The 106th Calgary Stampede - The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth
If the annual Calgary Stampede (July 6th-15th 2018) in Alberta, Canada immediately conjures images of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford or Jake Gyllenhaal in a Stetson, you’re on the right track. Our enduring fascination with cowboys and the Wild West seems to appeal to our romantic fantasy of simpler times. When you attend the exciting events, you have a great reason to dress-up in Western gear, and both Calgary Stampede and Fairmont Palliser encourage their guests to do so as they enjoy an authentic experience.
Learning the Ropes
You may be surprised to learn the idea for the Calgary Stampede originated with two American trick-rope stars of the vaudeville circuit in the 1930s: Guy Weidick and his wife, Flore La Due, who travelled the frontier with the Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show and performed in what was then known as Calgary’s Victoria Park. When the Canadian government awarded the Dominion Exhibition to Calgary in 1908, the first grandstand was constructed. Unfortunately, Strobel’s Airship, a propeller-driven blimp, crashed into it and exploded not long after. Undeterred, Weidick returned in 1912 looking to finance a huge event to celebrate the Old West and, with the backing of four local investors, created the first Calgary Stampede.
The discovery of oil triggered the Canadian National Railroad’s “golden era of travel” as it crisscrossed Canada’s prairies bringing investment and new settlers. The Fairmont Palliser is a heritage landmark hotel that opened in 1914, two years after the first Calgary Stampede and coinciding with the Calgary Petroleum Company striking oil in 1914.
Located downtown and just 17 minutes from Stampede Park, the Palliser’s lobby immediately transports visitors to a rustic ranch setting with bales of hay and other Wild West props, including wagon wheels and fencing while country music sets the mood. You’ll also see hotel staff sporting traditional Stetsons, jeans and bandanas.
Beginning in mid-June, the Fairmont Palliser offers guests a Calgary Stampede Package with their own Stampede Concierge who can arrange for tickets (they sell-out fast) for the 10-day event.
Head ‘Em Up and Move ‘Em Out
The ritual of the Calgary Stampede Parade began 106 years ago as a series of chronological Western tableaus. Today it attracts approximately 350,000 spectators who line the route along 9th,10th and 6th Avenues beginning at 8:00 a.m. to watch chuckwagons, rodeo and lasso riders, marching bands, dozens of floats and, of course, those men and women in red, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a.k.a., Mounties. Members of the Treaty 7 First Nations on horseback in full ceremonial regalia are honored guests in the two-hour celebration.
Ride ‘Em Cowboy!
The Calgary Stampede Rodeo showcases the skill of its competitors and their finest horses as they go head-to-head with bulls and steers competing for $2 million dollars in prize money. Every afternoon, cowboys and cowgirls face-off in nine different categories in one of the world’s toughest displays of talent and grit. Every win leads to the Showdown Sunday finals. Whether steer wrestling, bull riding, barrel racing (in which timed competitors circle three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern) or bareback and saddle bronc riding, riders must satisfy strict judging of technique and rules.
City slickers are dazzled by the GMC Rangeland Derby featuring nine heats of four chuckwagons each. This is followed by the Indigenous Team Relays, featuring incredible riding horsemanship, and when the winners thunder over the finish line and the dust settles, you’re in for a treat as the spectacular Grandstand Show offers non-stop dance, acrobatics and a tribute to the city of Calgary. Each evening concludes with a jaw-dropping fireworks display.
The Grandstand Show Celebrates 50 Years
This year marks the 50th year of Grandstand entertainment. To commemorate the anniversary, organizers called on Emmy and Grammy Award-winning Canadian music producer, Dave Pierce, who created the 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Vancouver.
“Experimenting with new ways for our creative ideas to come to life on such a massive outdoor stage has been extremely rewarding,” confides Pierce. “It’s like being an artist with a 200-foot canvas and 70 minutes to create a painting that’s thrilling, exciting and funny in front of 18,000 fans every night of the Stampede.”
Saddle-Up at the Saddledome
Every year, the Calgary Stampede invites legendary musicians to perform in the Virgin Mobile Concert Series. Over 60 acts take to various stages, and this year’s line-up includes country legends Luke Bryan and Brad Paisley rocking the Saddledome Stage and nine-time Grammy Award-winner Sheryl Crow headlining on the Coca-Cola Stage. You can also practice your line dancing or take lessons during Nashville North’s 10 nights of country music.
Immerse Yourself In First Nations’ Culture
For more than 100 years, the Treaty 7 families have preserved their relationship with the Calgary Stampede through such cross-cultural experiences as the traditional pow-wow competition, story-telling, dancing and crafts within the Indian Village. Each experience is presented at one of 26 tipis located within the village, each reflecting the unique design and art of one of the Treaty 7’s five nations: Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney-Nakoda, Siksika and Piikani. Guests are welcomed to opening and closing ceremonies and numerous events throughout the Stampede.
Chow-Down at The Calgary Stampede
Part of the fun of the Calgary Stampede is the food experience: from heat to sweet to the absolutely bizarre, especially when you hit the Midway. Deep-fried “everything” is on the menu, so leave your calorie counter at home and dive in! Experiment and sample deep-fried tacos, pork belly fries, hot dog poutine, deep-fried jello and butter tarts or mini donuts topped with bacon and maple syrup.
For more traditional fare, “Alberta beef is what Calgary is really famous for,” explains the Fairmont Palliser’s executive chef, Eraj Jayawickreme. “The Rimrock Dining Room features everything from smoked Alberta beef tartare, a build-your-own beef steak plate of Alberta beef tenderloin and striploin, with horseradish pomme puree, to short ribs and the classic Palliser Angus beef burger with an onion/mushroom marmalade.”
Alternatively, saunter into the Oak Room Lounge to relax after a long day spent one the Stampede grounds. It’s been transformed into a charming Wild West-style saloon, with the requisite long wooden bar, where you can order a “Dusty Boots” cocktail served in a mason jar. The cocktail is made with bourbon, simple syrup, lemon & lime juices, bitters, smoked sea salt and rimmed with cracked black pepper.
After experiencing the Calgary Stampede, the Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth, you’ll be tuckered out but raring to come back next year!
Laura Goldstein will travel almost anywhere to write about (and eat) a good meal and explore hotels and homes with great design. These travels include dining in an underwater restaurant in Eilat, Israel to truffle hunting at a cooking course in Provence, France. A highlight of her 25-year career was covering Kate Middleton & Prince William on their 2017 Royal Tour in Vancouver, Canada.