During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, potatoes were being grown commercially on a flat bordering the Smoky River near the homestead of Ancel Maynard Bezanson and not too far from the Bezanson Townsite.
Rodeo and horsemanship events have been a part of this region since it was first settled. Many rodeos and stampedes were originally created as an event to get away from the regular stresses of farm and ranch life. Rodeos and stampedes were an opportunity for the community to come together, participate in games and amusements and sometimes use the skills and horsemanship talents from farm work to compete against other rodeo athletes. Most rodeos and stampedes not only had events for cowboys, but they also had events for kids which was entertaining for everyone.
Bezanson has always had roots in the farm and ranch way of life and it also has a lengthy history of being a social community. From its very beginnings down at the townsite, community races, sports days and picnics were a regular occurrence. It is fitting then, that Bezanson in later years also hosted rodeo events in its annual Stampede, “The Biggest Little Rodeo”. The rodeo grounds were located in the area where the Bezanson ball diamonds and curling rink sit today. “The shoots were on the west side of the arena while the horses bucked out of the east side, there was a covered barn and the bleachers were on the east side around the corral,” Henry Diederich reflects on his days being involved in the Stampede.
The Bezanson Stampede was an annual event from 1947 – 1962 in the hamlet of Bezanson. The event brought together many people from the surrounding area for an event that included calf roping, cow hide races, wild cow milking, potatoe races, saddle bronc, kids rodeo events and more! This event did not include bull riding! Although there is not a lot of information about the Bezanson Stampede, I sat down with a few of the people that volunteered to make the event happen: Grant and Margaret Moon as well as Henry Diederich. Grant was the President of the Stampede back in the day, he and Margaret were tireless volunteers in the Stampede event, and Henry was the announcer from 1947-1962.
The Stampede at Bezanson was full of activities: carnival, rides, Ferris wheel, as well as a couple of food booths complete with pies, hot dogs, hamburgers. Grant recalls that, “One year they had Coca-cola and the next year it was Pepsi-cola. This alternated every year.” Children’s games and events were a part of Stampede Day also. Roy Robideau did most of the organizing for the kid’s games during the rodeo years. They had a supper in the evening for sale, then a dance.
Grant and Margaret also remember how the money from the stampede (after it had stopped running) was given to the hall group. The hall was an important part of the community that everyone made use of; dances, meetings, movie theatre. Margaret says,” Everyone paid for stampede, even the workers (volunteers). Dances at the hall men: $1, women: free. Dances started at 10 PM, swept at 12 AM, midnight dinner at 12 AM for 30 minutes and these dances would last until around 2-3 AM. Music was performed by locals such as Earl Patterson, Bredesons, Fords and Dwayne Stark.”
The rodeo portion of the event included wild cow milking, mutton busting, calf-roping, potato races, cow hide races, cow riding (instead of bull riding), bucking bronc-bare back, stake races and barrel races. Neither the Moons nor Henry remember a human corral for the rodeo but when it ran in the hamlet, there was a fence up. The Moons remember that, “Henry Diederich was the last announcer, Johnny Stark before Henry.” They also remembered that, “Bud Patterson rode around on his horse with a cone and shouted out the announcing in the arena.”
The stock used for the rodeo came from local farms originally. The animals were branded to keep track of them. In the last few years the Stampede organizers bought horses, which after Teepee Stampede bought horses too, were traded back and forth for the events. Many local farmers supplied stock for the event. Henry remembers bucking stock supplied by Bob Frakes and cattle supplied by Bob Mcfee, Hap McLaughlin, Pete and Charlie Moon.
One of the memorable stories from the Bezanson Stampede was the infamous Bezanson Gravedigger. It was deemed the wildest horse. Henry remembers, “Delmer Weegar used to ride. Once when the others were chicken to get on the Bezanson Gravedigger, Delmer volunteered. He probably would have ridden it too if he hadn’t hooked his foot on the gate on the way out.”
On top of the all of the riding events, the Bezanson Stampede also held the Pleasure Class and Glamour Class. This is where they would dress in costume and show off their horses around the corral. There were cash prizes for these groups and even a trophy for the winner. Grant remembers the last trophy possibly going to someone that was from Fort St. John.
Rodeo clowns Delmer and David Weegar on horseback at Bezanson Stampede.
Rodeo clowns at Bezanson Stampede.
Courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives CA GPR 0502-2010.48.03
Henry reminisces, “The Stampede was like a big family event with everyone coming. There were lots of locals with the odd out of towners. It was the biggest event of the year, everyone came and many people camped.” Hosting a big event took a lot of volunteer effort. Grant recalls, “Ten days work to get it ready, and then take it all down. A lot of work. [We had to] find people to work in booths and to volunteer.”
When asked as to why the Stampede in Bezanson didn’t have a longer run, Grant Moon replied, “Not sure, maybe the lack of interest or it was too much work for one day. It was not because of the Teepee Creek Stampede. Guys would come from Teepee and help Bezanson and then vice versa. They always worked together with the stampedes.” Henry Diederich recalls that the decision made to discontinue with the stampede was also due to the need to upgrade the chutes and rodeo grounds and the lack of funds to do so.
The communities of Teepee Creek and Bezanson worked together for their stampedes. This was very important because then they were able to have more volunteers and even more horses at each of their stampedes. These communities that worked together helped each other grow and develop. They provided the assistance to help one another complete a huge event for each community. Although the stampede did not continue past 1962, the community had a successful rodeo for the little while they had and that brought them together as a community.
Stampede Day showing entire Bezanson Stampede Grounds in 1957
Courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives CA GPR 0502-2010.48.04a
1945 Stampede Time at Bezanson showing the cowboys Harvey Weegar, Don Stark, Desmond Stark and Jim Stark.
Photo Courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives CA GPR 0502-2010.48.01
The History Behind the Trail
Many residents in the area have not only heard about the “Johnston Trail” but have used it extensively as an excellent hiking trail or for other recreational activities. As the trail possesses a spectacular view of the Smoky River, It is one of the most beautiful scenic trails in the area. However, not everyone knows where the name came from and it has on occasion even been referred to incorrectly as the Johnson Trail. It was actually named after the person who had originally constructed the trail – Willis Johnston.
The Johnston family has been in the Bezanson area since 1912. When Willis returned from WWII, he purchased a ½ section of land from his father. Willis and his wife, Vivian, decided to enter into a cattle ranching business and began to look for land to lease in order to have sufficient pasture on which to run their cattle during the summer months. Suitable acres were located on the east side of the Smoky River – portions of NE 18, W ½ of 19, NE 20 and W ½ of 20-72-2-W6. The lease was in place by 1959.
Then a road had to be built to reach the lease land. Willis purchased a John Deer 440 Caterpillar, welded a canopy on the machine and began to clear a roadway of trees and build-up a base of suitable soil for the road itself. It was quite the daunting task for such a small piece of equipment. At that time, there was a small convenience store and restaurant located on the north side of the Smoky River Bridge on the east side of the river. The “Johnston Trail” began slightly east of that point and meandered northward towards the lease land. Willis and Vivian enjoyed many years in the cattle industry before Vivian became ill and passed away in 1974. Willis subsequently sold his herd of cattle and did not renew the lease in 1977.
Willis was very proud that the road became known as the “Johnston Trail” and his descendants are very pleased that it is still known as that yet today.
Written and photos by Wanda (Johnston) Zenner March 2020
**No part of this document may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any format without written permission of the author**
Craig’s family, the Johnston’s, arrived in the Bezanson area in 1912. Craig, born on March 12, 1975 at Grande Prairie, is Wanda Zenner’s middle son. He has two brothers, Daren and Barry. Craig attended the Bezanson Consolidated School followed by High School at Sexsmith and then on to NAIT in Edmonton where he studied Civil Engineering.
The idea for a skating rink began during the infancy of the Hamlet of Bezanson. The Herald-Tribune reported in February 1940, “Curling, Skating Rinks to Be Built in Bezanson District”. The article went on to say that the meeting was held at Rooney’s Store with Moose Nellis acting as chairman. A permit had been obtained and the plan was for a regulation-size hockey/skating rink. It was decided to locate the rink on what was known as the “sports grounds” across the road to the east of the store. Unfortunately, with the onset of WWII, many of the young men from the area enlisted and the project had to be put on hold.
Join the Bezanson Ag Society and the Bezanson Recreational Society as these two groups come together to host this event, working collaboratively to benefit our community.
The Seniors Walk & Talk is going strong here at the Bezanson Community Centre with an incredible group of youthful walkers. And it’s not too late to join in every Wednesday morning from 10 – noon! This opportunity is an initiative of FCSS (Family & Community Support Services with the County of Grande Prairie) and the Bezanson Ag Society. Walk, Talk & Coffee are free of charge!
Stop in and walk in the gym and then enjoy a cup of coffee while visiting and Baba to Be Catering always has a snack for sale if the walk has boosted your appetite!
The Bezanson Agricultural Society welcomes Baba To Be Catering to their team. Baba To Be will be catering from the Knelsen Commercial Kitchen and not only providing a great menus as the In-House Caterer, but will be rolling out a variety of pre-made meals for purchase after the Family Day Weekend! Experience a sampling of their cuisine at the Valentine’s Dance on Friday, February 14.
Bezanson Agricultural Society is seeking expressions of Interest for a qualified and experienced Catering Operator to enter into an Agreement for the use of the commercial grade kitchen within the Knelsen Centre. This one-year agreement will extend from February 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021 with a review and evaluation prior to December 31, 2020 and the possibility of extending the Agreement.
All information is included in the link below.