Two Cloverdale residents, Jack Shannon and Clarke Greenaway, were on a trip to the B.C. Interior in 1944 when they stopped to watch a rodeo in Kamloops. An idea was born to bring a similar event home, and the Cloverdale Kinsmen Club quickly agreed that it could be a great way to bring the community together and fundraise for some local amenities.
The first Cloverdale rodeo was organized in 1945 by local volunteers. The Second World War was just ending and it was a time of promising economic prosperity. After some very lean years enduring the war with loved ones away from home, the timing was just right.
Clarke Greenaway was a local businessman who lived in Kensington Prairie. By all accounts, Greenaway was a large, boisterous, forceful, even flamboyant fellow who had a way of getting things done. He travelled around B.C. and the Washington state, encouraging people to become involved in the fledgling rodeo.
“This show is going to be strictly big-league,” Greenaway told The Surrey Leader in 1946.
Attendance far exceeded expectations and the organizers soon realized they had something special. By 1946, the event had a sponsor in the Lower Fraser Valley Agricultural Association and, with Clarke Greenaway as rodeo manager, it became a two-day event.
“The West goes Western at Cloverdale” was the theme of the year. There were the events we know today – bronc and bull riding, horse and barrel races but there were others too.
Spectators could watch chuckwagon and Roman chariot races, a track and field competition, and compete in contests for best-dressed cowgirl and cowboy or best cow pony. Excitement built as “welcome home” parties for returning soldiers were popular and war brides were arriving to their new homes. The Cloverdale Rodeo provided not only work for the veterans but also a brought a sense of community spirit.
The list of entertainers and competitors was colourful. ‘Alkali Ike’ Bowers was the arena manager. ‘Hobo Bill and his educated donkey’ was the main clown act. One-armed trick roper Red Jackson was a big attraction as well. Carnival games were set up on the main street of Cloverdale. Each evening, a dance was held in the Cloverdale Athletic Hall.
A grandstand was built to seat 1,500 spectators, with another five acres of standing room, for the 1946 rodeo. Grandstand seats sold for $1 and standing room cost $0.50.
Allan Dann, a local businessman, later remembered that, “We all did what we could. But, it was a complete surprise to us the first rodeo, the number of people that showed up. And, of course, we weren’t prepared for this, at least, I don’t think I was, anyway. And I know I was working on selling tickets and this money kept coming in and they came around with a cardboard box and said, ‘Throw it in that, that’ll do for now.’”
A teenager from Mt. Vernon, Washington named Melvin “Wick” Peth wowed the crowd with his bullfighting skills that year. Young Wick had a special fearlessness and a way of anticipating the bull’s moves few had ever seen. He would become a pioneer in the methods of distracting bulls once the rider was off and by 1948 he became a professional bullfighter.
In 1953, he was the first to don the denim skirt of a rodeo clown but it was more for freedom of movement than a humorous gag. In 1979, he was inducted in the Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame and is considered the ‘grandfather of the modern, cleated bullfighter’.
Now in his late 80s, he lives in Bow, W.A. with his family.
Clarke Greenaway and Jack Shannon’s dream had become a reality. That 1946 rodeo saw 7,000 attend over the two days, with more than 1,000 people turned away.
“We’ve just got to double the seating capacity for next year’s rodeo,” Clarke was quoted in The Surrey Leader following the event.
An event of its size took a lot of ingenuity, planning and coordination to pull off. War rationing was lessening but would not end officially until 1947, so sugar, gas and other essentials were still in short supply.
In October 1948, Clarke Greenaway was on a road trip to entice new talent to the rodeo when his car went off the road near Hope. He and his companions were killed. The loss was keenly felt in Cloverdale and the surrounding area and his funeral was attended by many.
Today, on 60 Avenue just east of 176 Street, there is a parked named in Greenaway’s honour. It was dedicated in 1953 as Clarke Greenaway Memorial Park, in recognition of the contributions he brought to the community and to the Cloverdale Kinsmen Club.
Next time you are near the park, consider how Clarke Greenaway’s visions bloomed into an event that is still a huge part of Cloverdale, seven decades after he had an idea while watching a small-town rodeo in the Interior.
Sue Bryant is an oral historian and a member of the Surrey Historical Society. She is also a digital photo restoration artist, genealogist and volunteers at the Surrey Museum and Surrey Archives.