The Williams Lake Stampede Queen competition turns 75 this year, and queen contestants are looking better than ever.
The queen pageant has a long and storied history, and though the contest has changed dramatically through the years — the first queens were chosen by the amount of tickets, or votes they could sell — through it’s 75 years it was only cancelled two times. Once for war, and once because the organizers couldn’t decide on the rules.
Following the Second World War, the contest was changed to elect both a First Nations and white queen. In 1957, new criteria was established, making the contest more familiar to today’s event. Competitors were required to show their skills in speech, poise, dress, beauty and horsemanship.
In 1966, the two categories were combined, and Joan (Palmantier) Gentles was elected the first queen of the new contest.
In time for the 75th year, a new crown was unveiled this year, one that takes into consideration the long history of the contest.
Unveiled in April 13, 2017-2018 Stampede Queen Kaylee Billyboy is the first to wear the hand-crafted silver piece.
“I’m extremely honoured to be the first one to wear it,” she told the Tribune. “It’s really exciting that this is happening, and I hope it helps our program grow.”
Billyboy was part of the process of designing the crown, which included queen-program alumni, and the silversmith, Dominic Valine who created and designed the finished piece.
If you look closely, the crown stays true to Williams Lake and the area.
The curves of the scrolls that make up the body of the crown are based on the outlines of the hills rolling into the valley that one can see looking out above the Stampede Grounds.
The Williams Lake Stampede brand logo is also featured on the design, as is a band of feathers, representing the First Nations influences in both the area and in the Stampede Queen competition throughout the years.
Three red stones are embedded in the crown, reminiscent of the colour from the crown that came before, as is a cancer ribbon, representing both the Tough Enough to Wear Pink fundraiser that happens at Stampede every year, and the woman who made the new crown happen: Sharon MacDonald.
MacDonald was a recipient of the money from the Stampede’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink, after being rediagnosed with cancer. When she learned that between medical and access to a trial, her medication would be covered, she was left deciding what to do with the money.
Mother to a former Stampede Queen, and a chaperone for the current queen, MacDonald noticed while on a trip with Billyboy that the old crown needed an upgrade.
“It was not in good shape,” she said. “I thought, I’m allowed to do what I want with this money, so that’s when I decided that I wanted to do a new crown.”
She co-ordinated between several of the more recent Stampede Queen alumni to find out what they wanted on the crown, and located a silversmith who could create it.
“There are not a lot of people who do that, and there is a lot of work that goes into things like that,” said MacDonald.
Valine, of Dominic’s Spurs & Silver, who created the crown, primarily works on spurs and bits, so the project was a bit bigger than what he is used to. Still, he’d made one crown before.
He started his work based off of the ideas sent to him.
He said it took him a week to create the silversmithing of the crown, from start to finish, not including the time it took to design and put the ideas together.
While the project was a challenge, due to both the size and delicacy of the design, overall it was rewarding he said.
“With bits and spurs you are really limited to what you can do with those, redesigning a bit isn’t a good idea. You keep them simple and you are limited in the space with what you can work with,” he said.
“It took input and ideas and I thought when I was done that I represented the project well, with some of my own ideas too. I really like the design of it.”
A handmade original crown is no small thing for a Stampede Queen, and the history of crowns within the Williams Lake organization is its own story, with the first being handmade.
Billyboy said she heard from the first Queen to wear the current crown.
“I hope to share that with whoever is Queen again however many years that is from now,” she said.
The crown makes the outfit, and as Stampede royalty that is no small thing for Billyboy.
“When I wasn’t royalty, I knew who the queens were because they were all wearing crowns, so it’s something that makes us stand out a little differently.”
The crown has been polished and is looked after locally by Woodland Jewelers, and is ready to be worn at the events Billyboy attends as she begins to wrap up her reign, beginning with the Williams Lake Indoor Rodeo, April 20-22.
The crown will grace the hats of Stampede Queens for years to come, and it’s a legacy MacDonald is happy to be a part of.
“When they go out of town they are representing our city, they are representing the Stampede, and you want the crown to say something about our community and I think this new one does,” said MacDonald.
“It’s all of our stories of what the Stampede means to us.”