OLDIE BUT GOODIE: Calgary Polo Club celebrates 125 years of operation

The Calgary Polo Club celebrated its 125th year anniversary this summer. Like the United States Polo Association, it commemorated its founding in 1890. Calgary, along with Meadow Brook and Myopia Polo Clubs, which were also founded the same year, are the only North American clubs to continually operate since that time.

It is a big birthday year for the Calgary Polo Club. Based in the province of Alberta, Canada, it is one of the oldest polo clubs in North America, as well as one of the longest to continually operate. How has it managed to survive two world wars, the Great Depression and countless other economic and logistical challenges along the way? Put it down to a horse-loving local population, starting with some of our most notable homesteaders and cowboys.

In the late 19th Century, adventurous souls headed west in droves, seeking to stake their claim on large, promising swaths of land in “western Canada’s burgeoning cattle kingdom,” according to the Historical Society of Alberta.

Calgary Polo Club founder Alfred Ernest (A.E.) Cross was one of those pioneers. Born in Montreal, he established his A7 Ranche in 1886, creating a brand that would symbolize himself and his six siblings. At 13,000 acres, it is the oldest ranch in Canada still in the hands of the original family.

Besides raising cattle, Cross loved horses and the sports they inspired. Cross is well known for being one of the “Big Four” cattlemen who established the Calgary Stampede in 1912, but polo had already captivated him decades earlier. Together with a few like-minded homesteaders, he founded the Calgary Polo Club in 1890. Since then, the club has attracted players from all walks of life. Cowboys and ranch hands played alongside decorated military heroes and business tycoons.

Cross himself was more than a cattleman. His professional pursuits included the brewing business, the film industry and politics. Meanwhile, the first president of the Calgary Polo Club, Henry Bruen Alexander, built some of downtown Calgary’s most impressive sandstone buildings. His real estate legacy includes the Alexander Block, which still stands on Stephen Avenue today.

In 1907, the Los Angeles Times wrote about Colin Ross, one of the many remittance men who came to Wild Rose Country (Alberta’s provincial slogan) to expand their fortunes. Originally from England, Ross was obsessed with polo. His unbeaten Calgary team traveled across North America to meet rivals’ challenges.

The history of the Calgary club is so storied that longtime player and supporter Fred P. Mannix commissioned a book. “Polo, The Galloping Game,” by Tony Rees, with its in-depth historical research and extensive collection of photographs, now occupies a place of pride on many a member’s coffee tables.

Adventurous and charismatic players from Southern Alberta would continue to be drawn to the Calgary Polo Club over the years, including many from the oil and gas industry. Charles Hetherington, President and CEO of Panarctic Oils Ltd, who started playing in the 1950s, eventually served as Canadian governor for the USPA. He played into his 70s, and one of the fields at the club is named for him. Another oilman, Jake Harp, who played for more than three decades, served as club president for three years. Meanwhile, the energy industry is still well represented today, with Pat Powell of Bonnett’s Energy, Reg Whyte of Broken Antler Resources, Rob Foster of Tekarra Project Services and John Rooney of Northern Blizzard Resources currently playing in the six-goal league.

However, it is not just O&G at CPC. Business leaders from all walks of life play at the Calgary Polo Club. Outgoing President Anne Evamy runs Identity Marketing. Gordon Ross is a top luxury realtor for ReMax. Financial analyst Cathy Butler is the president of Patronus Inc. Six-goal newbie and attorney James Kidd specializes in securities, mergers and acquisitions. Rancher Scott Palmer pilots his plane in regularly for games.

Professionals on the pitch this year included long-time Calgary players Joe Henderson, Marcelo Abbiati, Pedro Orellena and Dayelle Fargey, as well as pros playing their first season in Canada, like Max Menini, Luis Sarraco, Carlitos Galindo, Isabella Wolf and John Eicher.

Over the years, the club has been a strong incubator for professional talent. Following in the hoof steps of his pololoving father, Frederick Mannix is rated 6 goals in North America and 9 in Argentina. His career on the world’s polo stage started at 16, when he played for Team Canada. He went on to compete for the coveted Argentine Triple Crown, and is the second Canadian in 120 years to play in the Argentine Open with his team, Alegria.

The club has always been encouraging to female members, with dramatic results. In the 1920s, the women’s team boasted wins both locally and abroad. As the game evolved, the teams became coed. In 1992, longtime member Julie Roenisch was the first woman to play in the U.S. Open championship, making history. She is part of a family that has played polo for four generations. Her husband Rob, who achieved 5 goals, currently manages the CPC. Their son Daniel, a 3-goal pro, plays each summer in Calgary.

The club isn’t restricted to experts. At the Calgary Polo and Riding Academy, 3- goal pro Kyle Fargey offers instruction to novice riders interested in the sport. His Coaching League has weekly games for both beginners and intermediates. Over his 11-year span with the school, Kyle has inspired many new club members.

The facilities are second to none,” says Richard Cote, expected to move from Calgary Polo Club Vice President to President by year’s end. “The fields are unbelievable–they are world class.”

During its lengthy history, the club has been located in several places around Calgary, but in the 1990s it moved to its current home on 300 acres of land just east of the Rocky Mountains, donated by the estate of A.E. Cross. One of North America’s largest polo facilities, it has seven full-sized playing fields, a stick and ball field, a school field and an outdoor arena. Barns can accommodate up to 350 horses. A 1.5-mile exercise track borders part of the property. The club also has an enviable hitting cage, which is available for members to use year-round—even when there is snow on the ground. During the winter, the club offers turnout on 40 acres of natural wooded pasture.

Calgary offers several levels of play.With the number of players steadily increasing over the last three years, this summer, the Six Goal had a total of seven teams. The pro pool, called Club League, saw new teams formed each week with three club members and one pro. The September League, now in its fourth year, combines an energetic mix of players from both the Six Goal and Club League, with one pro on each team.

As the years march on, history keeps echoing through club activities. Five trophies still in play date prior to World War 1, including the Calgary Cup, which was first awarded in 1892. Prizes often include bronze sculptures by renowned artist Rich Roenisch.

This year, as the club celebrated its 125th anniversary, the summer season was packed with parties. Hundreds of tailgaters came out for the Canada Day Tournament on July 1. Veuve Cliquot hosted their third annual Polo Classic, with the delectable combination of champagne and the sport of kings. Other notable tournaments this year included the Polo Canada Invitational Tournament, a joint venture between the Black Diamond and Calgary Polo Clubs.

The club’s regular social schedule was also in full swing at the Ranch House, perching on a berm that offers a fantastic view of several fields. From Lobster Fest to the more formal President’s Ball, entertaining evenings could be relied on all summer long. Meanwhile, a smaller clubhouse between Cross and Greene Fields, was the destination for casual parties and asados.

In the media department, the club received coverage in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, as well as the Calgary Herald and local TV stations. The lifestyle of the sport has even inspired an annual magazine. Calgary Polo Style published its second issue this year.

Fred Mannix said, “The Calgary Polo Club owes its long history and success to the many supporters over the years, but it must continue to plan for the future as all polo clubs should do.”

Looking forward, it is anticipated that the Calgary Polo Club will continue to expand membership, growing from the ground up, through Coaching League and Club League. Meanwhile, eight teams are expected to play in the 2016 Six Goal.

"It’s the playing members that make our club so wonderful, and make you want to come back day after day and play,” says Richard Cote. “Competitors on the field. Friends off the field.”

By Tiffany Burns


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