Opinion: Montreal's urban rodeo is neither representative of the city, nor humane

Jan 12 2017, 1:31 am

Much has already been said about Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations taking place this year, and not all of it good. Overblown, overpriced, a publicity and marketing stunt, a politically-motivated ploy to get Mayor Denis Coderre re-elected, I’ve heard it all…

I suspect I’m one of many Montreal residents comfortably residing in “middle of the road” territory: we don’t really understand the significance of celebrating the city’s 375th (sort of like someone throwing a party for turning 32.5), but we’re not all that upset that it’s happening either and we know that once the ball gets rolling we’ll all be out there enjoying the fun events and shows like everyone else.

However, there’s one activity that I simply can’t get behind, and that’s NomadFest. The event, taking place from August 24 to August 27, is being billed as an “urban rodeo”, where visitors can “immerse themselves in the cowboy’s world.”

Forgive me, but the last thing I think of when I think of Montreal is an urban rodeo! If we’re going to have a year-long extravagant public party celebrating the city and its people, shouldn’t the activities we have planned somewhat represent who we are and what we’re known for? Why in the world would a city so renowned for such unique, offbeat, quirky, and utterly cool cultural offerings feel compelled to imitate someplace else in order to celebrate itself?

When I think of Canadian urban rodeos I immediately think of the Calgary Stampede, and much closer to home, I think of the Festival Western St. Tite. I most certainly do not think of Montreal! In fact, Montreal is probably the last city I would think of if you mentioned country music and rodeos to me.

But most importantly, not only is an urban rodeo not in the slightest representative of Montreal and what it’s known for, it’s downright cruel to animals. I honestly thought that we had reached a point in our collective consciousness as human beings where we’ve finally come to realize that animals are not here on this earth for our entertainment.

Around the world circuses using animals, marine parks, and captive-animal displays are slowly going the way of the dodo bird, and people are finally starting to understand that animals are sentient beings that do not deserve to be caged, made to live out their lives in utter misery performing silly tricks for our amusement.

Worldwide petitions and increased awareness of the conditions these poor animals are subjected to have put an end or severely reduced the number of many of these practices (bullfighting has been banned in many countries, orca breeding at SeaWorld has ended, elephants at Ringling Brothers Circus were retired, etc.), but many of these rodeo events – often billed as good, clean, wholesome fun for the whole family – persist. Probably because most people continue to be under the impression that the animals involved aren’t really harmed.

I can assure you there is nothing fun about a rodeo if you’re the animal being forced to participate. Frightened cows and horses are aggressively grabbed, chased, lassoed, wrestled to the ground, and ridden all for the sake of “fun”.

Calf roping, bronco riding, chuck wagon racing, steer wrestling all involve unwilling animals that are traumatized, scared, and often severely hurt just so you can enjoy a day in a cowboy hat, eating funnel cakes and watching a few guys wrestle a frightened calf to the ground for no practical purpose at all. Chuck wagon races are actually the major causes of many completely avoidable deaths year after year at the Calgary Stampede.

And despite constant reassurances that animal welfare is always important to the organizers and that animals aren’t harmed during the activities, injuries and deaths persist.

In fact, “according to the Vancouver Humane Society, 64 chuck wagon horses — including outrider horses — have died at the Stampede since 1986. Some are euthanized after breaking legs, while some die from ligament injuries or pulmonary aneurysms. Others have heart attacks on the track.” It’s noteworthy to point out that Vancouver has already banned rodeos (as have countries like the U.K. and the Netherlands) and recent polls indicate that the majority of Canadians oppose them too.

Honestly… there’s nothing redeeming about rodeos or any activities that rely on animals for entertainment purposes and I’m not sure why anyone would want to attend one.

While I can understand that cities like Calgary who have years of tradition, infrastructure, and money invested in annual, well-established attractions like their Stampede may have a harder time convincing the forces that be who rely on the tourist dollars to discontinue such an event (although “tradition” is not a good enough excuse for animal cruelty), why in the world would a city like ours that has absolutely no tradition of cowboys, rodeos, and ranches want to suddenly start such an ethically dubious one now? It feels like we’re taking a step back while the rest of the world is slowly starting to move forward and ban these events.

There are a myriad of small and large events that the organizers of the city’s 375th could be planning that are certain to entertain and attract people of all ages without requiring unnecessary harm be inflicted on animals.

We can do better. Montreal’s 375th should be about celebrating our history and our future as a vibrant metropolitan city. Animal cruelty shouldn’t in any way be a part of that.


Toula DrimonisToula Drimonis

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