EDMONTON, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Oct. 30, 2012) - About a hundred years after Fort Edmonton was established on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, a group of volunteers launched an agricultural fair. It was 1879, years before the incorporation of the city or the province of Alberta. Less than three hundred people came to that first party, but they were clearly on to something.
That group of volunteers, and the not-for-profit corporation that guides them, is still thriving. It's called Northlands. Back then, it was in the business of bringing farmers and ranchers into contact with what were essentially villagers. While its mandate is spectacularly diverse today, and the village is now a city, Northlands is - at its core - doing precisely the same thing.
One of its signature events, launching winter, is the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
When most of us think of farming and ranching, cowboys and cowgirls and little houses on big prairies, we think of summer. But real farmers and ranchers are too busy in the summertime to spend 10 days in the city. Canadian Finals Rodeo and the agricultural showcase that surrounds it, Farmfair, is an invitation to rural people from across the continent to relax and mingle with urban people in November.
River City Roundup, the festival component of the 10-day party, is a wild and tasty mash-up of urban and rural life: nightclubs and galas, farmers' markets, old and new country music, black ties and bingos, fashion shows, special menus in restaurants all over the city, carnivals and live music light up one of the city's darkest months.
Canadian Finals Rodeo started in 1974. It's the last event on the professional rodeo calendar every year, the national championship, with some of the country's biggest prizes for riding, roping, and racing.
It's always a pleasure for a downtown Edmontonian, each November, to see the hotels, restaurants and sidewalks fill up with men and women in cowboy hats and boots, Wrangler jeans, and Stormrider jackets. We take photographs of each other.
One of the best and most exotic images in November is the downtown cattle drive. One of Edmonton's iconic photographs in recent years is a herd of cattle standing and mooing in front of the swooping glass and zinc Art Gallery of Alberta on Sir Winston Churchill Square, a playful juxtaposition of city and country.
Country stars Dean Brody and Chris Young will perform acoustically on the first two nights, November 7 and 8. Every night during the festival the Edmonton EXPO Centre will transform into The Buckle, a party hub for the city. Just out the doors, past the LRT station and over a pedestrian bridge, the cowboys, cowgirls, and thousands of spectators will gather in Rexall Place - home of the Edmonton Oilers.
For city kids - and adults - who grow up thinking food comes from grocery stores, the Farmfair agricultural showcase is a wonder. Fourteen kinds of cattle, from Black Angus to Shorthorn, will be inspected for sale and for competition this year. Horses, stock dogs, and alpacas will also meet in the show ring.
Modern farming is spectacularly modern. Farmfair and other Canadian Finals Rodeo events are unforgettable open doors into this and other paradoxes: traditional and contemporary, city and country, work and sport, rock and country, cowboy boots and tuxedos.