Since 1974, rodeo fans from all over the world have come to Edmonton to watch the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR). This year is the last time fans can experience this annual tradition in Northlands Coliseum—some haven’t missed the main event since 1974 while others are coming to CFR for the first time. Die-hard CFR fans are making sure they do not miss this year’s event.
It’s a Family Affair
In Jo Lawes’ family, CFR is their DNA. It seems just about everyone in her family has competed in a CFR event. Jo, who is from Ponoka, about an hour south of Edmonton, was barely three weeks old when she went to her first CFR event. Her mother, Anne Lawes, was a professional ladies barrel racer. Anne was so committed to her sport that she competed just three weeks after Jo was born.
“I was with my mom up until the last couple of moments before she entered the ring,” says Jo. “She handed me over to one of her fellow competitors, Crystal Shaw, who held me until my mom was finished racing. I don’t remember much but I was told I cheered lots.”
As Jo got older, she began to compete in rodeo royalty competitions, eventually representing Miss Ponoka Stampede at the Miss Rodeo Canada competition. After watching her family compete in many CFR events, she says it was a special moment the first time she entered the ring to compete.
For Rjay Jonas of Saddle Lake, about two hours northeast of Edmonton, CFR has a special place in his heart. Every year since Rjay was four years old, he and his late father travelled to Edmonton for the CFR.
“Our favourite events were the bull riding, bareback and saddle bronc,” says Rjay. “Dad and I would always guess the times for each competitor to see who could come closest to the actual time.”
Rjay misses having his father with him at CFR but he knows he’s there in spirit. “I can feel a connection with him when I’m in the stands. Even though he is not with me, I know he is watching.”
The Long Walk Across the Parking Lot
As a child, Kristine Shimek-Strilchuk and her family attended the CFR every year. Her family owned a farm machinery business just east of Edmonton in the Sherwood Park area and often came to Edmonton for Farmfair International and CFR.
One of Kristine’s fondest memories of the CFR was her father carrying her across the parking lot to the coliseum.
“I’m not sure what it was but as a kid, the walk seemed incredibly long,” says Kristine. “I remember it being cold and dark, and my father had to carry me.”
Kristine has not been to CFR in a few years but she is going to be there this year.
Leaving With a Tear in His Eye
Jens Jorgenson has been to just about every CFR event since 1974 when it opened. Jens who is from Wildwood, about 90 minutes west of Edmonton, volunteers with the rodeo in his community. He says his favourite part of CFR is following competitors from their mutton busting days to competing on the big stage at CFR.
“On the local rodeo circuit, you get to know the competitors and watch them grow,” says Jens. “When they enter the ring, you feel a sense of pride because you’ve seen the work they had to put in to get to that level,”
As this is the final CFR event in Northlands Coliseum, Jens plans to take it all in. “It’s the end of an era. I will probably leave with a tear in my eye following the final event on Sunday.”
It’s Now or Never
Terry Thompson of Fort Worth, Texas, is making his first trip to Edmonton to see CFR this year. He often attends big name rodeos throughout North America including the Calgary Stampede and CFR has been on his bucket list for a while. He has another reason to attend CFR.
“While it’s not rodeo related, I’ve always wanted to visit ‘the house that Wayne Gretzky built,’” says Terry.
Terry is a big fan of tradition and he says it’s sad to see Northlands Coliseum’s final chapter in the CFR story.