If exciting rodeos, crazy chuckwagon races, midway-style entertainment, and wacky cowboys sound like something that’s right up your alley, then there’s only one place you should be each July.
Every year for nearly a century, the western Canadian city of Calgary (Alberta) hosts the wildest cowboy extravaganza on earth – the magnificent Calgary Stampede. Annually, an estimated 1.3 million attendees descend upon the city to enjoy 10 days full of western-style merriment, swelling Calgary’s population by leaps and bounds and bursting the seams of the hotels, restaurants, and bars in the city and its surrounding areas.
The whole city emerges for this much-anticipated event, donning western attire and taking on a cowboy persona. They encourage visitors to do the same. Without a doubt, everyone here knows how to “party hardy.”
That’s not to say, of course, that The Calgary Stampede isn’t appropriate for families who choose to experience the event with children. There are plenty of kid-oriented activities that families will love, and the excitement of the event and the sheer beauty of the area make the trip well worth putting up with the crowds and their sometimes rowdy behavior.
History of The Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede originated with the formation of the Calgary Agricultural Society in 1884. The society began holding exhibitions just two years after their founding and purchased Stampede Park in 1889 in hopes of staging more elaborate events.
The first Calgary Stampede was held in 1912 to the tune of $100,000 and, by all historical accounts, was a huge success. For the first 5 ½ decades, the stampedes were 6-days long. But as events and entertainment were added and Stampede Park was expanded, the event increased to 10 days (in 1968). In 1976, attendance exceeded 1 million for the first time and has continued to grow ever since, with record crowds arriving in 2005.
Today, the Stampede rodeo is an invite-only event, open to top competitors from Canada and around the world. Prize money is in the millions of dollars. Hotels fill up months and months in advance and some bars will even reserve you a seat if you make advanced reservations!
The definition of the modern rodeo comprises five classes: bareback bronc-riding, saddle bronc-riding, bull riding, calf roping, and steer wrestling (bulldogging). You’ll find all of those at The Calgary Stampede.
Actually, six major events are at the center of the Stampede rodeo –Bareback, Bull Riding, Ladies Barrel Racing, Saddle Bronc, Steer Wrestling and Tie-Down Roping. Also included in the events are Novice Bareback, Novice Saddle Bronc, Junior Steer Riding and Wild Pony Racing for young cowboys who want to be part of the show.
Guests can purchase tickets for any of the events and prices range from about $25 each to a whopping $300 CAD for a VIP ticket that includes gourmet food and full table service. People of all ages enjoy the rodeo events and the crowd is constantly on their feet, cheering on their favorite cowboy (or cowgirl).
The annual Rangeland Derby chuckwagon races put a whole new spin on horse racing. Though these races are over in less than a minute, the 17,000 or so fans that fill Stampede Park consider them one of the best parts of the 10-day event.
The first chuckwagon race was held in 1923 and the prize was $25 and a Stetson hat! Today, chuckwagon drivers compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money. A maximum of 12 horses can pull the wagon - which weighs a minimum of 1,325 pounds - in this unusual race that has to be seen to be believed. These days, most of the drivers aren’t really genuine chuckwagon drivers. They’re just ordinary people (often representing local and regional companies) out for a good time and a chance to prove their skill and win some prize money.
At the Calgary Stampede, the music and merriment is top-notch. No backwoods entertainers here! Thanks to their international sponsors, like Budweiser and Coca-Cola, the Stampede entertainment includes some of the hottest names in music of various genres, from rock to country and everything in between. With three stages busy at all times, the music never stops.
The Grandstand Evening Show is a sight to behold. Not unlike the opening ceremonies of an Olympic games, the show features a cast of about 500 singers, dancers, comedians, and various other entertainers, all involved in a multi-media presentation that will knock your socks off. Big-name entertainers are commonplace as are world-renowned acts such as Cirque du Soleil. Tickets can be tough to come by, so ordering early is a must.
Kids will have a great time at The Calgary Stampede. There’s plenty to keep them busy all day long and well into the night.
Kid-friendly entertainment isn’t hard to find, such as the annual dog show at the Stampede Corral, which is a huge hit with the younger set. There’s also BMX bike racing and other thrilling events that even tweens and teens will love.
Who doesn’t love the thrill of the Midway! The carnival atmosphere here is contagious, and soon everyone will be trying their luck at exciting games-of-chance, riding the most outrageous rides, and eating ice cream, corn dogs, and cotton candy.
The Midway is one of the most popular hang-outs at the Stampede and there’s truly something there for all ages, including a special Kids Midway, featuring a few dozen carnival rides that are “just their size”, like the merry-go-round, the Lollipop Swing, and the Wacky Worm Coaster. Midway games also cater to different ages and kids are delighted with the opportunity to win a giant stuffed bear or other fun prize.
Hungry? At the Midway, you can find just about anything your heart desires, from Italian panini sandwiches to Greek specialties to a cold beer and a burger. Delicious!
Exhibits and Events
Because the whole city jumps in with two feet and gets involved in the Calgary Stampede spirit, you’ll find a whole myriad of other things to see and do while you’re attending the Stampede.
You can visit the Indian Village to learn about the people of Canada’s First Nations, enjoy educational and entertaining agricultural exhibits, visit the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, view sandcastles and summer fashion shows at “The Beach”, go shopping for Stampede souvenirs, or even head to The Stampede Casino for gaming fun including slots, 21 table games, and a Las Vegas-style poker room.
Planning a Trip
As was previously mentioned, because The Calgary Stampede is such an overwhelming success each year, getting tickets can be tough. Many fans begin purchasing seats at their favorite events several months in advance.
The Stampede ticket and travel department offers not only individual tickets but a variety of combination packages that include visits to other Calgary-area attractions. You can even purchase a “Canadian Rockies” extravaganza, which includes visits to Edmonton and beautiful Banff National Park.