30 January 2018 by Emma Sanger-Horwell
The Calgary Stampede is easily the most popular rodeo event in the world, but it’s so much more besides: a celebration of Western heritage and First Nations Indian culture, a thrilling theatrical production, Canada's largest music festival, and, for ten days, a city in its own right. Each July, 1.2 million visitors from all corners of the globe descend to lively Calgary in Alberta’s southwest. From high energy wagon racing, colourful parades and performances by music legends – 2015 saw Stevie Wonder take the stage – to parades, amusement park attractions and wood-fired barbecue beef, it’s an unabashed celebration.
If this all sounds appealing, a visit to the world famous Calgary Stampede could easily be combined into a Canada holiday. In British Columbia, take a ride on the incredible Rocky Mountaineer – one of the planet's great rail journeys – or use the city as a springboard into the twin national park delights of Banff and Jasper’s wildlife, picture-perfect lakes and cragged peaks.
The greatest outdoor show on Earth
While the rest of Canada is known for its unassuming, easy-going outlook, Calgary is different; it’s unapologetically proud of its Western heritage. Beside the main rodeo event – complete with everything from ladies barrel racing to steer wrestling – there’s world-class agricultural competitions and art and craft exhibitions all culminating in a spectacular ‘Evening Grandstand Show’ theatrical production. It is this Western spirit, along with the people and their stories that make the Calgary Stampede a unique volunteer-supported, not-for-profit visitor attraction.
For over half a century, the 23,000-acre Stampede Ranch near Hanna in east central Alberta has been producing the animals that have carried the Stampede's banner to the rodeo world. It’s supplied some 400 horses and 80 bulls to the Stampede and has been the home of many a rodeo champion over the years; its stock has won titles internationally.
Its bucking legend, six-time world champion and Canadian bareback horse of the year, Grated Coconut is the superstar of the ranch. This 725-kilogram bronc is a legend in the rodeo scene. He was foaled in 1997 as part of the Stampede's 'Born to Buck' programme that has, over the years, made the Stampede one of the premier producers of rodeo rough stock in the world. While he’s happily retired, his offspring or ‘little coconuts’ continue to compete and win international rodeo titles.
Richest ride in rodeo
The Calgary Stampede is one of the world's most prestigious rodeo spectacles. Every summer, twenty of the world's top competitors in each of the six major events – saddle bronc, bareback, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and ladies barrel racing – come together to vie for the chance to win $2 million in prize money and the title of Calgary Stampede Champion.
Legend of the stampede
Chuckwagon racing is what NASCAR is to Formula One; it’s a raucous, fast-paced spectacle that has a history as old and as colourful as the West itself. And, the first time the event was repurposed as a spectator sport, was at the 1923 Calgary Stampede. Today, 36 wagons compete in nine heats – four wagons and 16 outriders in each. The total prize money is $1m, which includes a sudden death final ‘Dash for the Cash’ with a prize purse of $150,000.
City within a city
Every year, Stampede City becomes the third largest city in Alberta complete with a full infrastructure to keep the 120,000 residents safe, clean and green. Stampede Park features everything you would see in a city – restaurants, cafés, medical services, a police detachment, security force, logistics team, recycling plant, parking authority, garbage collectors, shopping centres, nightclubs and even diverse communities like vintage Weadickville and Indian Village.
A music festival every day
The Calgary Stampede is one of Canada's largest music festivals and features some of the world’s biggest entertainers. Artists perform on several stages throughout Stampede Park, including the giant Saddledome. In the past, its drawn headliners such as Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift, Nickleback, Janet Jackson and Reba.
Experience First Nations culture
The Calgary Stampede's Indian Village offers a wide range of opportunities for visitors to gain insight into First Nations' culture. Representing the five tribes of the Treaty 7 that established reserves for the country’s indigenous peoples, there are open tipis, native dances, cultural exhibits and tent raising contests.