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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.


Stampede fever takes over the entire city, but the official events take place at Stampede Park located in the eastern side of downtown. The park is easily accessible by the blue and red C-Train lines, as well as the many bus services travelling downtown. Just follow the crowds or the iconic Saddledome in the distance, and you’ll quickly find your way there.

1.27 million people attended the 2018 Calgary Stampede, so it’s best to follow the advice of the local authorities and use public transport to get in and out of the busy downtown areas. Calgary is also well served by taxi and ride-sharing services such as Checker Cabs and Uber, but beware that demand will be very high throughout the 10-day event.

The park features many indoor exhibition centres, outdoor amusements and music venues, as well as the impressive racetrack and Grandstand, where the big rodeo events take place. The Calgary Stampede festivities run all day, and continue long into the night across the city even when you’ve left the venue.

How to Dress for the Big Occasion

Cowboy hats, boots and a chequered shirt are the order of the day at the Calgary Stampede. By the time July comes around, the weather in Calgary is beautiful. You should expect day-time temperatures in the mid-20s, with the odd chance of a rain shower. Daily temperatures do dip quite a lot at night, unlike eastern cities such as Montreal and Toronto, so it’s a good idea to bring along a light jacket if you’re out for the night.

You can pick up a cowboy hat very easily in the city, with lots of stores only too happy to part with one of Calgary’s most iconic symbols. Truly dedicated Stampeders could end up spending many thousands of dollars on their own hats, and they really are a prized possession. Beware that attempting to borrow somebody else’s cowboy hat for a photo at the Calgary Stampede is a bit of a taboo, and should be avoided.

What to Expect at Stampede Park

The Stampede is a very diverse celebration, but cowboy culture is of course central to the entire event. During the daily day-time rodeos, you’ll find the usual mix of bull riding, horse riding and steer wrestling. Then at night-time, there’s added excitement when horse-drawn wagons are raced against each other on the large dirt track adjacent to the main grandstand. This is one of the biggest global events in the rodeo circuit, so the best of the best ply their trade at the Calgary Stampede.

Elsewhere, there’s even a dog show on site, where visitors can take a look at the adorable four-legged friends in a crufts-esque event.

There’s a carnival atmosphere all around, with plenty of great markets, food and drink to be had. The Stampede Breakfast is another phenomenon which runs over the 10 days, where people can start off their day with some pancakes at events held across the city. Many can be accessed by invitation only but there are also lots of public events where you can make new friends and develop plans for the day ahead.

Calgary has a rich tradition in country music, and Stampede Park attracts lots of the top acts in that genre. There are multiple live music stages on-site, and the majority of acts will feed the crowd frenzy with country or rock anthems. This type of music might not be for everybody, but you’re better off trying to embrace one of Calgary’s most treasured loves.

City nightlife

The entire city gets swept up by the Stampede, so it’s not difficult to find other cool events closer to home where you can sample what it’s all about. There are many great bars that you should check out throughout the year if you want to get a bit more use out of your stetson and boots.

Do you remember the bar fight in the iconic movie Cool Runnings? That was shot inside Ranchman’s Bar in Calgary itself, and it’s a great night out. Located in the southeast, it’s not the easiest place to get to but you’ll have many hours of fun there. Join the locals on the dancefloor for some line dancing and test out your own rodeo skills by hopping aboard their mechanical bull.

Check out Cowboy’s bar as well, a very short walk from Stampede Park itself. This is another country and western stronghold, with a large dance floor, DJ, live bands, and some dance lessons if you’re interested. It’s also home to one of the city’s most popular casinos if you want to have a flutter.

Citation "The Calgary Stampede: All you need to know about the annual cowboy extravaganza." Moving2Canada. . Copy for Citation