With few exceptions, the Calgary Stampede is the event most closely tied to the city of Calgary. Mass media coverage and global advertising of the famous rodeo and wildwest celebration captures peoples’ imagination and draws visitors to Western Canada from around the world.
The annual event began in 1912 when the city was only 20 years old and less than 50,000 citizens. Currently, the Calgary Stampede, attracts 20 times that number, more than a million people attend the Stampede. Tour companies in almost every country offer all-inclusive package tours for the Calgary Stampede, usually combined with a visit to the famous Rocky Mountains and Banff National Park.
With a little planning, however, it is easy to design your own itinerary. The caution, however, is finding hotel accommodation as the availability drops and the prices go up as most places are booked solid by the aforementioned tour companies. That being said, there are plenty of smaller hotels, B&Bs, and the like which are easily accessed on accommodation search engines.
An impressive 2 hour long parade officially kicks off the 10-day event on Friday when all vehicular traffic in the city’s modern downtown core comes to a halt. Locals and visitors line the streets along the 4.5 mile (7.2 km) route. More than 45 marching bands, 700 horses, and streams of natives, led by their Chiefs in full headdress regalia, combine to make this parade one of the finest and extravagant in North America.
Stampede Park, home of the outdoor rodeo, famous evening chuckwagon races and Grandstand Show, is a massive grounds comprising almost 140 acres of prime land beside the Saddledome only a few blocks south of the downtown area. Calgary public transit is excellent (and free in the downtown core). The LRT (light rail transit) will get you to the park from any quadrant of the city in less than 30 minutes. A gate admission (or tickets to the rodeo or Chuckwagon Races) will gain admission into the Park.
With the exception of the main ticketed events mentioned above, literally dozens of free events and exhibitions take place daily: Native Dancing events in an authentic Indian Village with 24 authentic tribal teepees erected just for the event, a huge agricultural exposition and activities, and a complete Midway which offers both a children’s section and a dizzying choice of thrilling rides are only a few of the myriad of events and live attractions. Before, during and after Stampede time, the entire city is in party mode. The biggest public parties take place right on Stampede Park – in huge tent saloons complete with continuous live music, dancing and unlimited beer and spirits.
Beyond Stampede Park, a mini parade happens every morning and free pancake breakfasts are a daily event. The Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall and Olympic Plaza (Called Fluor Rope Square during Stampede) in the heart of the downtown and where all are welcome to join in the fun, stages live entertainment, square dancing, and souvenir shopping.
You don’t have to go to Stampede Park to get a flavour of the event. Shopping centres throughout the city are the venues where Calgary Stampede volunteers set up free breakfasts, entertainment and even pony rides for the kids.
All you need do to have fun is to slap on a cowboy hat and join in!