An amazing amount of work goes into putting on the Calgary Stampede every year – hours of planning, hundreds of volunteers and years of practice for the performers. It is an event like no other, and should be on the “must-do” list of everyone who has ever thought about going to a rodeo.
It isn’t just a rodeo, though, it’s a lot more...
Dress for the day
Before heading out the door, dig out those jeans and pointy boots you have tucked in the back of the closet. This is a Western-style event and part of the fun comes from dressing to the nines in cowboy gear.
At the very least you need to put on a pair of jeans. The tough denim was a requirement for cowboys needing to protect themselves from the elements and it’s still worn by those riding the range.
A button-up shirt is the next step. Ideally you want something with some colour and a little bit of bling, but it isn’t critical. If all you have are dress shirts, keep them from looking stuffy by rolling up the sleeves and tying a bandana around your neck.
A hat with a largish brim is next. In addition to adding to your look, a hat is a necessity for someone planning on being out in the sum all day. They sell them at the Stampede if you don’t happen to have one in the closet.
Finally the boots. Slick, leather cowboy boots are the perfect finish, but make sure they’re comfortable as you’ll be on your feet for much of the day.
If you’re worried about looking silly, get over it. Everyone dresses up for the Stampede. It’s part of the fun, and really, how often do you get the chance to show off your rugged side?
Shows and demonstrations go on all day long, so you’ll want to set up some kind of schedule. Get a map and a calendar from the website and circle the shows and demonstrations you most want to see. Plan everything else around those.
If you can be there for the first Friday, the opening parade is great fun. It’s filled with marching bands, floats and First Nations dancers. It is a spectacular show that’s well-worth getting to early for a good seat.
The rodeo is the centre of the Stampede excitement and it is one of the largest in the world. Six major disciplines (bull riding, barrel racing, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling and tie-down roping) are covered along with four beginner events. For nine days the competitors battle it out hoping to make it to the finals on Sunday.
The chuck wagon race is officially known as the Rangeland Derby and is one of the Stampede’s most popular events. Not only is the race a little bit dangerous, knowing that the teams are competing for more than a million dollars in prize money makes the event all the more thrilling.
The exhibition is packed with things to do and can easily fill your mornings. Demonstrations of livestock, stock dogs, farm and ranch activities are ongoing, and numerous competitions such as cutting horses and blacksmithing are spread over the day.
Free shows are going on at various places around the grounds. The Coca-Cola stage has concerts well into the evening and a few indoor shows such as Superdogs let you get out of the sun for a while.
The midway is great for just playing around. It’s your basic carnival playground with games, rides, foods and wandering clowns. Win a giant, stuffed octopus if you have some talent and a good aim, or wander around and try to see if anyone actually eats things like ‘deep-fried butter’.
The northwest corner of the park houses a huge market for the duration of the Stampede. Many vendors wait for years to be granted a space in the market and it is the premier place to shop for art, craftwork, unique goods and specialty foods.
You won’t go hungry here. The pancake breakfast has become so iconic to the Stampede that it has been declared one of the "Seven Wonders of Calgary". Newspapers advertise breakfasts being offered and websites provide a listing of locations. There are literally hundreds of places to find a free pancake breakfast during the Stampede. One of the fun ones is at Rope Square where breakfast is served from the chuck wagons that will be racing later that day. Keep an eye out for free hot dog dinners and other free vittles being offered to celebrate the Stampede.
The Midway has many booths that offer healthier foods that are great for lunch. Mixed in among the pastries and ice cream are salads, stir fries and burgers.
There are also a couple places with free entertainment to accompany your meals, and Weadickville is a shady spot with picnic tables and less-expensive food.
If you can’t handle another hot dog, or just want to get away from the crowds, outside the Stampede grounds you’ll find that many of the local restaurants serve great food. Chances are the staff will be dressed in cowboy garb, though. It is the Calgary Stampede after all.
- Take the C-Train. Parking is a hassle and closer spots fill up quickly. During the Stampede the trains are on a 24-hour schedule and you don’t need to worry about missing the last one.
- Bring enough cash for the day. Most vendors don’t take plastic and the queues for the ATM are quite long.
- Bring water. You can purchase water at the Stampede but it’s pricey and lines get longer as the afternoon gets warmer.
- Plan for the weather, especially if you’ll be staying for the evening events. Although it can be quite warm while walking around, it cools down in the evening and is chilly while sitting in the stands.