I’ve said a few times before, I love the city I live in. And this is especially true in the summer. The big blue sky, warm air and sunshine, happy friendly people… what’s not to love?! Also a highlight of the summer – The Calgary Stampede, which is what I’m thinking of today. Every July, the City of Calgary takes 10 days to host the Stampede; billed as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” Now, Calgarians are generally split into either loving or loathing the Stampede. I imagine it must be similar in the major tourist cities, where locals end up inconvenienced by the swarms of crowds on their streets (Amsterdam, I’m thinking of you here!). I can understand there are some valid reasons a person might not want to be around, so how about I list them quickly, get that out of the way, and then move on to why I love it instead?
So here we go. A mostly-unbiased opinion of the Negatives: For ten days each year,
- Downtown is crowded. The trains are packed, parking sucks, and traffic is slow.
- Alcohol consumption rockets and public drunkenness becomes normal
- Modesty seems to take a break (ummm…. #trampede is a real thing)
- Some people think animals are being taken advantage of.
And so here is where I need to vehemently disagree. The rodeo professionals love their animals, and I know absolutely everything is done to protect and care for animals. For example, one year I was behind-the-scenes in the barns with my friend who was hired to massage the chuckwagon horses. Yes, Equine Massage Therapy is a booming industry. And the photo is from this year, where even in the exhibition barns they ensure times throughout the day for the animals to get breaks from all the city slickers gawking.
So maybe you saw those drawbacks, and have decided that’s enough to make you want to run for the hills to avoid it all. That’s ok, may I recommend Jasper or Banff? But if you’re still with me, even for curiosity’s sake, please keep reading.
Personally, I automatically love the Calgary Stampede because of my positive childhood memories. My family would come to the city for a day, and we’d delightfully dizzy ourselves on the fairground rides and cheer my Dad on as he won us plush toys at the carnie games. (To this day, I can’t walk past a ‘strong man’ game without flashing back to him) We’d watch the rodeo and chuckwagon race highlights on tv every night after dinner, crowding around and crowing when our pick did well.
Another reason why the ten days of Stampede are something I look forward to is the camaraderie this city experiences. Picture it a little like Cowboy Christmas; with decorations up at businesses citywide, special music played everywhere, staff parties, and days off from work! Just substitute carols with country twang. Even without entering the Stampede grounds there is a festive feel throughout the city. We get to wear jeans to work almost regardless of industry, and cowboy boots are the exact right accessory to every outfit. My cousin, Erin, demonstrates that perfectly, below.
She brings up another great point: The midway food is an attraction all its own. I personally can’t go without at least one corn dog (battered and in a pickle this year!) and the mini donuts with cinnamon sugar, but I also snarfed down some deep-fried coffee balls, brisket and poutine, and charcoal ice cream.
Much more than the midway, though. The Calgary Stampede is a cultural bridge, reminding us of our heritage as a ranching and rodeo frontier town, as well as the Indigenous roots of the Canadian Prairies. I took some time this year to explore more of that, and I am absolutely in awe the First Nations set up at the Stampede. This is exactly the type of thing I would flock to any time I travel to a foreign country – representation of the uniqueness of the cultural history – and I was awestruck seeing this again from my own hometown.
A quick video clip from my cell phone, so my apologies for the lack of quality production, but I had to show you a snippet of one of the dances. Make sure you have sound on to hear the singers from the drum circle just outside the image.
You know, this far into the post and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet of everything that’s on offer at the Stampede. Try learning to two-step at one of the beer gardens, attend a concert, watch the rodeo and events, learn about current agriculture, worry about the motocross daredevils hired to entertain, view the incredible western artworks, watch the grandstand show or the marching show band, and go to one of the FREE pancake breakfasts or (and!) BBQ lunches that are everywhere across the city. The list goes on and on. You’ll need to come here and see it for yourself next July.
After ten days of “Yahoo!” excitement, the dust is settling, and the city is returning to a normal urban centre. Boots and hats are tucked far into the back of closets again, safe until next year. We start to pick up on all the work that was missed, but first all the stories are swapped around the water cooler. Love it or hate it, The Calgary Stampede gives everyone a story to tell.