Calgary is a city of contrasts. The winter snow prompts weekly drives westwards to the Rockies, as the city becomes gripped by skiing and other frozen explorations. However, when the snow thaws, the Calgary Stampede quickly comes into clear focus as cowboy hats are donned and the whole city goes full-on country for 10 days.
That’s not to say that the city isn’t always fiercely proud of its Cowtown roots. This place is Canada’s hub for country music all year round, and cowboy culture is unavoidable in snow and sun. The city’s CFL (American football) franchise is called the Stampeders, while all the big hockey games take place at the ‘Saddledome’ downtown. The city is often regarded as the Texas of Canada, and the Calgary Stampede is a celebration of this rich agricultural heritage.
It’s termed the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, and the celebrations are unavoidable for the duration of the annual event in early July. Calgarians, like all Canadians, know how to make the most of their summers because they can be so relatively short. The Stampede caters for people of all ages, and it’s easy to find something you’ll enjoy even if you’re not interested in watching the daily rodeos. Here’s what you can expect of Calgary’s big annual event.
The Calgary Stampede has been running since 1912 when the American showman, Guy Weadick, got the backing of some prominent local businessmen to turn the idea into a reality. It wasn’t until a few years later that it became an annual event, but public interest was tremendous from the very start.
Around three-quarters of those attending the Stampede festivities are locals, so it remains an event that Calgarians are fiercely proud of. The 10-day extravaganza gets underway with a parade on a Friday, and many famous Marshalls have become the face of the event over the years. Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, Bob Hope and Prince Charles have had the honour in the Stampede’s history, while many of the country’s most famous sports persons are also regularly invited to take part.
The parade follows a downtown route and regularly attracts over 100,000 onlookers. It usually features a mixture of marching bands, horses, and a wide variety of other local groups. It’s very common for companies to give their workers a half or full-day off on the day of the parade, so there’s little excuse not to get excited about the Stampede.
As well as the heavy focus on cowboy/western culture, Stampede organisers have always dedicated plenty of emphasis to the history of the Canadian First Nations. Indeed, visitors are given the opportunity to find out more about the tradition of First Nation families at Elbow River Camp, located at Stampede Park in downtown Calgary.