Generations of cowboys and cowgirls are making their way to Ranchman’s Cookhouse and Dancehall this week to remove their prized, rodeo possessions from the closed honky-tonk.
Over the past four decades, saddles, trophies and rodeo decor hung from the walls and rafters of the iconic bar — making it the ultimate must-see for cowboy culture in Calgary.
The tradition of displaying prized gear was started around 1977 by the late Jim Gladstone, a world champion calf-roper who grew up on the Blood Reserve just north of Cardston, Alta.
Gladstone used his world champion saddle to barter a deal at Ranchman’s, said his son, Zakary Gladstone.
In exchange for VIP treatment such as no cover and tabs for alcohol and food, Ranchman’s could display Gladstone’s saddle for free under the condition that the cowboy could take the saddle back whenever he needed to.
Over the years, the tradition continued to grow, and Ranchman’s resembled a museum, showcasing Calgary’s deep-rooted rodeo history.
Few thought the bar would see its last moments so soon.
However, the Bank of Montreal (BMO) seized the property last month.
Rob Campbell, Ranchman’s real estate agent, told the Calgary Eyeopener’s Danielle Nerman that due to economic down times and COVID-19, they had to vacate the lease.
However, he said that since putting the building up for sale, there’s been a lot of interest from potential tenants.
“We’d love to have someone take it over and continue with the theme that’s here,” he said.
“In my heart of hearts, it’s not done yet. In typical Alberta fashion, we don’t give up.”
Campbell said that while it’s sad seeing all the memorabilia come down from the walls after all these years, it will also open up space for the next generation of cowboys.
“We’ll give the old guys their stuff back that, you know, that goes to them and we’ll see if we can get some young kids to get in here and give us some new stuff,” he said.
“If they want, (they can) start that tradition with the next owner doing the same thing.”
Families pick up prized saddles
At first, the 140 families who lent the memorabilia wondered if they would ever see it again, after BMO seized the assets.
BMO has since released it all all back to Ranchman’s so the prized possessions could be returned to the community.
Nerman chatted with some of the families as they were loading up their trucks outside Ranchman’s.
Max Radford told her his saddle has been in the honky-tonk since 1991.
“They always said, if you ever want your saddle, you can take it back any day. Other than that, you can come as much as you want. If you want, you can come seven days a week and use that tab,” he said.
His wife, Bobby June Radford, said she’s picking up the rodeo gear of her late mother, Isabel Miller. That gear includes a championship saddle for Canadian barrel racing.
“I was a little kid when those saddles came in here,” she said.
“My mom’s passed away.… But it’s also sad because there isn’t anybody in the world that comes to Calgary or comes to the Calgary Stampede that doesn’t come (to Ranchman’s). I mean, this place is famous.”
Wayne Vold, another cowboy, said he was at Ranchman’s to pick up his Canadian bronc riding saddle and an old pair of chaps.
He said going into the place now seems haunting.
“I usually never, hardly ever went in there unless it was with people. And Wednesday, Thursday on that place was rocking,” he said.
“We had a good band and a lot of memories in there. I mean, a lot of people met each other in this place.”
Despite the end of an era, Campbell said the legend will still exist.
“It’s a museum to rodeos, to the western lifestyle, to Calgary, to Alberta. Yeah, there’s nothing like it in Canada. I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world.”