History of Lethbridge’s Whoop-Up Days

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WATCH ABOVE: As thousands of southern Albertans continue to enjoy this year's Whoop-Up Days, what many may not know is the festival's rich history. Chris Chacon takes us back in time, to when it all began – Aug 22, 2019

It’s five days of non-stop rides, food and fun. While Whoop-Up Days may be new to many, it certainly isn’t for Lethbridge, as this festival is deeply rooted the city’s history.

“The exhibition itself has a fair and exhibition and has been around since 1897,” said Belinda Crowson, president of the Lethbridge Historical Society.

That’s more than 100 years, and back then the world looked a lot different.

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“The original Whoop-Up Days was on Oct. 5 and 6, so it was held in the fall, and that would have been typical of that time,” explained Rudy Friesen, CEO of Exhibition Park Lethbridge.

“It would have been a post-harvest gathering for the producers of the region and for the community.”

There may have not been wild rides such as this year’s hulk or the sky screamer, but there still was a lot to do.

“You would have [had] competitions of your foods, your fruits, your vegetables, your seed greens. It really was about the farming community coming in and showing off the best they had in southern Alberta and the awards they could win,” Crowson said.

For many years, the fair was held at Victoria park — now known as Gyro park — but the fair changed its course by 1904 with the start of the rodeo. By 1911, the fair moved to Exhibition Park, a location developed for the World Dry Farming Congress, an event that drew in farmers from all over and that required a large land area.

A few years later came the First World War, and instead of having fun at the fair, the space had an alternate use.

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“That entire location was taken over for the war effort, so soldiers trained and barracked there. There was also an internment camp at the exhibition during the First World War,” Crowson said.

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When the war ended, the Lethbridge and District Fair and Exhibition was back on schedule, but its iconic name had yet to be given.

“In the 1960s everything cowboy and western was popular, so in 1966 they renamed it Whoop-Up Days and it’s been that ever since,” Crowson said.

Over the next several decades, Whoop-Up Days continued in its tradition of rodeo and festival fun, a tradition that is older than the world-famous Calgary Stampede.

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