Gus and Nita Cameron were honoured during the 52nd Annual Quesnel Rodeo this summer (July 20-22).
The couple have been involved with the rodeo ever since the first competition in Bouchie Lake. They decided to get involved because they loved animals. They owned a small acreage not far from the original grounds, and in the fifth year, as some of the founding members of the club began to move on to other interests or opportunities, Gus became president of the Rodeo Club.
Around the same time, the rodeo was moved from the small space in Bouchie Lake to what is now Alex Fraser Park in Quesnel. The city was happy to have them there, but the space consisted of a big green field with a ball diamond in the middle.
“We probably pounded the first post in Alex Fraser Park, to start the rodeo grounds themselves,” says Nita. “A crew of us, we built the first fence around the perimeter of the place. We used to have a lot of fun doing it, we had potlucks down there and the whole crew would show up, and we’d put up a fence. It just developed from there.”
Once they had built the main rodeo grounds, they started looking into getting the grandstand as well. The City of Quesnel held a referendum, with the Recreation Centre and Rink 2 on the same ballot, and Alex Fraser Park wound up with a $500,000 grandstand. Gus says it isn’t perfect; it can get too much sunlight in the evenings and too hot during the day, but it was a natural fit with the hillside.
Eventually, after years of trying, Gus and Nita even convinced the RCMP Musical ride to visit the rodeo grounds. That was the last time they came to Quesnel, in 2008, before returning this year.
In 2008, the hospital was trying to raise money for a new CT Scan machine. The proceeds of the RCMP Musical Ride always go to a worthy cause, and that year, due to phenomenal attendance, the ride raised $10,000, all of which went toward the new CT Scan machine.
The proceeds from the most recent RCMP Musical Ride, on July 31, will go back into Alex Fraser Park for repairs and maintenance.
As well as helping organize and run the rodeo over the last 53 years (the 2017 rodeo was cancelled due to the wildfires), the couple have also been responsible for bringing in entertainment for the crowd during the halftime. They brought in bareback riders from Boise, Idaho (twice), a hoop dancer from the indoor rodeo in the Agriplex, among others.
As well as being a former president of the Rodeo Club, Gus used to compete in team roping. He grew up riding horses and competing in gymkhana, and it felt like a natural extension of that.
In fact, 35 years ago Gus was competing in the team roping event in the Quesnel Rodeo when his grandson was born. He and his teammate won team roping for the rodeo that year. “So we thought [our grandson] was our good luck omen,” says Nita.
While the rodeo is happening each year, the couple spends at least four days straight at Alex Fraser Park, living out of their travel trailer. They say about a half dozen club members also camp out for the event, making sure they’re on site in case anything happens. “We hibernate at the park,” Gus laughs.
Gus and Nita have been married for 62 years. Gus was Nita’s brother’s best friend and they went to school together. “I guess we just sort of grew together,” says Nita.
There are a few key differences since the couple first started organizing the rodeo though. Even in Bouchie Lake, they never had trouble finding people to compete, while now, it isn’t so easy. There are fewer competitors for the rough rider events, like the bucking bronco or bull riding. They even started advertising at the schools and trying to get young people more interested in the rodeo, but with little luck.
Even the ones who do high school rodeo often don’t keep with it now, says Nita. They go off to school or pursue different interests. And the new generation seems more interested in ATVs and side-by-sides than horses, Gus adds.
“You can’t bring it back, as much as you try,” says Nita. “I hope it never fades away … but maybe it will.”
The couple were honoured at the rodeo this year, for their contributions as lifelong and founding members of the Rodeo Club.
When they speak about it, both get a little teary-eyed.
“It was very, very humbling,” says Nita. “And it was awesome. Just so totally unexpected.”
Gus adds that Ray Jasper, who organized the event, invited the Camerons’ family to come visit for the event, including a granddaughter and three great-grandchildren from Alberta. One of them even snuck into their house one day to see what their coat sizes were. The couple were given two “beautiful” leather jackets, and had a bucking chute named after them at the rodeo.
Gus and Nita plan to stay involved with the rodeo as long as they can.
“We love it, it’s been our life,” says Nita. “We can still contribute, and as long as we can, we will.”