the beginning
of many more celebrations.”