The Calgary Stampede describes itself as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” – and while that’s a hard claim to prove to be true – it’s tough to argue anything else: I’ve never seen anything like it.
For 10 days, Calgary itself grinds to a halt as one million square feet of space puts on rodeos, agricultural shows, First Nations dance displays, dizzying acrobatics and sells enough sugar and alcohol to last you from July until the next year’s Christmas.
Rodeo results here don’t “count” towards the yearly finals but all the key events take place, attracting the international champions. Expect saddle bronc riding, barrel racing and steer wrestling but also some more creative rodeo pursuits like Chuckwagon racing to stir up the dust.
First Nations tipis line up in the Indian Village, and rainbow feathered dance displays complement the “interpreters” who explain to visitors the different aspects of First Nations life, past and present.
For urban newbies like myself, a trip through the vast agricultural complex allowed me to truly appreciate the differences between cattle and horse breeds myself, made all the more meaningful having watched the different shows.
At the end of each evening, the main rodeo arena is cleared for an Olympic Opening Ceremony show with a Canadian twist (in 2015 local hero William Shatner read through his rendition of the National Anthem “O Canada.”)
And all this barely skims the surface of what’s on offer (deep fried peanut butter jelly sandwiches anyone?)
So grab your cowboy hat and come along yourself to find out.
At first glance, finding out that the sleek, modern, skyscraper smitten Canadian city of Calgary is known as “cowtown” doesn’t quite make sense.
After a few days at the iconic Calgary Stampede, all becomes clear.
Unlike most of the other festivals I’ve written about for this project, it isn’t easy to separate the Stampede from the City itself.
Sure, there are plenty of locals who tire of the rodeo-inspired extravaganza that describes itself as “The Greatest Show on Earth” – but even then, everyone has an opinion on the matter.
Downtown Calgary looks like any other prosperous North American city: grid like organisation, tall buildings, lots of glass, and you need a spark of inside knowledge to find the quirkier parts of town.
Yet for 10 days each year, even the financial institutions quieten down as the biggest rodeo show in Canada comes to town
There are rodeo princesses, face painted clowns, traditional tipis and aerial acrobatics.
There are also a lot of parties, which partly explains the weary attitude of some of those who live here.
The rest of the year seems to see Calgary take a more wholesome, business-like stance. As Canada’s capital for the oil industry, Calgary excels at financial brilliance in the week before residents hit the great outdoors at the weekend.
It’s a great base for exploring the majestic Canadian Rockies, although unfortunately this time around, I didn’t get the chance.
Within the city, the Downtown area is walkable, although you’ll need a car or taxi ride to travel further afield. The airport is well run and well connected to the major cities of Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal.
If you happen to be in town but the Stampede isn’t, you can still find a dose of Western culture and the two-step at the 66 acre Heritage Park beside the Glenmore Reservoir.
And, of course, if all this talk of cowboy hats, cuffs and buckles isn’t for you then the city has more to offer as well.
In terms of festivals, the arts and sciences charity Beakerhead puts on a week of fun each September and all year round there are attractions to visit like the Calgary Zoo and Prince’s Island Park. Those with an interest in sports may prefer to check out the Scotiabank Saddledome or the Spruce Meadows Riding Arena.
But for most out-of-towners, it’s the Calgary Stampede that’s the city’s biggest draw. You simply can’t find anything like it anywhere else in the world.
So buckle up, grab a cowboy hat and experience the fun for yourself in July.
Money Saving Tips
Check out one of the world’s largest indoor tropical gardens at the Devonian Gardens, CORE shopping centre. Access is free.
Go bird watching in Fish Creek Provincial Park. There’s no entry fee here either.
Did You Know?
· There are more volunteers per capita in Calgary than in any other city in Canada.
· The Bow River is one of the top three trout streams in the world.
· They really do serve deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the Calgary Stampede.
Standing on a giant purple hippo float at 9 in the morning as part of the Stampede Parade. It’s not every day you get to see a city through everyone waving at you!