Surrey History Banner

Cloverdale Rodeo
By Sue Bryant for the Now–Leader

Two Cloverdale residents, Jack Shannon and Clarke Greenaway, were on a trip to the BC Interior in 1944 when they stopped to watch a rodeo in Kamloops. An idea was born to bring a similar event home, and the Cloverdale Kinsmen Club quickly agreed that it could be a great way to bring the community together and fundraise for some local amenities.


Historic Rodeo Picture

Courtesy of Now–Leader


The first Cloverdale rodeo was organized in 1945 by local volunteers. The Second World War was just ending and it was a time of promising economic prosperity. After some very lean years enduring the war with loved ones away from home, the timing was just right. Clarke Greenaway was a local businessman who lived in Kensington Prairie. By all accounts, Greenaway was a large, boisterous, forceful, even flamboyant fellow who had a way of getting things done. He traveled around B.C. and the Washington state, encouraging people to become involved in the fledgling rodeo. "This show is going to be strictly big–league," Greenaway told The Surrey Leader in 1946.


Rodeo cookoff Rodeo rides

Pictures courtesy of the Now–Leader
Rodeo, fair grounds


Attendance far exceeded expectations and the organizers soon realized they had something special. By 1946, the event had a sponsor in the Lower Fraser Valley Agricultural Association and, with Greenaway as rodeo manager, it became a two–day event. "The West goes Western at Cloverdale" was the theme of the year. There were the events we know today – bronc and bull riding, horse and barrel races but there were others too.


Cloverdale Rodeo Sign Wild Horse riding

Pictures courtesy of the Now–Leader


Spectators could watch chuck wagon and Roman chariot races, a track and field competition, and compete in contests for best–dressed cowgirl and cowboy or best cow pony. Excitement built as "welcome home" parties for returning soldiers were popular and war brides were arriving to their new homes. The Cloverdale Rodeo provided not only work for the veterans but also a brought a sense of community spirit.


Rodeo characters Rodeo Characters

Pictures courtesy of the Now–Leader
Rodeo characters


The list of entertainers and competitors was colourful. 'Alkali Ike' Bowers was the arena manager. 'Hobo Bill and his educated donkey' was the main clown act. One–armed trick roper Red Jackson was a big attraction as well. Carnival games were set up on the main street of Cloverdale. Each evening, a dance was held in the Cloverdale Athletic Hall.


Racing from the grandstand Rodeo crowd

Pictures courtesy of the Now–Leader
Rodeo Grandstand crowds


A grandstand was built to seat 1,500 spectators, with another five acres of standing room, for the 1946 rodeo. Grandstand seats sold for $1 and standing room cost $0.50. Allan Dann, a local businessman, later remembered that:

"We all did what we could. But, it was a complete surprise to us the first rodeo, the number of people that showed up. And, of course, we weren't prepared for this, at least, I don't think I was, anyway. And I know I was working on selling tickets and this money kept coming in and they came around with a cardboard box and said, 'Throw it in that, that'll do for now.'"

Bucking horses Getting up after a ride

Pictures courtesy of the Now–Leader


A teenager from Mt. Vernon, Washington named Melvin "Wick" Peth wowed the crowd with his bullfighting skills that year. Young Wick had a special fearlessness and a way of anticipating the bull's moves few had ever seen. He would become a pioneer in the methods of distracting bulls once the rider was off and by 1948 he became a professional bullfighter. In 1953, he was the first to don the denim skirt of a rodeo clown but it was more for freedom of movement than a humorous gag. In 1979, he was inducted in the Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame and is considered the 'grandfather of the modern, cleated bullfighter'.


"We've just got to double the seating capacity for next year's rodeo," Clarke was quoted in The Surrey Leader following the event. An event of its size took a lot of ingenuity, planning and coordination to pull off. War rationing was lessening but would not end officially until 1947, so sugar, gas and other essentials were still in short supply. In October 1948, Clarke Greenaway was on a road trip to entice new talent to the rodeo when his car went off the road near Hope. He and his companions were killed. The loss was keenly felt in Cloverdale and the surrounding area and his funeral was attended by many. Today, on 60th Avenue just east of 176th Street, there is a park named in Greenaway's honour. It was dedicated in 1953 as Clarke Greenaway Memorial Park, in recognition of the contributions he brought to the community and to the Cloverdale Kinsmen Club. Next time you are near the park, consider how Greenaway's visions bloomed into an event that is still a huge part of Cloverdale, seven decades after he had an idea while watching a small–town rodeo in the Interior.


Sue Bryant is an oral historian and a member of the Surrey Historical Society. She is also a digital photo restoration artist, genealogist and volunteers at the Surrey Museum and Surrey Archives.


Cars in the Rodeo Parade Six horse team in parade

Pictures courtesy of the Now–Leader
The Cloverdale Rodeo Parade


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, &@39;Yep, these guys were ahead of their time.'"


Today, the Cloverdale Rodeo continues to evolve.

"Our objective as an organization is to have a family–friendly event that the City of Surrey can be proud of," Claypool 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."

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 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." "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." "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.

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. The 23–year–old got his start in saddle bronc riding – a highly technical rodeo event that involves the rider staying on a bucking horse for at least eight seconds – in Vernon where he grew up on the cowboy lifestyle, roping and steer wrestling in rodeos. Elliott studied animal science and rodeoing at Panhandle State University in Oklahoma – a bronc riding school, well known for turning out top quality saddle bronc riders. The Canadian cowboy has shot to the top of rodeo stardom, reaching 11th in the world in the first year of his career, earning $139,760. He went to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas that year, and won first place in the Canadian Finals Rodeo. This year is off to a similar start, with Elliott currently in the top 10 in the world. "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."


Ask professional barrel racer and stunt woman Katie Gathwaite when she rode her first horse, and you'll get an answer that39;’s pretty close to "as soon as she was born." Garthwaite joined the professional rodeo circuit when she was 16. At 20, she qualified for the National Finals Rodeo. After she married fellow rodeo star and steer wrestler Mike Garthwaite, she moved up to the Canadian circuit where she took on stunt riding and horse wrangling for films – working on films like Leonardo DiCaprio's The Revenant.


It all made for a stellar 2016 season for Garthwaite, who ended the year bringing in more than $27,000. Last year, her daughter Gracie and husband Mike were able to come to Cloverdale to watch Garthwaite in her 15.96 second winning ride. This year, Garthwaite's hoping they can do the same.


Today, the Cloverdale Rodeo continues to evolve For one, it's not only cowboys and broncos at the Cloverdale Rodeo – for the sixth year in a row, skateboarders from around the world will be descending on Cloverdale for the World Freestyle Roundup Skateboard Championships. More than 60 freestyle skaters from 12 different countries will be at the world championships over the May long weekend. The youngest skater will be eight years old; the oldest will be in his 50s. In years past, there have been around 34 people competing. Last year, there were 46 representing 11 countries. Many of the skaters stick around year after year. "Yes, it's a contest but they're here to see each other and to skate with each other," event organizer Monty Little said. "It's a huge family reunion. Literally."



Next Page: Cloverdale Walking Tour

Return to Surrey's History INDEX





View My Stats