In the his musical, Fiddler On The Roof, the star character, as played by Topol, sings the musical's theme song "Tradition."
And in southern Alberta "Tradition" is a true reality - only this time at the race track. The 2015 edition of horse racing in Lethbridge dates all the way back to 1886 when the October fair featured horse racing on a half mile track. Officials offered purses of $400 to $600 for the mile run, a half mile dash using "proper" cow horses.
This coming May 9-10 marks the opening of a Rocky Mountain Turf Club "Tradition" of 19 straight years of presenting horse racing at Whoop-Up Downs in Lethbridge.
"We're certainly proud of our record in Lethbridge and we're also looking forward to our 20th anniversary next year," said RMTC CEO Max Gibb. "Horse racing is a true tradition in Lethbridge and this season we'll continue to bring quality racing to southern Alberta fans.
"I might add, that part of our tradition is having a very strong impact on the southern Alberta economy, with close to 1,000 people employed through the season, along the backstretch, in front of the grandstand, inside at the parimutuels and in Bullys. Independent studies have shown we impact the southern Alberta economy to the tune of close to $40 million a year.
"We welcome everyone back to the Rocky Mountain Turf Club for 2015 and wish everyone the best of luck."
Back in 1890 the Lethbridge Turf and Athletic Association was organized. In August the association adopted a report to purchase forty acres of land from the North Western Coal and Navigation Company, and at the same time put out tenders for fences and building a race track.
The track was three miles east of Lethbridge, close to the railway tracks, and by completion it was reported the complex took in eighty acres. The three quarter mile oval was easily accessed by race fans and the ARC Co. ran a train out to the track-site every half hour, and at the same time it seemed every horse and buggy in the city was heading east to the new oval, across from where the Provincial Jail now sits.
Thomas F. Kirkham was chairman of the Lethbridge Turf Association while Frank Colpman was the secretary and McCaul and William Galliher were the joint solicitors. The initial directors included Albert Edward Keyes, McCaul, William Galliher, Howell Harris, Frank Colpman, William Tuttle and Thomas Kirkham. All key names in politics and history in southern Alberta.
The initial meet on the brand new "splendid conditioned" race track was held May 25, 1891. A "fair sized" grandstand was set up across from the judge's stand to accommodate the large crowds, which shelled out $554 - in total - to get in to watch racing and listen to the Lethbridge Brass Band. It was said the Turf Association cleared $200 on the day.
Henry Bentley made it into the presidents chair in 1895 and he and his board started the year $162.55 to the good.
Racing was a key to the Fair activities in September, 1899, with bicycle racing, foot racing and of course, horse racing.
The quarter mile pony dash was taken by J. Powell's Deerfoot, in 30 seconds, and the 1,000-yard dash, for horses that were non-winners previous to the race, was won by George Houk's Flax.
A saddle-and-mount, half mile run, where riders saddle their horse, mount without setting a foot in the stirrup, ride a quarter mile and then make a turn around a stake and race back, was won by J. Powell's Work Horse, in 1:36. B. Whitney's Charlie was in second spot.
Judges for the racing read like a who's who of the city's elite. The secretary- manager was Frank Colpman, a future mayor, was a judge and leading citizens W.D. Whitney and William Oliver were also judges. The race starter was soon-to-be senator, Dr. L.G. deVeber. Timekeepers were F.N. McEwen and A. Scott and the Clerk of the Course was Albert Edward Keyes.
In 1901 pony races were held, along side The Square (Galt Gardens, along 5th Avenue South.) The races began at the old Court House (across from the ANAF Veterans Club) and ended at the old Hudson's Bay Store (later the Trianon Ball Room). These races were for boys, Indians and the Indian ladies, racing for only $100 in cash but prizes from various merchants.
Throughout the years, with records starting in 1895, the members of the Kainai and Piikani Nations have been strong supporters of horse racing, not only in Lethbridge but on their own reserves as well.
"There were some great horses run back then, and some great riders, including women," said the late Kainai Chief Rufus Goodstriker.
'This year the tradition of great racing runs this Spring, from May 9-10 through July 4-5. The Fall Meet is set for Sept. 5-7 through October 9-12." said Gibb. "Talk about tradition, we have it right here in Lethbridge, with support from both reserves, southern Alberta horsemen, and horsemen throughout Alberta and the northwestern United States."