This year is a special one for the Sweethearts of Sam Steele, as they will be celebrating 50 years of the tradition. It will be a reunion of sorts and many former pageant participants will be returning to Cranbrook to celebrate the occasion.
The Sweetheart Youth Ambassador Pageant takes place June 19, starting at 7:30 p.m. The Sweetheart Banquet and Ball takes place later that day from 6 p.m. Then on June 21, the Dress Up Tea Party with Sweethearts allows girls under 12 to come down to Rotary Park in their princess dress up clothing and have lemonade with the Sweethearts.
There have been 408 participants through the years, and of those 140 or so will be in Cranbrook to mark this year’s Sam Steele Days, as well as attend the Sweethearts pageant.
Out of those 140 past Sweethearts, 10 are from the same family and descended from one of the founding fathers of Sam Steele Days – Louie Holmes. In the early years of the festival it would be kicked off by Louie, sack of gold in hand, riding on the back of a donkey to the bank to make a deposit at the Bank of Montreal, which at the time was at the corner of Baker and 10th Avenue. Later that day, a gang would ride in on horseback and rob the bank of Louie’ hard earned gold.
Louie would also ride alongside the Sweethearts, including Sophie Pierre, on the float as seen in a photo from 1967. That was the second year.
The family’s direct participation in the pageant extends back to 1971, when Marilyn Nemisz took part in the pageant. From there it was Liz Schatschneider in 1974, Joanne Kitt in 1977, Cathy Nielson in 1980, Janis Caldwell in 1984, Candace Nielson in 1987, Jen Schatschneider in 2003, Stephanie Hrisook in 2004, and Mary Schatschneider in 2006.
Liz Schatschneider’s parent’s were Bud and Maxine Caldwell — Maxine was the daughter of Louie. They owned the Caldwell Agency.
“That community spirit and involvement generated right down,” Karin Penner, who has been involved with the pagent from the start, said. “They were always involved in Sam Steele Days.”
Things like the bank robbery continued for a number of years, with the robber usually Louie’s two sons.
“Bud and Maxine and their entire staff would always build the biggest, most colourful, loudest float in the entire parade,” Penner said. “It would always end the parade because it was a block long or something like that.”
Penner said to have 10 members of the same family participate is a great feat.
“And every single one of them will be here for the reunion,” Penner said.
Schatschneider said the pageant has never been a beauty or swimsuit pageant, but a more encompassing ambassador pageant. Part of that is the public speaking component.
“You think about a lot of people’s worst nightmare is getting up and speaking in front of any size group, never mind 600 people at a theatre on the stage,” Schatschneider said. “Being able to do that is just so great for the kids.”
Former Sweetheart youth ambassadors will be coming from as far as Australia and France to attend the reunion. There are others coming from places like Ottawa and Vancouver, as well as those that still live in Cranbrook.
In the early days of the pageant it was held in the Armond Theatre. Candidates would have to change in the exit area.
Later, local businesses offered space for the girls to change, and they had to run up and down the alley to get back to the theatre for their turn onstage.
That was finally fixed when the Key City Theatre was built.
This year the pageant will again be at the Key City Theatre.