Calgary Stampede – The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth!

Held every July for 10 days this enormous celebration of cowboys, horses, cattle and agriculture was hugely exciting and basically huge.

It wasn’t as I imagined at all. I always assumed that the iconic Saddledome was where the rodeo takes place but in fact it was the venue for a show during Stampede. I was in possession of a two day thrill package which gave me upper tier seating for the evening chuck wagon racing and Grandstand show and a lower tier seat for the daytime rodeo.

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The booklet also had vouchers for a souvenir cowboy hat and tote bag. There were discount vouchers and tickets for the Westjet Skyride which is a chair lift right over the park and the enormous fun fair.

Some facts and figures about Calgary Stampede for you

  1. First Stampede was in 1912 and lasted for six days
  2. Women can only compete in barrel racing
  3. 1923 the first pancake breakfasts were served at a campsite close to the Canadian Pacific Railway close to downtown Calgary by a Chuck Wagon racer
  4. Chuck Wagon racing first appeared in 1923
  5. The daily Grandstand Show first appeared in 1964
  6. Stampede Park is Alberta’s third largest city during the stampede
  7. It is one of Canada’s largest Music Festivals
  8. The animals are really well looked after and are visited by vets daily
  9. Carnival food is a major part of stampede with sales of mini doughnuts reaching over 2 million and 96,000 corn dogs devoured every year
  10. Located at Victoria Park and covering about 24 blocks of the city.

Located at the Delta by Marriott Downtown it was virtually a straight road to the Stampede grounds. Roads that were being used had flags on the traffic light gantries so it was pretty hard to get lost. What surprised me was that the whole city was themed for this annual occasion. There is a network of glass covered walkways that join buildings together known as +15s (being 15m above the road) and most of the glass sides had murals painted on wishing people ‘happy stampeding’ with a cowboy theme.

On the shopping street Stephen Avenue Walk which is a pedestrianised retail, bars and eating area near the Calgary Tower there were bales of hay outside each of the bars and restaurants. There were daily parades and free line dancing to enjoy. In the Olympic Square there were plenty of places to get free pancakes if you were prepared to wait in line for them.

It was ok to dress appropriately in western garb because most visitors were in Levis with neckerchiefs and cowboy hats. The weatherman on the television was in a Stetson. Staff in the hotel were in checked shirts and jeans. The whole city was up for Stampede!

Stampede grounds were open from 11.00 right through to the firework finale at 23.00. The grandstand seated 22,000 fans from all over the world. The grandstand faces an inner ring that has another smaller grandstand opposite it with western village to the side of that. There is a full sized race track all the way around and behind the inner grandstand so watching the Chuck Wagon races there was always a straight stretch that wasn’t in view of the audience.

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The night before a horse was killed on the inner rails but mercifully out of view of the crowd because it was on the blind side. This caused a lot of protests about the cruelty of stampede at the metro stations and other points where they could be heard for the rest of the time I was there.

Prize money for Chuck Wagon racing at Stampede is about CAD2m and is one of the highlights of the ten days at the stampede. There were 9 rounds each with teams of four horses, driver and two outriders. The outriders have to finish within 200ft of the chuck wagon crossing the finishing line. It is fast, loud and very exciting to watch. After the races have finished a very large mobile stage complete with lights and sound is towing into place in front of the Grandstand and is one of the most exciting shows you will ever see.

The rodeo is held daily from 14.30 and consists of seven different events. The large screen always shows an explanation of the rules and what the judges are looking for from the competitors. I learnt many new facts about rodeo well actually I didn’t anything about it before I saw it.

We saw Bareback, Steer Wrestling, Saddle Bronc, Tie-down roping, Barrel Racing, Bull Riding and Team Roping.

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What made it more enjoyable than the Chuck Wagon racing (in my opinion) was that each event was exciting and short and then it was onto the next event. All the competitors are aiming for a shot of victory on the last day of stampede when the serious prize money is won.

Apparently by the end of 2019 stampede over a million people had passed through the turnstiles. It was well organised and although busy it was a once in a lifetime experience. I just wonder what happens in Calgary for the rest of the year!