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Red Barn Books’ new title celebrates centennial of Calgary Stampede breakfasts

Illustrated children’s storybook released by Carstairs-based publisher features the tale of Wildhorse Jack and the first-ever Stampede pancake breakfast.

CARSTAIRS – A locally based, award-winning publisher recently released their latest standalone title about one of Alberta’s pioneer ranchers in anticipation of the Calgary Stampede breakfast’s centennial milestone.

Flip Flop Flapjack: Wildhorse Jack and the First Stampede Breakfast, is a fun, brightly coloured, uniquely stylized and uplifting illustrated children’s storybook for ages 4-7 that also features at the end additional facts about flapjacks, including a recipe, and ‘Wildhorse’ Jack Morton, 1879-1944.

Despite losing all of the events he competed in at the Stampede rodeo, Wildhorse Jack nevertheless went onto enthusiastically celebrate the following morning by hosting a huge pancake breakfast, much to the befuddlement of his daughter Frankie who doesn’t immediately understand how her dad could be so contagiously happy after losing every category.

The story was written by Calgary-based author Brenda Joyce Leahy, a granddaughter of Morton’s who about a year ago pitched the idea to Ayesha Clough, publisher and owner of Carstairs-based Red Barn Books.

“With this one, I can’t take any credit. It was the author who contacted me,” Clough told the Albertan on May 15 during a phone interview when asked about the inspiration behind the latest release.

Leahy told the Albertan she discovered Red Barn Books during a visit to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, whose gift shop carried some of the publisher's titles.

“When I looked them up online, they have a mandate for western heritage stories, which this is,” said Leahy, who has previously published poetry, short stories as well as a 2016 historic novel called The Art of Rebellion.

“So, I really thought they were the perfect match and luckily, Ayesha thought so too; it really felt like it was meant to be,” she said.

Since the centennial celebration of the first Calgary Stampede breakfast held in 1923 was coming up, Clough’s interest was instantly piqued when Leahy offered to share a manuscript she’d put together. Although Morton died before Leahy was born, the author was able to draw from a wealth of family resources including pictures and documents.

“There’s so much family lore about him; he’s such a legendary character in Alberta’s history,” said Clough. “And so she grew up sort of immersed in these stories about her granddad and what an amazing pioneer rancher he was.”

At one point in his career, Morton owned half a dozen ranches in the Gleichen area, along with a huge herd of horses.

“It’s even believed that the idea of chuckwagon races came from him, because he loved to race and he was really competitive. When they were done with their ranching, they would race the last mile home back to his ranch in Gleichen,” said Clough.

“And that’s where it’s believed that Guy Weadick got the idea for the chuckwagon races at the Stampede,” she said.

Competitive though he may have been, Morton also demonstrated gentlemanly conduct as well as exemplary sportsmanship and established a reputation for always presenting himself as the first to shake hands with the winners.

“My mother Frankie (Frances Morton) was seven years old the year her dad served the first pancakes downtown and I thought children would respond to Frankie's point of view,” Leahy was quoted as saying in a press release.

With the story idea in mind, Clough next needed an illustrator to bring it to life, and as fate would have it, one came knocking before long.

“It was kind of like the universe bringing people to me; not just the author but the illustrator and everything was just falling into place,” she said.

Clough said she was contacted by Airdrie artist Melissa Bruglemans-LaBelle, who expressed interest in working on an illustrated children’s book. During the earlier years of her career in arts, Bruglemans-LaBelle built up plenty of experience regularly painting Stampede characters and designs on windows.

Within a period of roughly one year, Flip Flop Flapjack went from being pitched to being published.

“We’re all pretty happy with the final product,” Leahy said during an interview.

“It’s always a thrill to get your own books in your hands,” she said, praising the design's western style and later adding, “Melissa’s illustrations I think really capture the Stampede spirit.”

While Clough said she endeavours to run certain details past museum archives for historical authenticity, she also recognized and embraced the stylized nature of the caricatured characters such as Wildhorse Jack, whose well-groomed moustache in real life wasn’t quite reminiscent of Yosemite Sam’s wildly waving whiskers.

“That’s Melissa taking slight artistic liberty,” she said with a laugh, adding when the artist would paint windows for Stampede, the cowboys would always have an over-exaggerated ’stache.

And although many artists have taken the high-tech route with the use of digital tools such as tablets and Photoshop, Clough said Bruglemans-LaBelle has a fondness for keeping it old school, only scanning original artwork.

“One of the things I love about Melissa, is that she does everything by hand. I actually really love when things are painted by hand. Because digital, it will always look digital,” said Clough.

Asked how seeing the finished product felt, she said, “Every time I open the book, I fall in love with it; there is something just so happy and positive about the book. The energy and the vibe; I feel like we need to pass on our western values to our kids.”

With some stories about longstanding traditional Stampede breakfasts in other communities faltering and even folding as volunteers age or burn out, Clough said she feels passing on the tradition of western hospitality in the hopes of inspiring the youth to carry that legacy on into the future is important.

“I don’t think Jack would have ever known when he drove his chuckwagon into downtown Calgary in 1923, that that little impromptu breakfast that he put on just all in the Stampede spirit” would not only still be carrying on a century later, but also inspire copycat breakfasts throughout the province during the week of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, she said.

Coming out in the spring 2024 will be the third instalment in Red Barn Books’ illustrated children’s book Howdy series, this time featuring Harnam Singh, Alberta’s first Punjabi Sikh cowboy. Visit to see all available titles.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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