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The next wrestling event at Calgary's Stampede Corral could be its last

Calgary Stampede Corral

By Ryan Pike for F4WOnline.com

From the outside, it could be easily mistaken for a warehouse or barn if not for the adorned signage or the large western-themed mural on the east facade. 

Opened in December 1950 on the Stampede grounds in Calgary's Victoria Park neighbourhood just outside of downtown, the Stampede Corral was intended to be a means to an end when it was constructed. The neighbouring Victoria Arena was showing its age and the popular Calgary Stampeders hockey team needed a bigger place to play.

Thus, the Corral was born and when hockey moved across the street, so did the professional wrestling shows that were also a staple of the old arena.

In the decades since, the Corral has arguably become best known for two things: the intimidating high boards that were a fixture during hockey games, and the building's place in wrestling history. For over 30 years, it was Calgary's primary venue for concerts, ice hockey, wrestling, and other major events, holding that mantle until the Olympic Saddledome opened across the street on the grounds were Victoria Arena once stood.

History isn't without a sense of humour as plans are in motion for the Saddledome to be eventually also be replaced by a new arena built across the street.

Plans are in motion to finally close the doors on the old Corral after the better part of seven decades. As announced last year, the long-term plan is for the Stampede to knock down the building to expand the BMO Centre's conference capacity. When the money is available to put that plan into action, the Corral will close it doors for good. With an uncertain future for the historic building, WWE came to town last month for potentially one of the final wrestling shows in the Corral's long and storied history.

Records are a tad sketchy but Heath McCoy's excellent history of the Stampede promotion, Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling, notes that the Corral briefly ran professional wrestling shows from local promoter Darby Melnyk. He sold his territory to Klondike Wrestling promoter Stu Hart in May 1951 and the first show that followed was in September (according to WrestlingData.com and CageMatch.net) with Jim Henry beating Roy McClarty in the main event.

Since then, the building has hosted several hundred wrestling shows over the years with roughly 100 of them being major events with international stars.

Located smackdab in the middle of Stampede Park, the exhibition grounds that host the world-famous Calgary Stampede, the Corral was ideally-suited for large scale wrestling events. Over time, Hart began to utilize the coincident forces of the fairground crowds and the big venue to blow off major angles with supershows during the Stampede itself.

The promotion became known as Stampede Wrestling in 1967, but the July events date back to at least 1956 – online records are a bit spotty – and over time all the biggest names in the professional wrestling world came to town for matches in the Corral. Among those that came to town included Fritz Von Erich, Whipper Billy Watson, Lou Thesz, Pat O'Connor and Bruno Sammartino. Gene Kiniski clashed with Archie "The Stomper" Gouldie in 1968 in a legendary bout. Dory Funk fought Abdullah the Butcher in 1970. Harley Race defended his NWA World Championship in three consecutive years (1978-80), while AWA World Champion Nick Bockwinkel tangled with Bret Hart in 1981 and 1982.

The arrival of the Calgary Flames in 1980 was the beginning of the end for the Corral. While the NHL club spent three seasons there, their arrival led to immediate plans for a new building in tandem with the development of a bid for the 1988 Winter Olympics. The Saddledome opened in 1983 and as its doors opened, the wrestling shows moved along with the hockey team.

It was an odd sight when Stampede partnered with the then-WWF on Saddledome shows in the mid-'80s. After Stampede folded, the Saddledome was home for wrestling in Calgary, the building's three decks of seating, jumbotron, and fancy sloping roof a stark contrast to the exposed rafters, steep single lower bowl, and low ceiling at the Corral. The Saddledome was a building built for luxury, while the Corral was seemingly built for intimidation; the entrance gates to the building feature iron bars and the simple concourse features black and white pictures of stern faces from Calgary's pre-NHL hockey heyday.

The decline of Calgary as an important Canadian city for WWE events has led to a minor resurgence in pro wrestling at the Corral. Rather than running house shows in a sparsely-populated Saddledome for what's likely a hefty building fee, WWE has opted for the last three years to run the Corral and cram fans into the smaller building. The result has been louder wrestling crowds than the city's seen in years, even if the WWE product has attracted a much larger amount of small children than the Corral is used to hosting.

The Corral was rocking for WWE's most recent visit and while it might not have been Dory Funk and Abdullah the Butcher clashing in the main event, it was still wrestling and harkened back to a day where a seat in the building on a Saturday night was the hottest ticket in town.

Until plans are finally set in stone to demolish it, the Corral soldiers on into the unknown much as it has for the past seven decades, and every wrestling event at the storied building could be its very last.