Gold Highlights a Historic Stampede for War Heroes
Every engraved detail on this $20 fine silver coin, including a rim shaped like a lariat, reflects the history of the 1919 Victory Stampede.
“This coin is different,” says Canadian artist Michelle Grant, about the latest coin she designed for the Royal Canadian Mint. “After all these years, I never knew we held a Victory Stampede at the end of the Great War.”
The coin, which features a cowboy sitting astride a horse in full gallop, twirling a lariat above his head, marks the centennial of a rodeo celebration of peace after the First World War.
“I lost my great-grandfather to the trenches of France, my grandfather was one-year old when he left. Had the war begun one year earlier, I would not be here. This makes the discovery of this post-war celebration, and the meaning behind this coin, all the more powerful to me,” adds Grant.
In 1914, Alberta’s population was 500,000 and some 50,000 men aged 18-45 went to war. In today’s urbanized world it is difficult to imagine 1/10 of an entire community disappearing to the front lines, with over 6,000 never returning. Those who did come back often suffered from debilitating wounds and “shell shock.”
The 1919 Victory Stampede, which attracted over 57,000 spectators, was a rodeo salute to returning soldiers, who local media hailed as the heroic cowboys, having traded their lariats for rifles to win the war for the Allies.
The Royal Canadian Mint’s 2019 $20 Pure Silver coin reflects Stampede history in every engraved detail, “the cowboy’s iconic gold lariat frames the silver design beautifully,” observes Grant, “and the engraving is so fine, you can almost feel the braided rawhide. Today’s lariats are made of nylon and are much stiffer.”
Now an accomplished horsewoman in her own right, Grant spent hours at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum combing through the archives ensuring every element of her design was historically accurate, “I used images of the actual winner of the 1919 calf roping competition as a reference. The saddle and bridle are the same ones that were on the horse. Even the cowboy’s floppy hat is from 1919.”
How did the artist capture all the grandeur of Canada’s Western life on something as small as a coin Grant chuckles, “some of my best art was tiny doodles I did during math class. It’s actually the engraver who finessed my design down to millimetres. For my part, the Mint required a drawing that is 8” in diameter. Since my initial designs and drawings are often smaller than that, 8” is actually a good size for me to work with.”
Grant goes on to explain that conveying a sense of power is less about size and more about getting the biomechanics and gestures right: “Do the legs have the right proportions, are they bending the right way, are the horse’s ears pinned back… it’s these elements that convey the emotion, power and movement of the horse.”
“The engraver did an amazing job preserving all these nuances, right down to the cowboy’s intense focus and the way his hands are tightly gripped. This coin is a work of art and the way the cowboy is plated with gold makes this special tribute even more powerful. I’m so glad I discovered this new perspective on cowboys during the First World War.”
A proud Albertan, Grant is an internationally renowned award-winning artist who has a long-standing relationship with the Calgary Stampede and the Mint. In 2002, she designed the Calgary Stampede coin for the Festivals of Canada Series and in 2012, the Stampede centennial collector coin. Grant even designed the 2016 Stampede poster.
“I was four years old the first time I sat on a horse,” recalls Grant, “I ran up to a huge chestnut trotting down the street during a local Stampede street event. The cowboy scooped me up. I’ll never forget staring down the mane, between the horse’s ears. I was hooked.”