Mud. It's everywhere in Alberta—thanks to the cold rain that makes early July feel like December in Vancouver—and especially coated on the faces of the chuckwagon drivers. From my spot at the top of the grandstand, I sip a glass of red wine and watch the muscular horses shoot around the racetrack in what’s appropriately called “a heat.”
The Calgary Stampede is one of Canada’s most iconic summer events. Dating back to 1886, the exhibition grew out of Calgary's "Old West" roots. City boys and girls don cowboy boots and hats, chefs reveal their most outlandish creations, and the entire city gets swept into a fervour that’s best expressed in one onomatopoeic word: “Yahoo!”
I have similar "Old West" roots. Born and raised in Grande Prairie, Alberta, I'll always be a bit of a country girl, no matter where I live. I've only visited the Calgary Stampede once before, when I was 17 years old, directly following a rugged, eight-day pack-and-ride horseback trip in northern British Columbia. After 10 years, I was keen to see what had changed (mostly myself) and experience the annual festival as an adult.
The GMC Rangeland Derby is a staple event at the Calgary Stampede. It’s also my favourite. I still remember hanging on the fence at local rodeos when I was eight years old, decked out in plaid and rubber boots, as pioneer-like carriages zoomed past me. The excitement is contagious.
Pick a barrel to bet on and cheer as a herd of horses stampede around the muddy race track. They have a lot at stake—a cool 1.45 million dollars—but whether or not your choice wins, you’re bound to have a blast watching.
Beyond the rodeo events, the Calgary Stampede is infamous for its food. Often on a stick and very deep fried, the snacks in the Midway require a taste-test. There's a lot to choose from, so we embarked on a food tour with Take a Bite Outta Stampede!
Ice cream covered in crispy bugs, lemonade garnished with fragrant rose petals, a hot dog with a pickle and snickers bar folded in warm dough drizzled in chocolate sauce… there are certainly strange combinations to nimble on, but you can also find some surprisingly delicious foods. My personal favourite: deep fried Oreos.
Alison Karlene Hodgins
Being in "Cowtown" reminded me that I’m an Alberta girl at heart. Even though I live in Vancouver, I grew up in 'Berta. So, unsurprisingly, my favourite part of returning to my roots wasn’t the Calgary Stampede itself: it was the day of adventure I spent off-roading and ATV-driving at a local farm.
OH Ranch, which is owned by the Stampede, has been a working ranch for as long as Calgary's rodeo has existed. Not only did the stewards feed us, they graciously toured us around the property and let us drive quads in the spitting weather. We passed imposing bulls, galloping horses and rolling fields that made me feel at home.
Next, we got a little mud on the tires plowing through backcountry roads in the rain. We plunged brand-new trucks into massive puddles, slid down slick slopes and warmed up around a fire while roasting marshmallows. The cowboy boots we’d picked up at Lammles the day before became significantly worn in and dirty—exactly the way they should be on an outdoor country adventure in Alberta.
The Calgary Stampede is still on for another weekend, but I'm spending it back in the metropolis of Vancouver. Still, reconnecting with my roots was an experience that I found both refreshing and comforting. I hope it won't be another 10 years before I'm back.