Every year in early July, the city of Calgary undergoes a transformation. Hay bales start appearing on the sidewalks, businessmen wear cowboy hats to work, and the sweet smell of pancakes and syrup wafts through the air. It’s time for the Calgary Stampede once again!
The Calgary Stampede has been around since 1912, when the first one was held to promote western heritage. It was the richest rodeo event of the time with prize money totaling $20,000 and had a total attendance of over 100,000 people (an impressive turnout considering the population of Calgary at the time was only 44,000!). The Stampede was supposed to be a one time only event but the first one was so wildly successful that it has been held annually since 1919.
The first day of the Stampede begins with a parade that travels through downtown, led by the Stampede Show Band. Since the parade can draw as many as 400,000 spectators, people usually have to stake out their seats well in advance, or buy a spot on one of the temporary bleachers set up along the route. Back in the day runaway livestock was usually the highlight of the parade, but in later years race organizers insisted that the cowboys keep their horses under control to prevent accidents (spoilsports!). But even without an actual stampede, the parade is still very exciting.
The main event of the Stampede is of course the rodeo. The Calgary Stampede Rodeo remains the world’s richest rodeo, with a top prize in each event of $100,000 and total prize money of $1.6 million. This year we were lucky enough to see the son of a family friend compete in the bull riding; unfortunately he was bucked off. There was also a run-off in the barrel racing which was very exciting. At this point I learned the hard way that sunburned knees are very painful (next year I’ll be sure to wear sunscreen).
After the rodeo most of our group went our separate ways to see the rest of the sights. My husband spent the afternoon going on various terrifying rides, but I preferred to look at the agricultural exhibits. They had these crazy little miniature goats that were all wearing sparkly purple blankets. They were cute, but the blankets made them look like they’d just come back from a three day bender in Vegas. I was also able to see the Budweiser draft horses being hitched up to the beer cart. It was amazing to see these enormous horses calmly standing still with a huge crowd of people only a few feet away. They looked quite impressive once they had their harnesses on, and there was even a Dalmatian dog that rode on top of the beer cart.
Other than pancakes, the most popular Stampede food is mini-donuts. I’m not sure what’s in these things, but they are the crack cocaine of pastry. After I watched the draft horses I gave in to their siren call and ate a whole bag. Then I felt sick. But it was so worth it!
Every night the Stampede ends with a fireworks display. The best place to watch is from the top of Scotsman’s Hill, across the Elbow River from the Stampede grounds. As a bonus you get a beautiful view of downtown Calgary, but you have to get there early because there is limited parking. The best night to go is the last Sunday, because they have to use up all of their fireworks. Ten days of fun goes out with a bang!
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