Don Dempson: Behind the Scenes at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo

Our October Speaker was our own President Don Dempson, who took us behind the scenes at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo.

For most of his career, Don had worked for Eastman Kodak.  In the latter years this involved being on camera as a company spokesperson and product host on the Home Shopping Channel.  In 1997, on the day of Princess Diana’s death (while on air), he decided this wasn’t where he wanted to be; he really wanted work behind the camera and so the switch was made.  For 30 years, Don has been part of the Calgary Stampede’s rodeo, initially as a sponsor but for the last 20, he has volunteered as part of the production team.  This is a group of people that includes broadcast professionals, announcers, competitors, stock contractors, medical and logistical professionals along with scores of volunteers and free-lancers who are all committed to delivering a world class rodeo. 

Each year Don arrives in Calgary 12 days before the grand opening of the “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” in order to test every piece of production technology. (And with 38 miles of cable, there is a lot to check!)  For the duration of the Stampede, he and the team work a grueling daily schedule:  on the scene at 9 am to go through the script and run of show, until 6 pm when he finally leaves for the day.  The Rodeo proper takes place from 1 until 4 pm and it’s Don’s job to keep everything running on time.  At all times, he will have two to four people talking to him on head-set from the various areas of the arena; between 65 and 70 people, however, are listening to Don’s directions.  The ‘run of show’ is planned to 1/100th of a second.  Of course, things don’t always go as planned: severe thunderstorms, hail, snow, searing heat, cowboys falling off horses, unexpected happenings, uncooperative stock and politics need to be dealt with – immediately and professionally. 

Don was careful to explain how well the animals who perform in the Stampede are cared for. They “work” on average about two minutes a year. No animal stays on site after their time in the arena and no animal works more than twice throughout the 10 days of Stampede. Their home is a beautiful ranch outside of Calgary where they are well taken care of, or one of the other contractor’s ranches.

Why does he continue to do this (and as a volunteer!) every year?  Don explained: “It’s all fun and being able to deliver a quality entertainment product to locals, visitors and guests from all over the world.  It’s also a challenge, and great to be working with people who love the sport of rodeo and magic of the Calgary Stampede.”



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