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Mounted Patrol celebrates its 40th anniversary

Musical Ride

A rare 12-member Musical Ride took place on Saturday morning.

From Queen Elizabeth in 1974 to Alberta country singer Corb Lund this year, millions of visitors have viewed the Musical Ride at The Fort — Museum of the North West Mounted Police.
On Saturday, tribute was paid to the Mounted Patrol that was formed 40 years ago as part of a centennial celebration and continues today as one of Fort Macleod’s top tourist attractions.
“Forty years,” said Neil Balkham, a museum employee today who was a member of the first Mounted Patrol in 1972. “It amazes me.”
Saturday’s celebration included a rare 12-member Musical Ride, a performance by alumni and a display of Mounted Police uniforms through history.
Visitors to the Fort Museum also sampled home-made ice cream and buttermilk, viewed vintage fashions, listened to country music by Floyd Sillito and inspected antique firearms.
“Fort Macleod’s remarkable history is the topic of many books, magazine articles and newspaper columns,” Fort Museum manager Dawn Lauder said. “We can truly be proud to be known as the community of firsts.”
One of those firsts, Lauder told the audience at the opening ceremony on Saturday, was the first North West Mounted Police musical ride in 1876.
The Fort Museum’s Mounted Patrol was created by the Fort Macleod Historical Association in 1972 to honour the 100th anniversary the following year of the establishment of the North West Mounted Police.
The Mounted Patrol was also to continue through 1974 for 100th anniversary celebrations planned by the RCMP.
Dr. John Walker was president of the historical association and John Davis Sr. was vice-president. Other members were John Stevens, Muriel Ragan, Charlie Reach, Andy Mackay, Ted Larson, Karl Friesen, Albert Swinarton, A.A. Neddow, Arnold Moorey, Paul Dersch, George Brown, MLA Leighton Buckwell, Helen McDougall, Tommy Band, Larry King and RCMP Sgt. Wilf Becker.
An ad for riders placed in The Macleod Gazette by the historical association caught the eye of Neil Balkham.
“It was a summer job that was different,” Balkham said. “I liked history.”
Working with a budget of $15,000 the historical association established the Mounted Patrol, renting eight black horses from Lethbridge Community College.
Maxine Bodgener of Fort Macleod and Ruth Chalmers of Medicine Hat made the uniforms, using an 1878 uniform on display in the museum as a model.
Don Price was chosen as commander of the Mounted Patrol, which in addition to Balkham was made up of Dexter Knoblick, John Jacobson, Monty Wesley, Darryl McKenna, Demehl Olsen and Larry Lauder.
In its first year the Mounted Patrol did not do an official Musical Ride. Instead, the riders paraded daily on Main Street and would ride on the east lawn of the museum, which is now the riding arena.
“1972 was kind of a year of experimenting,” Balkham remembered. “We were trying different things to see what worked.”
The Mounted Patrol also rode in out-of-town parades — including the Calgary Stampede — to promote the Fort Museum, which had opened in 1967.
The Mounted Patrol in 1973 began performing the same precision routines used in the RCMP Musical Ride.
“I think the worst part was remembering what to do,” Balkham said with a chuckle. “The actual riding wasn’t that hard.”
Kathy Bourassa in 1975 was the first female rider in the Mounted Patrol.
After renting horses from the college the historical association bought 10 bay horses in a nod to the early years of the North West Mounted Police, when Mounties in Fort Macleod were assigned bays — horses that are a rich reddish-brown colour.
Tribute was paid Saturday to George Brown, who was the Mounted Patrol’s first farrier.
Brown later took on the responsibility of running the Musical Ride, buying and training horses, hiring and training riders and overseeing the day-to-day activities for close to three decades.
“His dedication to the Musical Ride was instrumental to the longevity of the ride and in making it into what it is today,” Lauder said.
Lauder also paid tribute to Jack Cullen, a long-time museum employee who built the horse barn, made the mold for the riders’ helmets and still makes the lances used in the Musical Ride.
“He is always eager to help when asked to this day,” Lauder said of Cullen.
Cody Gray earned the nickname Super Sgt. Cody Gray for his dedication to the Musical Ride as a rider, museum employee and volunteer.
“Without his dedication it would have been difficult if not impossible to keep the ride going after George retired,” Lauder said. “We often have more new recruits than seasoned, returning riders and Cody seems to have the knack for building confidence in both new riders as well as new horses.”