Justin Zimmerlee rides an enraged bull

Justin Zimmerlee rides an enraged bull

Nemiah: indelible memories of a bygone rodeo

The Nemiah Valley Rodeo’s unique appeal lay in its isolation.

The Nemiah Valley Rodeo’s unique appeal lay in its isolation — a three-and-a-half hour drive from Williams Lake — its Coast Mountain setting beside Nemiah Creek, rustic log corral and bleachers, and dramatic, unrivaled downhill mountain race.

And as the anniversary of what would have been the 37th Nemiah Valley Rodeo approaches, here is my requiem for the event.

Spectators could view the rodeo events close up, while perched upon the top corral logs opposite the bleachers; the enraged bulls, having tossed their riders, glaring momentarily at these onlookers; though usually only children and photographers took advantage of this precarious prospect.

And there was a social congeniality. Many competitors and spectators camped overnight at the rodeo ground on the BC Day long weekend Saturday night (the rodeo was held Saturday and Sunday).

But the Nemiah Valley Rodeo’s race is run, the great event is finished and is unlikely to rise again; the cowboys and cowgirls, along with their horses consigned to Chilcotin history.

This would have been the rodeo’s 37th year. I attended in the years 2008, 2010, and 2013, its final year.

Last year at Nemiah, disheartening rumors of the rodeo’s inevitable demise and its cause were already circulating. The campers at the rodeo ground had decreased in number, and those that remained were ill served by pounding all night dance music from a dance hall which had previously been situated some distance away.

Before there were any intimations of the Nemiah Rodeo’ end, I acquired two unique rodeo souvenirs, oil paintings of a cowgirl child barrel racer at Nemiah which were based on my own photographs.

These were painted by amateur Williams Lake artist Grace Wilson in 2010 and 2011.

I purchased them from her before she left the area in early 2012.

The first painting was based on a photograph which the Tribune published in August 2010 showing the young rider, who would become the BC Rodeo Association Pee Wee Barrel Racing Champion that year, performing a particularly tight turn with her horse.

The painting was displayed at the Kamloops Cowboy Festival of March 2011 as part of the BCRA exhibit.

The second painting was of the girl in Nemiah Creek with her horses in 2008.

In late June of this year, I sent the paintings north to Quesnel via Greyhound to their subject, Taylor Cherry, who was also last year’s BCRA Junior Breakaway Steer Roping Champion.  Western equestrian pursuits being no mere pastime for Taylor, I wish her continued success in the rodeo realm.

As for me, I will be looking for a retirement home in the sunrise shadow of the Rockies, far to the southeast, and will nostalgically recall the Chilcotin rodeos as I knew them, especially Nemiah.