UNITY — After a successful inaugural Kinsmen Rodeo weekend in 1982, events for the weekend multiplied over the years as other community organizations got involved.
In 1985, the Unity Chamber of Commerce added outhouse races to the list of Western Day weekend activities. The rules allowed for only two sets of wheels, a maximum of “five-man” teams with inside riders, a minimum of 400 pounds including the rider and no steering devices. These races continued for many years before losing popularity among potential racers.
The 1985 version of Unity Western Days started Tuesday, with sidewalk sales downtown, the Lions dunk tank and an arts council dinner theatre. Along with the parade, a downtown barbecue (hosted by the Unity Miners Hockey Club), the rodeo and rodeo dance, Saturday also saw five- and 10-kilometre road races take place, as part of the 1985 Grand Prix series of road races in Saskatchewan.
The following year’s events included professional rodeo events, pony chuckwagon races and also a heavy horse pull and a light horse show. Constables R.N. Chatwin and R.W. Prangnell led the Western Days parade in vintage 1874 Royal Northwest Mounted Police uniforms.
Meanwhile, work continued on the rodeo grounds, with improvements each year. By working with the Unity Agricultural Society, the Unity Kinsmen were able to apply for grant money to invest in the grounds. Matching grants were used to bring power and water to the rodeo grounds early on.
A big step took place in year five, 1986, when stock chutes no longer had to be leased and hauled in. On-site stock chutes were built by Frenjo’s Oil Well Service crews and equipment. Lawrence (Frenchie) Blanchette, of Frenjo’s, supplied a lot of the pipe and was given a special award of appreciation by then rodeo chairman Lionel Labelle.
In 1998, new metal corrals were installed, dramatically cutting maintenance needs.
More recently, new timed event corrals and pens were built and installed by the Western Days Committee.
In 1993, tragedy struck when Steve Blondin was fatally injured, being stepped on by the bull he had just successfully ridden in the bull riding event. The following year, the Unity Western Days committee, in co-operation with the Royal Rodeo Co. and the Canadian Cowboys Association hosted Steven’s father and brother from Quebec. Conrad and Therese Kiefer, of Kief Vacation Farm, acted as a host family for the Blondins.
After the 1994 Sunday bull riding, the winner and Steve’s father were each presented with a special limited edition belt buckle.
Locals who have actively participated in the rodeo arena include clown and bullfighter Ash Cooper, Jake Senger, Brent Zunti, Ryan Zunti, Derek Belcher, Sam Westgard, Kevin Hillis Macklin), Kenny Hewson (Cut Knife), Sam Johnson (Phippen), Dave O’Donnell, (Cut Knife), Lance Berrecloth (Cut Knife), Dave Krips, Wade Cooper, Casey Peterson, Brent Robertson (Cut Knife), Tyrel Lloyd, Dave Krips, Twila Zunti, Ryder Zunti and Kaybree Zunti.
Last year trick rider Shae Worthington performed in front of her hometown crowd during intermission. Intermission entertainment over the years has included wild cow milking, wild horse races, mutton busting, wild pony riding, boot races, precision riding teams and more.
For several years, heavy horse pull competitions, with anywhere from 12 to 18 teams in attendance, entertained the crowd before the rodeo itself. Other on-site events have included the Silver Spurs dance group from Saskatoon, 4-H achievement days (including last year), a petting zoo, pony rides, silent auction, a remote toy car display and demonstration, sulky racing courtesy of the Denzil Sulky Club, and chuckwagon and pony chariot races.
Sometimes the petting zoo and pony rides were available downtown as well. Downtown activities which have stood the test of ages and will also celebrate 40 years this June 3 are the Unity Chamber of Commerce parade and the pre-parade downtown barbecue, hosted by various groups over the years.
At different times, downtown activities have also included pie-throwing booths, pet parades, face painting, tug of war, cream puff eating contests, pie sales, tricycle races, a car show, the Unity Composite High School band, a root beer chug-a-lug contest, mashed potato wrestling, UCHS grad class car wash, Friday morning pancake breakfasts and even, in 2004, a midway.
A staple downtown feature of Western Days for several years, organized by different groups as a fundraiser was “Jail and Bail,” or, in some years, termed a “Pay or Stay Corral.” People could call “the police” to make a complaint and have a friend, neighbour or family member arrested and hauled off to a public lockup. Funds then had to be solicited to earn release.
There has been a rodeo queen competition from the beginning. Some highlights include a total of nine contestants in 1992, and, in 2001, for the first time there was a tie. Melissa Ganter and Amanda Lloyd were crowned as co-queens.
The Unity Flying Club, which used to host a fly-in breakfast in July, didn’t take long to move the date to rodeo weekend and has participated as part of Western Days activity most years. In 1996, they added some additional excitement with the arrival of a couple of gliders. Thirty-six people got to try a glider flight on the Saturday before daylight ran out. Last year, the club hosted a fly-in chili lunch and a few lucky people got flights from president Bob Smith.
Another integral part of first the Kinsmen Rodeo weekend and now Unity Western Days is recognizing people who have contributed to our community. The Kinettes recognized a Woman of the Year annually, with Lois Sword getting the award in 1994. In 1995, men became eligible and the Kinettes changed the name of the award to Citizen of the Year. The first recipient was Tony Fischer.
Each year there are challenges of some sort. Will girls step up to be queen contestants? Who will take on the hosting of the downtown barbecue? Will there be enough volunteers to help prepare for the dances and rodeo? Will there be enough volunteers to run all the rodeo events safely? Have nominations come in for Citizen of the Year? There was even a time when attendance numbers were low enough that the committee wondered whether Western Days could/would continue.
However, each year it seems everything works out. Last year, a large tent was added to the grounds for dance overflow. Committee member Brian Woytiuk was worried about being short of people to put the tent up. He put out a call on social media and did not receive many responses, but was delighted to show up at the appointed time and place to see some 20 people ready and willing to help.
Along with many people helping out over time, many local businesses have donated materials and/or labour to help with the improvements at the grounds. Even hay and straw have been donated.
The Kinsmen and the Unity Ag Society started it all, doing the community a great service by establishing the rodeo grounds and building the Agro-Plex. Dedicated Western Day committee members continue the tradition and would welcome additions to their numbers, as well as the support of the community through volunteering and attending events.