By Sue Bryant,
For as long as the rodeo has been a part of Cloverdale’s culture, so has the rodeo parade. It would be hard to imagine one without the other, as the parade in all its forms over the years has served as a welcoming committee for rodeo events in town.
In 1946, the first official rodeo parade assembled on the school grounds beside the municipal hall on Highway 10 (or, as it was then known, New McLellan Road). Heading the parade was a cowboy band in a range wagon followed by the Cloverdale Volunteer Fire Department. After that, a group of local cowboys and cowgirls on their decorated horses made their way to the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.
Alan Dann, owner of Dann’s Electronics, recalled in an 1989 interview that the parade was very much a local affair. “Frankly, you had to get locals,” he remembered. “If you had a saddle horse or something, they rounded you up and said, ‘Come on, bring it down, stick it in the parade, it’ll look good.’”
At that first parade, A.J. Christmas, president of the Lower Fraser Valley Agricultural Association, paid tribute to the hard work of the volunteers who made the event possible and announced the rodeo would become an annual function.
For the first few years following, there were a few challenges with competing parades in the area. The May Day long weekend was also the time for May Day parades in several town centres as well as the International Peace Arch Parade.
Still, the rodeo parade grew every year with the addition of marching bands, colour parties, majorettes and decorated vehicles. By 1950, the rodeo was commanding crowds of thousands of people and the streets of Cloverdale became an important part of the rodeo theme. Bright plaid shirts and blue jeans were declared as the “required wear” of the parade, with threats of dunking into horse troughs for anyone not wearing the Western togs. Businesses located on the main street of Cloverdale were covered with false storefronts, turning the town into “Cow Town.”
| The Cloverdale Rodeo Parade.
Dann family collection / Courtesy of Kathleen Dann Honey
Many children would dress up and march in their parade, often with a decorated doll buggy or wagon. When the judges reviewed the children’s costumes, they would give out a shiny penny to the winner rather than candy.
Chuckwagons and Roman chariots led the parade with more than 60 individual horses and riders following close behind. In 1950, the first float made its appearance —Everett’s Nursery of Port Kells entered a car completely hidden under gorgeous fresh tulip blooms.
In 1957, CBC brought Cloverdale to the big leagues. They broadcasted the parade over 153 stations across Canada. There were more than 500 rodeos being held throughout Canada at that time, and now the Cloverdale Rodeo had been elevated to a major event.
With growth came change; the parade needed to be further organized. Now, entrants had to pre-register at a cost of 25 cents per rider and $10 per commercial entrant. The cost did not deter many. The 1969 rodeo was 200 strong in horses and riders, from Shetland ponies to high-spirited parade horses and everything in between.
By the early 1960s, the rodeo parade became the main parade event in all of Surrey. Rules changed yet again and now entries to the parade were being solicited, rather than received. Western theme was now optional, and the length of the parade was just over 2.5 km long.
This meant the parade welcomed some special entries that were not seen in years past. The Oakalla Prison heavy draft team with four Clydesdale horses was a crowd favourite. The Vancouver PNE float also made its first appearance in 1963. It was a Hawaiian theme, named the “Pageant of the Pacific,” and featured women on surfboards on top of the float.
A comic entry was also added as a judging category. The Cloverdale Volunteer Fire Department became well-known for their entry and won for their efforts many times. They became sillier each year, and became an expected comic relief for the crowd. Parade viewers would be sprayed by the trucks as they drove through the parade route and many remember jostling for the best position in anticipation of being sprayed with water by the Surrey Fire Department.
In 1967, the famous Jade Saddle made its inaugural debut. Created by Peter White, a gem collector from North Vancouver, the saddle was made of hand-tooled carved leather, and displayed more than 2,000 B.C. jade gemstones ranging in colour from white to blue gray and from green to jet black. The saddle was insured at an extraordinary cost of $50 a day by Hugh & McKinnon. This unique saddle is now on permanent display at the O’Keefe Ranch in Vernon, B.C.
The parade was an event for all. Michael Gibbs, current president of the Surrey Historical Society, grew up in Cloverdale and remembered as the parade grew bigger in the 1960s, families would arrive earlier and earlier for that coveted spot on the parade route. He fondly recalls his mother, ever the thrifty one, would comment at parade’s end, “Well kids, you have seen the rodeo parade, so there is no need to go to the fairgrounds and spend money.”
While the rodeo had become a destination attraction, the parade became an event that all families could enjoy, without the worry of extra financial burden.
As we embark on the 73rd Cloverdale Rodeo parade, which has grown to a size that could not have been dreamed of in 1946, the heart that began the event is still very much evident in the volunteers and the team that make it possible for everyone to feel part of the community.
Sue Bryant is a local historian and a member of the Surrey Historical Society. She is also a digital photo restoration artist, genealogist, and volunteer for the Surrey Museum and Surrey Archives.