To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Stampede Breakfast in 1923, a new children’s book reveals the true story behind this iconic western tradition. Flip, Flop, Flapjack is written by Brenda Joyce Leahy, the granddaughter of the legendary founder Wildhorse Jack.

The picture book, for ages 4-8, chronicles the antics of Wildhorse Jack, a larger-than-life cowboy who loses every event at the Stampede rodeo, but celebrates by hosting a huge pancake breakfast the next morning — much to the chagrin of his little daughter Frankie.

The book features illustrations by artist Melissa Bruglemans-LaBelle,  archive photos, and the Morton Family pancake recipe. spoke to Leahy about her new book, which launches May 15.

Horse Canada: It may surprise people to know that this is a true origin story of the famous Stampede breakfast. Why do you think this event has remained an integral part of Stampede culture?

Brenda Joyce Leahy: The Stampede pancake breakfasts are a family-friendly event that everyone can take part in, even if they don’t make it down to the Stampede grounds. Everyone loves a free meal, but it’s more than that. I think it’s the community aspect that keeps people coming back, as the breakfasts are available throughout the city during Stampede. Everyone who attends likely has their own reasons to take part – the pancakes, the music, the activities, seeing your neighbours, celebrating a tradition that goes back 100 years. Attending a pancake breakfast is a way of being a part of the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”! And who doesn’t want to do that?

Your grandfather was “Wildhorse Jack” – what made you decide that a children’s book was the way you wished to tell his story to a larger audience?

I had already written a short story about my grandfather, Wildhorse Jack. It was published in 2020 in an anthology, YYC POP – Poetic Portraits of People, edited by Sheri-D Wilson. Grant MacEwan wrote a comprehensive biography about my grandfather, Wildhorse Jack: The Legend of Jack Morton. There are a number of stories about Jack in magazines, local history books, and books about chuckwagon racing or the Stampede. There’s even an article in the 1923 Calgary Herald reporting on the first pancake breakfast.

But no one had written his story in a format for children. I was in an ideal position to do so, as his granddaughter. I’d had one novel published and some poetry and short stories, but no picture book. I was excited for the challenge and had the assistance of several children’s writers in Calgary, especially picture book author/illustrator Carolyn Fisher. When I found Red Barn Books, I thought we were a perfect fit and luckily so did the publisher, Ayesha Clough.

My mother, Frankie (Frances), was seven years old the year her dad served the first pancakes downtown. I thought children would respond to Frankie’s point of view. She loved horses, like her father, and was just forming her views about the world. Her dad was already famous locally and she looked up to him. Surely, he would win all the rodeo events! When he didn’t win and yet hosted a free breakfast to the public, she had to adjust her ideas about him.

Another reason I wanted to write this story was to correct a lot of stories about the first pancake breakfast that are inaccurate. Some, for example, say he was a young cowboy, down on his luck and camping downtown. In 1923, Jack was actually in his 40s, married with five children, owned several ranches and supplied much of the stock for the Stampede rodeos. It was time to set the record straight.

How would you describe your grandfather, and his relationship with your mother?

I never met my grandfather – he died before I was born. But there has been a lot written about him, and of course, family stories add to the lore. He was a big, strong, hard-working man who was generous to people in need. He was a romantic; he took the train from Gleichen to Winnipeg to propose to my grandmother, who had to climb out her bedroom window and down a ladder to elope with him. He also loved a good prank and apparently didn’t suffer fools gladly. He was no saint, but his virtues outweighed his flaws.

Jack with his family at their ranch near Standard, Alberta, in 1920.

Grant MacEwan’s biography tells a lot of the tales, including his rodeo days, the nicknames he acquired, the ranches he owned, and of course, his fondness for wild horses, badgers, and other wild animals. But to my mother, and to all of his children, he was just their “Papa”. He taught them all to ride, made them do their chores, took them on family picnics, and filled their ranch house with cowboys, friends, and family.

It’s a story with a firm moral centre; why do you think the theme of “winning isn’t everything” still resonates today?

Competition, whether in sports or other endeavours, is a part of our human nature. But ‘how you play the game’ is what I think matters most. Good sportsmanship is being gracious whether you win or lose and is part of every competitor’s code of conduct. Jack was an example of great sportsmanship, albeit with a flair for the dramatic. But whether you compete to the best of your ability or just for the fun of it, accepting the results of the competition with humility and kindness are most important.

What should children and their parents take away from the book?

I hope they are inspired by the deep sense of fun, generosity and community spirit that were part of a man with a big (and wild!) heart. I hope the message of sportsmanship infuses their own participation in competitions. I also hope children just find reading the book is fun, especially Melissa’s hilarious illustrations of Maggie the badger. Hopefully, families will try the Morton pancake recipe in the book and join in a community pancake breakfast during Stampede. Maybe some will even be inspired to volunteer at one of the breakfasts in the future!


Order your copy of Flip, Flop, Flapjack from Red Barn Books (will ship mid-April). Also available to pre-order via Amazon, Indigo and indie booksellers.

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