Written by Dr. Meneka Repka. PhD, MA, BEd, BFA

The Calgary Stampede’s interest in retaining young children as future consumers, participants, and supporters of its annual festival and the animal agriculture industry more broadly is evident through its “educational” components, notably in “Aggie Days” (Agriculture Days).  Aggie Days invites young participants and their families to observe and interact with farmers and the nonhuman animals in their “care.” In a collision of speciesism and colonialism, this confusing, one-dimensional portrayal of animal agriculture aims to promote education while failing to accurately and fully communicate the violent processes and practices that must exist in all forms of animal farming.

Touted as an avenue to showcase “where food comes from” and inform the public about how animal agriculture works in Alberta, Aggie Days’ selective imagery functions implicitly to reinforce the commodity status of nonhuman animals, while denying them bodily autonomy and species-appropriate relationships.  In one Aggie Days feature from a previous year, a life-size replica of a dairy cow stands centrally in an Astro turfed section of the floor, complete with a white picket fence and a bucket under her udders. This “interactive” exhibit disturbingly invites children to participate in milking her, ignoring any discussion of how the milk got there in the first place, where her young calf is, and why this calf isn’t allowed to drink the milk intended for them. Paternalistically, this activity reinforces a dominant understanding of humans as necessary saviours who must intervene to prevent a cow’s udders from growing too heavy.  Furthermore, seemingly benign imagery of happy and tranquil cows who are calmly milked by loving hands in green pastures falsely upholds a romanticized yet inaccurate myth of what really happens on a dairy farm. Similarly, children can pet and interact with baby chicks while remaining shielded from the mass culling that routinely occurs for thousands of male chicks who are useless to the industry because they don’t produce eggs. The females will later be exploited for their reproductive capacities and suffer from injuries, diseases, and even death as a result of being bred to lay an artificially high and unnatural amount of eggs; these discussions are conveniently hidden from Aggie Days spectacles.  In the manufactured happy, pastoral imagery of Aggie Days, nonhuman animals are only permitted to participate in an exploitative relationship with humans; they are denied opportunities to choose their own mates or form their own families and relationships.

The purpose of Aggie Days, according to its own website, is to “preserve and celebrate our western heritage, cultures, and community spirit.” A preoccupation with cowboy culture as an integral element of Albertan identity is woven into every aspect of marketing for the beef industry as well as the Stampede in general, linking “traditional” values with animals as economically significant commodities.  In the mythology of Aggie days, Alberta is portrayed as an expansive terrain that is geographically suited for rugged cowboys and intergenerational small-scale farming. The repeated imagery of white families claiming and settling this land, coupled with an intergenerational sharing in the preparation and consumption of animals as food solidifies the role of white children as the natural custodians of a “wild” and “untouched” land.  This narrative covertly shifts attention away from Indigenous ways of understanding the land while championing Anglo-Canadian histories. Dominant attitudes of post-settler colonialism that are maintained in the distribution and circulation of frontier iconography operate to erase non-Western histories, knowledges, and perspectives along with their dismissal of nonhumans and the earth.

Aggie days, along with other facets of the Calgary Stampede and the industries it promotes, upholds dominant ideologies about nonhuman animals as having value only insofar as they can benefit the human species.  Aggie days exhibits commodify animal bodies while hiding the violent practices that are routinely employed in the industries that seek to exploit them. Through a one-dimensional positioning of Alberta as only historied through the lens of a rugged frontier, this “educational” event operates within a discourse of post-settler colonialism to promote white, intergenerational claims to land and the removal of non-Western discourses of culture, land, and animals.