The rise and fall of Neutral Hill’s Stampede City

Cowboy Parade opening ceremony, circa 1919. Image courtesy of Diane Maull and Patrick Gilmer
Written by Terri Huxley

Cowboy Parade opening ceremony, circa 1919. Image courtesy of Diane Maull and Patrick Gilmer

After the buffalo roamed freely when cowboys were king, the Big Gap Ranchers Roundup and Rodeo was a piece of history that has permanently stamped the Neutral Hills.

It has been 100 years since the roundup graced the Neutral Hills, approximately 19 kilometres north of Consort, Alta. and approximately 39 kilometres south of Czar, Alta.

The wild west was prominent as ranchers would gather to meet for a special weekend of riding and performances.

The hills were a meeting ground for aboriginal bands before settlers came and were often referred to as a neutral space, hence the current name.

When settlers finally arrived they began to gather there for a special time rodeo, midway, races, wild west plays portraying Alberta’s early history, stories of the Wild West as well as conducting cattle brandings which eventually evolved into the Big Gap Ranchers Roundup.

Big Gap refers to the physique of the hillside.

The dates of the Stampede varied.

They were originally to start on July 1 but over the years, for various reasons, were moved.

It started in 1916 with the final gathering happening in 1919, 100 years ago this year.

In its final year, the Edmonton Bulletin reported that there was at least 12,000 attendees, 1,700 automobiles, 500 teams pulling various contraptions from stone boats and bunkhouses to fancy buggies with surreys, 200 saddle horse and 100 cowboys.

Many believe that over the threeday event, easily 20,000 people entered the grounds.

It was known as one of the largest aggregations of bonafide cowboy riders at any one time and place in Western Canada.

In 2016, the 100th anniversary of the first Big Gap Roundup started at the site of the cairn commemorating this rich history.

A 15-mile trail ride ended at Gooseberry Lake with a barbeque and dance keeping the hills alive for a day.

The legendary Big Gap Ranchers Roundup is “unequalled”.

For its final year, only four large ranches truly remained including the Poynter Ranch at Sounding Lake, the Bartlett and Gattey Ranch at the east end of Gooseberry lake, the Boulton Ranch and the Lane Ranch.

In addition to the recognized rodeo, wild west shows, airplane rides, a baseball tournament, parades, band performances, races, dances and more kept the crowd of visitors entertained throughout the three days.

This group of actors travelled from Czar t