Museum of the Cariboo-Chilcotin
Special the Tribune/Advisor
Cattle ranching was well established in areas surrounding the settlement of Williams Lake by the mid-1860s, but until the Pacific Great Eastern Railway arrived in 1919, ranchers had no nearby access to a rail shipping point.
Every fall ranchers were forced to drive their cattle on the long, gruelling trail to Ashcroft.
No sooner were the tracks down on the south side of the lake, than holding pens were built for cattle waiting to be shipped to the coast.
The “cow town” instantly emerged, when along with the cattle, came hundreds of people who required supplies, accommodation, banking services and entertainment among other things.
Thirty-some years later, in the early 1950s, Williams Lake became the biggest bull shipper on the PGE line, securing once and for all, its “cow town” status.
Jim Fraser, who served as the town’s mayor from 1972 until 1978 used this to his advantage on a number of occasions.
There was a paper maché bull costume floating around town that Jim believes belonged to the Kinsmen. Williams Lake was sending a group including Mayor Fraser to a North Central Municipal convention in Fort St. John. The convention was going to be held in a beautiful hotel that had recently been built.
Fraser suggested to town staffers that it would be great fun to get the bull and play a little gag on convention goers and they heartily agreed.
Jim phoned the hotel to book the rooms and mentioned that the delegates from Williams Lake would like to bring their pet cow along with them.
The hotel staff was pretty hesitant because it was a beautiful new hotel.
Jim reassured them that the cow travelled quite a bit and they had special baggies that were suitable for cow plops so there would be no messes on the floor.
The staff reluctantly agreed.
Jim got up to make a small speech and then let everyone know that he wanted to introduce the convention attendees to Williams Lake’s pet cow.
Minutes later two men burst in wearing the costume built for two. The stunt was a great success, the convention came to Williams Lake soon after.
World Bull Throwing Contest
One more bull story is our World Champion Bull Throwing Contest.
Jim Fraser challenged city and Stampede officials to come up with a tamer family friendly activity to be held at the 1972 Stampede.
Bernice Armstrong thought up the idea of a Bull Throwing Contest that incorporated dried cow pies and politicians. It was a chance for politicians to demonstrate “how good they were at throwing the bull…”
Rules were written up. Although the wording has changed slightly over the years the basic rules have remained the same and are strictly enforced. These are the official City of Williams Lake Politician Bull Throwing Rules.
1) Must be a bona fide politician.
2) Must be appropriately dressed in Stampede style.
3) Must take at least one swig of kick-a-poo joy juice prior to selecting meadow muffin.
4) Must throw overhand.
5) Must not lick fingers after completion of each throw.
6) Must successfully complete two throws.
You will be judged not only on the distance you throw, but your ability to chug-a-lug with one hand, your style and composure, as well as your ability to convince the judges you are in fact the #1 B.C. thrower.
On several occasions, the discs disintegrated in thin air or went astray into a stunned crowd of onlookers.
It was all in fun, and among those who participated the first year were provincial cabinet ministers, one or two federal cabinet ministers and the local council members.
Jim Fraser was the champion bull thrower in 1972 (the first contest) and again in 1975 beating out Senator Ray Perrault.
Barry Plant was one of the people who manned the measuring tape that seemed to have an elastic quality to it.
Later in 1972 Jim attended a Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting in Prince George where the mayor of Toronto was the guest speaker. In front of a huge audience the guest speaker commented, “Only in Williams Lake could we have people throwing bull and get it on the national news.”
Some of the notable champions were Premier Dave Barrett, 1973; Nanaimo’s Mayor Frank Ney, 1976; the Honourable Alex Fraser, 1977; PNE president Erwin Swangard in 1980. Williams Lake’s own Hazel Huckvale’s 27 centimetre throw landed her the championship in 1981. Broadcaster, Jack Webster won in 1982.
The contest was held every year from 1972 to 1995. It is not known exactly why it was abandoned, possibly it was deemed “politically incorrect.”
Some councillors believed the practice was degrading and would not participate. Most, however, joined right in the fun.
Who the official muffin collector was is unclear but it is known that during Walt Cobb’s term as mayor, he was the one who harvested the Cariboo Bull plops and cured them until they were “just right.”
The Cariboo Bull collection and storage container, is an empty gas drum converted into something that resembles a bull.
This “bull,” has a prominent place in the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin along with gilded cow plop plaque displaying all the names of the World Champion Bull Throwers.
This tale of lakecity history is provided by the staff and volunteers at the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin in Williams Lake to celebrate the city’s 85th birthday.