The first organizational meeting of the Alberta Gay Rodeo Association [ AGRA ] was held in April, 1991. Richard O'Sullivan, a local gay businessman, called the meeting after attending a gay rodeo in Phoenix, Arizona. The original concept was that we try and find out if there would be enough interest in forming an association that would organize a charitable gay rodeo in Alberta that could eventually become affiliated with the International Gay Rodeo Association [IGRA] circuit.
A slate of officers was elected on June 23, 1991 consisting of: Brian Donohue president, Gord Woima, vice president, Bruce Chudobiak, secretary and Troy Baczuk, treasurer. The Alberta Gay Rodeo Association [ AGRA ] was incorporated as a non-profit society August15, 1991. TRAX, a local Calgary bar, owned by Gary Brown and Paul Kopf became the official home of the association and all kinds of fundraising was done there. Bingos were held, Sunday beef dinners, barbequed hamburgers on Friday Nights, fun rodeos, and garage sales to name a few of the fundraising events. Necessity was the mother of invention in those early days.
The association held a contest to find a logo for AGRA and had over 25 entries. AGRA had put up $100.00 initially then Gord and Bruce donated another $150.00 to the association with the proviso that the money go into the logo contest fund. Greg McKernan, a local mainstream graphic artist, submitted the winning entry. The logo is an abstraction of a bronc rider superimposed over what appear to be mountains. Greg provided a newsletter masthead for AgraCulture. The newsletter name was coined by Gord Woima. Membership cards were allotted chronologically at the time membership dues of $20.00 were paid and membership dues are still $20.00 today.
The first flag was purchased in September of 1991 and it hung in TRAX until the bar went out of business in the winter of 1996. AGRA also did fundraising at all of the other bars in Calgary, everyone in gay business was very helpful to AGRA. Many thanks to Trax , Arena, 318, the Loading Dock, Victoria's, Boystown/Rekroom, BBX, Off Centre [later Money Pennies], B&B Leather and Lingerie By Barbie. We also did several Sunday brunches at Heritage Park co-hosted by C.LU.B. Calgary . Who can forget the rubber chicken hockey played with rubber chickens for sticks and balloons filled with water for pucks? Fundraising events were also held in Edmonton to coincide with the Canadian Finals rodeo and usually the Heel Toe Country Dancers came along. The Alberta gay business community rose to the occasion, yet again, and many thanks goes out to our Edmonton supporters: The Roost, Pat Ryley, the Edmonton dance group and Boots and Saddle for their help. Thanks to Gord Brilz and Joe Achtemichuk for being industrious AGRA representatives in Edmonton as well. Help was never withheld when asked for in any corner of the gay community, Clue magazine and many printing operations were of great assistance. The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch (ISCCA) also donated several thousand dollars to the association. Calgary 's reputation as being hospitable and a great volunteer centre was very evident in all that AGRA tried to accomplish. The word "NO" was never encountered as an answer to any request of anyone! Awesome!!!
AGRA's second year Rob Selte was elected president, Gord Woima, vice president, Bruce Chudobiak, treasurer and Andrew Bjorklind, secretary. Rob Selte and his partner Brad T., hosted many events at their home, located on the site of a large cattle operation, west of town. Tobogganing parties, dinners, invites to horse events held on the property, generous donations of beef for our Sunday dinners at TRAX and prizes for our bingos were among the many things Rob and Brad contributed to the association.
The first big function that AGRA held was the Canadian National Gay Rodeo [CNGR] held in 1993 at an arena located in Springbank [arena arranged by John Entz] and was well attended. We had city buses to bring people out from the city and the local mainstream media was very interested in what we were doing but the association kept them at bay as well as possible to protect people from losing jobs or homes. The political climate was quite different to what is enjoyed now in the new millennium. Our guest of honour was Elaine McCoy who was a presiding minister in the provincial Conservative caucus at the time. The Cowboy, Leather, Uniform, Buddies [C.L.U.B.] of Calgary took care of security for the rodeo.
Conchos [they were less expensive than buckles] were presented to event winners at the dance and one buckle went to the best all round cow person who was the late John Knutsen - aka "Little John". One very funny thing happened after the CNGR. Right in the middle of Stampede week there was a cartoon published in the Calgary Sun that portrayed two bulls reared, facing each other, kissing with riders aboard. The word balloon said "Dang, these bulls must be from the gay rodeo". We couldn't have bought better advertising and it was well accepted in the gay community as humorous, so if the original intent was negative it backfired . The International Gay Rodeo Association was holding their 1993 convention in Billings , Montana that August so it was decided to spend some of the money we earned from the CNGR on becoming a full fledged member association in the IGRA. Gord Woima, president, and Bruce Chudobiak, treasurer, traveled to Billings where they received a very warm welcome from everyone in attendance.
There was discussion about our association acronym being the same as Arizona's which would haunt us as an association until 1994. Gord Woima, AGRA Trustee, attended IGRA 1994 convention in Little Rock, Arkansas (David Freeman is gratefully acknowledged for giving up some of his air miles points to provide the airline ticket to Little Rock). Arizona was one of the first four member associations in IGRA and Mr. Woima as AGRA Trustee felt that the association's best interests were served by showing some respect to the senior association in Arizona.
He returned home, knowing that Roger Bergman, then president of IGRA, would proffer a letter to the Alberta Association to ask that they honour what to that point had been an unwritten agreement among IGRA member associations. That agreement stated that no IGRA member association have the same acronym or name as any other IGRA member association Alberta is thankful to Mr.Bergman for all of his help and guidance. The Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association came into being with the approval of Arizona (AGRA). Long time association member Carol Bernier came up with the name and acronym ARGRA. The name change was officially filed with the Alberta Corporate Registry January 3, 1995.
In the 1993 annual general meeting Andrew Bjorklind became president with Marsha Winters, vice president, Steve Gould, secretary and Bruce Chudobiak, treasurer. Gord Woima was installed as the first IGRA Trustee from Canada at an earlier meeting in order to meet IGRA publication deadlines. ARGRA now likes to say that ARGRA is the "I" in the International Gay Rodeo Association. Preparations got under way swiftly for the first IGRA sanctioned rodeo to ever be held outside of the continental United States for the weekend before the start of the Calgary Stampede.
We needed a venue to hold the event. The Elkana Ranch located in Bragg Creek and Symon's Valley BBQ Ranch were considered as possible locations. When Andrew and Gord saw Symon's Valley they both knew it would work perfectly. They set about negotiating with Les Jones and his charming wife Ellen, the owners of the facility, to hold the first Canadian Rockies International Rodeo. Mr. Jones had serious reservations about the whole thing but we convinced him that gay money was green money and he agreed to take us on. A contract was negotiated and stabling was arranged close by at the Flying U Ranch, run by Allan and Nancy Fraser.
An IGRA Trustee meeting was planned to be held during our rodeo, and qualified rodeo officials had to be found. Doug Richards took some flack from rodeo buddies about becoming our stock contractor but he forged ahead with us regardless and is our stock contractor to this day. Mr. Richards is also a talented cowboy poet. Sue Brown at the Tack Shop supported us by sponsoring a buckle, giving all ARGRA members a discount at her store and by providing gifts for the royalty winners. We did not have the same corporate backing that other IGRA associations had. This remained a problem until 1996 when Gord Woima with guidance from Wayne Jakino, who was in charge of corporate sponsorship with IGRA, negotiated the largest contract ever to that point for ARGRA. Molson Breweries also gave concessions throughout the year for association events. ARGRA now enjoys the same sponsorship as other IGRA member associations thanks to successive ARGRA trustees David Freeman, Stuart Aikins, Ashley Anderson, Pierre Cadieux and ARGRA convention delegates.
The weather was chilly at the first CRIR but as usual we endured. The cattle escaped due to someone perhaps intentionally opening the enclosure gate during the night, or perhaps, failing to close the gate. The chilly morning on the Saturday saw many AGRA volunteers rounding the escapees up from neighbouring properties. The wind uprooted tent stakes, the vendor area was outside and uncomfortable but the show went on. Andrew Bjorklind was rodeo director assisted by Sean Newton. Wayne Jakino often referred to as the grandfather of gay rodeo was our Grand Marshall in 1994 and the Rainbow Singers sang the national anthems. Helium filled balloons were launched during Grand Entry. Every effort was made to make the CRIR as entertaining as humanly possible for everyone. All rodeo volunteers, sponsors and other supporters were listed in the 1994 CRIR program in a very complete fashion.
The first CRIR had incredible entertainment. All of IGRA royalty were in attendance and royalty from other associations circuit wide attended. Who can forget the famous Kim Dawson hat dance? The Heel Toe Country Dancers put together a performance just for the CRIR that the dinner crowd saw right after dinner. They were magnificent and the crowd loved them. The complete IGRA executive and trustees from many other associations attended. The star of the dinner dance Saturday night had to have been Louise Vallance performing an excerpt from "A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline". The crowd of some 1500 went nuts she was a very big hit! Many thanks go out to Alberta Theatre Projects for donating the show not to mention the many free passes they gave to ARGRA to see the whole program at the Martha Cohen Theatre.
Apollo Friends In Sport served up the free pancake breakfasts. The ISCCA provided entertainment in the Valley Room and they continue to do so to this day.
Many community associations participate with ARGRA in one way or another at every rodeo and at functions held every month of the year. ARGRA is both well known and respected in our local community and well beyond those borders. We are a recognized symbol of western gay culture. We have also given back to the community more than $60,000 since 2001!