By Leonie O’Sullivan, October 27 2023—
Barney Bentall is taking The Cariboo Express to Calgary on Oct. 27 and will be continuing their tour throughout Canada until the end of November. Bentall grew up in Calgary and has been a professional musician for 40 years. Almost 20 years ago, he was at a rodeo in B.C. with his band The Legendary Hearts raising funds for a new dance hall. This event sparked Bentall’s idea to create The Grand Cariboo Opry and raise funds for charities across Canada through benefit concerts.
Surprisingly, once they had become successful they received an objection from The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, which led to Bentall expressly switching the name to The Cariboo Express — Bentall said he prefers this name anyway, so it seemed to work out for the best.
The Cariboo Express is a more than 12-piece western music-style band. They have succeeded in raising a staggering amount of funds for numerous charities throughout Canada, by putting on variety shows featuring old and new songs, poetry and even some theatrical performances.
“The Cariboo Express is a collective of musicians and we put on a really entertaining show in support of various charities across Canada,” said Bentall. “Over the course of 18 years, we have managed to raise $5 million dollars for various charities.”
Founded in 2009 by Olympic gold medallist, Steve Mesler and Dr. Leigh Mesler Parise, Classroom Champions is the charity of choice for the Calgary show. Classroom Champions is a wonderful mentorship program between schoolchildren and athletes throughout North America. Their mission is to empower children to thrive socially, emotionally and academically through mentorship with world-class athletes. This mentorship program has achieved exceptional results — after enrolling in Classroom Champions, 83 per cent of teachers reported that their students’ grades improved.
“They bring athletes in to help mentor and inspire kids in schools who are having a difficult time,” said Bentall. “It’s a difficult time to grow up and some people have more challenges than others.”
Companies can donate by purchasing song sponsorships, where a song is introduced on their behalf in a humorous way, often with a witty monologue. All this sponsorship money goes directly to the charities, on top of all the grants received and a portion of the ticket sales. During the interview, Bentall was in the middle of herding some cows on his farm in B.C. We wrapped up the conversation quickly as a bunch of his cows got out — fingers crossed he managed to get them all back.