The old, the new, and the country

How a 72-year-old rodeo keeps up with its community

In its 72 years, the Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair has changed as much as the community that hosts it.

It’s no longer two separate events, for one. Some of the traditions, such as the beard-growing contest, are no longer observed. What is by far the largest change occurred in 2007, following the controversial death of a calf during a roping event. It was then that the Cloverdale Rodeo announced they would drop four roping events: team roping, cowboy cow milking, steer wrestling and tie-down roping.

Because of the change, the Cloverdale Rodeo can no longer be a part of the professional rodeo circuit.

“We’re now called a roughstock invitational rodeo,” said Shannon Claypool, President of the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Association. “The change of format was necessitated by the big urban centre of Vancouver that we live in. Our patrons didn’t want to see calf roping, so we made a choice to change our format and it’s been very successful for us.”

“I believe that in 20 years, other rodeos will look at us and say, ‘Yep, these guys were ahead of their time,’” he said.

“Our objective as an organization is to have a family friendly event that the City of Surrey can be proud of,” he said. “It’s a bit of escapism for the city people. They can come out there and the kids can buy a straw hat and they can be a cowboy or a cowgirl.”

Today, the Cloverdale Rodeo continues to evolve.

Penny Smythe has been a volunteer with the Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair for more than 30 years. She sat on the board of directors and served as Rodeo Chair for many of those years, but she stepped down this year in order to spend more time with her family, and, as she put it, to allow new people and new ideas to come on to the board.

Smythe first moved to Cloverdale in the early ’60s, as a teenager, in order to be closer to her family – her grandfather ran the town’s only butcher shop. Her first involvement with the fair came soon after the move. “I was Miss Lower Fraser Valley Exhibition Association in 1965,” she said, laughing.

“My family is very community oriented,” she said. “I was brought up with the belief that you give back to the community you live in.” Volunteering her time to the rodeo was how she chose to do that.

Smythe has seen many changes come to the rodeo over the three decades she has spent as a volunteer. She remembers when the Rodeo and Country Fair first joined forces as a single event.

“We used to have a big component of exhibition where we had baking and canning and all that kind of stuff. That seems to have gone away, a sign of the times,” said Smythe. “That to me is a hard part of the transition. Because you don’t have the country fair component like we used to have.”

“To fill those voids of what we used to have, they do a lot with the animals,” she said. “Fifteen years ago it was more display and interaction. Now it’s changed, and we have more educational things.

“You have to change your whole dynamic into thinking more of what’s socially acceptable now, than what was acceptable 15, 20 years ago,” she said.

“It changed when we became an invitational rodeo. It changed our dynamics, our thinking,” said Smythe.

“Our day-to-day operations stay the same. It’s just the way we look at putting on a production changes,” she said, mentioning the rodeo’s online presence through social media, and other online components, such as Wrangler’s livestream of the rodeo events themselves.

Livestreaming and tweeting is a long ways from the rodeo’s start in the 1940s, when organizers had to plan around challenges such as war rationing, and Cloverdale itself is now one of the fastest developing areas of Surrey, but certain core components have stayed the same, according to Smythe.

“We’re so close to the city, people don’t think of us as the country anymore,” said Smythe, but she went on to say that the roots of the rodeo, and the community, have stayed the same although the events themselves have changed.

“Cloverdale has grown so much, but we are still a small town, family community,” she said.