Calgary in Flames: The Fall of Calgary Stampede Wrestling


Brian Damage

Originally established by Stu Hart in 1948, the Calgary based promotion ‘Stampede Wrestling’ was for nearly 50 years one of the main promotions in western Canada and the Canadian Prairies and boasts an alumni that features the likes of Bret Hart, Rick Martel and The Dynamite Kid. Today Brian looks at the factors that made the promotion such a success during its heyday.

Vince McMahon is synonymous with the destruction of the territorial system in professional wrestling. A system that had been in place for many, many years before he decided on expanding his World Wrestling Federation nationally in the early 1980’s. While McMahon certainly can shoulder some of the blame….it must be noted that many of these territories were run out of business by themselves.

Whether it was greed, lack of trust, lack of vision into the future…etc…many promoters shut their doors for good over their own bad decisions. McMahon just fed off the weak and eventually became a global power. This piece is no way defending Vincent Kennedy McMahon….just looking stating some necessary facts. One perfect example of this, was the territory that dominated most of western Canada…Calgary Stampede Wrestling.


Calgary Stampede was founded and run by wrestler/booker Stu Hart from 1948 until its demise in 1984. Stu not only controlled pro wrestling in the region for all those years…he trained many of its talent on the roster. The promotion thrived for several years…but as the old saying goes…”All good things must come to an end” and it did in such a violent manner.


The demise of Calgary Stampede Wrestling can be traced back to over 30 years ago…on a cold night in December of 1983. The place was the Ogden Auditorium in Calgary, Alberta Canada. A venue that Stu Hart had ran many of his wrestling shows. The Booker during this time was Stu’s son Bruce Hart. A wrestler himself, who was somewhat of a visionary to take Calgary Stampede in a whole new direction. Under Bruce’s leadership…Calgary Stampede went from the more traditional wrestling catch as catch can style to a more gritty, violent style.


Bruce Hart liked “color” aka blood and wasn’t shy in having matches end up in bloody brawls. The younger generation of fans (Who Bruce Hart was targeting) might have loved this new aggressive style of booking…but not all were enamored with it. One of which was none other than Calgary Stampede’s long time announcer Ed Whalen. Whalen was the voice of Stampede Wrestling for nearly 30 years and aside from the Hart family themselves…was the one constant of that territory. Ed Whalen had become increasingly disgruntled with the direction of the promotion to a more bloody style. He didn’t feel in many ways, that such a violent style was appropriate for the families that came to watch the shows week in and week out.


It all finally came to a head on December 2nd, 1983….the night that virtually killed this once strong promotion. On this particular night….the main event pitted Davy Boy Smith, Bret Hart and Sonny Two Rivers against Bad News Allen, The Stomper Archie Gouldie and Archie’s kayfabe son Jeff Gouldie. During the course of the match, Bad News Allen turned on his partners the Stomper and his son Jeff Gouldie.


Bad News Allen viciously attacked Jeff Gouldie outside the ring where he used his piledriver maneuver several times on the young wrestler on the concrete floor and into the stands. Allen then got on the microphone and announced his hatred for the Stomper and his son and wished that his attack on Jeff Gouldie led to his death. The match and the attack afterwards led to a riot within the stands of the Ogden Auditorium which reportedly led to some injuries involving fans. One of which was reportedly a female fan who was knocked over and trampled on.


The kayfabe violence had suddenly become all too real and it lead to the veteran Ed Whalen legitimately quitting Stampede Wrestling while still on the air. The riot also caught the attention of Calgary’s wrestling and boxing commission. Upset from the real life violence spurned by the event…the commission suspended Stu Hart’s wrestling license for approximately six months.


With Calgary Stampede Wrestling no longer allowed to put on shows in Calgary…Stu Hart lost a lot of his core audience and revenue. Hart would begin to run shows at an Indian Reservation outside Calgary’s city limits. By this time, Stu Hart’s promotion was hemorrhaging money. In August of 1984, Hart sold all his interests in Stampede Wrestling to Vince McMahon and the WWF. Calgary Stampede Wrestling…was no more.

The man behind the violent angle that ultimately led to the promotions downfall…Bruce Hart…attempted on his own to revive Calgary Stampede Wrestling in 1985 and again in 1999…but both ventures failed to captivate fans like the original Stampede Wrestling.

14 thoughts on “Calgary in Flames: The Fall of Calgary Stampede Wrestling

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  5. According to Bruce Hart’s autobiography, Keith Hart was the booker at that time. The bloodier, more violent booking came after his attempts to turn Stampede into a more ‘amateur wrestling oriented’ show, which failed. As Bruce Hart but it “In a matter of weeks, the territory went from Sesame Street to Elm Street” and it never recovered.


  6. You left out something important. In 1982, Stampede voluntarily left the NWA to operate independently. You did touch on it about Hart being partly responsible for their demise with the riot,

    The narrative that Vince McMahon’s dark shadow casted over North America and destroyed every other promotion simplifies it way too much.

    Other factors contributed to the synthesis of the wrestling industry into two dominate, national companies in the ’90s.

    AWA left the NWA to expand on their own, WCCW was kicked out of the NWA, only to be bought out by Lawler (also merging with CWA, having interests to expand our of Memphis). NWA opted to cut ties with Tuner’s WCW in ’93. ECW burned NWA, because they wanted to be their own force in the industry.

    JCP was doing the very same thing as Vince K. McMahon, just only earlier. And it eventually took over NWA brand.

    WWF bought out Maple Leaf Wrestling but let the local promotes still have more of a control (like they did with USWA, ECW, Smoky, Ohio Valley) Using it as a developmental still kept talent, local promoters working.


  7. Ah stampede wrestling was my mainstay for years. As a fan i watched it on TV and whenever it came through town i would always go. Memorable matches dynamite kid and British bulldog Davey boy Smith in a cage. I do miss those days but all good things must come to an end. And in the immortal words of Ed Whalin, it was a ringa ding dandy, but in the meantime and until next time that’s stampede wrestling…


  8. Stampede wrestling gave us big stars like the late Dynamite Kid,Davey Boy Smith god I miss it a lot it was my fave show on sat afternoon.


  9. In the days before half-hour-ads (aka ‘infomercials’), syndicated shows were in their glory. Local stations desperate to fill non-network airtime made VERY fertile ground for low budget shows like The Red Fisher Show, Tiny Talent Time, Oopsy Daisy The Clown, roller derby and wrestling. As a result, the Stampede Wrestling TV show had a VERY wide TV audience for a Winnipeg-to-Vancouver-only promotion. I hear it ran in dozens of countries. Hard to imagine now.

    As a little twerp, I often saw Stampede Wrestling on a station just outside Toronto. You’d think a Western Canadian promotion would have great difficulty penetrating the heart of Maple Leaf Wrestling territory. But no! (For that matter, I also saw the Jerry Lawler-Andy KAuffman insanity on some Ohio Station via my excellent aerial.) My point is, there was room on the dial for smaller outfits, even beyond their “territory”.

    Sadly, those days were completely sleeper-holded by several things, many of which had ZERO to do with wrestling. All of which sucked. Thanks to the 80’s/Reagan Era mentality of deregulation (& the idea that bigger is always better), local stations were increasingly able to ditch formerly-mandated local (& Canadian) programming. In addition, half-hour ads were allowed to infest stations’ non-network airtime. Not only that, the growing popularity of Cable (or “pay-TV”) channels allowed viewers to ditch their local TV station for stations out of Chicago, Atlanta, New York etc. Local TV was being supplanted by the national/international. So unless your name was Hasselhoff, or Roddenberry, this had a major impact on ALL produced-for-syndication shows.

    With regards to wrestling…Even with similar/growing popularity, it was just harder for smaller promotions (especially non-local ones) to get on TV. Now you had to have way bigger budgets. “Why should I air your little Calgary production (Calgary was 1/4 its current population), when I could be paid in advance to play a half-hour gym equipment ad? Besides, if I’m showing wrestling, it’s going to be a big name promotion out of a ‘real city’ like Toronto, or New York.”

    As a result, it became less about sports & more about big budget, big city, entertainment…Cue Vince McVulture! Even though they had “a big Hollywood star” and decent talent, the Lawler-KAuffman show (if I recall) was a 2 camera show shot in what looked like an abandoned, Memphis, auto-shop in front of 50-60 hillbillies. Suddenly, you needed a 15,000 seat arena, strobe lights, fireworks, theme music, intricate plots, massive overacting, evermore dangerous stunts (See: Owen Hart)…and LOADS & LOADS of steroids! Stampede Wrestling had NO shortage of talent. The WWF (Yeah F!) lived off Stampede Wrestling’s talent pool for decades. But ironically, they just didn’t have (& couldn’t afford) the surrounding bull-mess. Sadly, they were all-but-assured to be thrown into History’s Dumpster…along with so many other great-but-small things.


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