If the annual Calgary Stampede 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. In addition to attending the exciting events, it’s a great reason to dress-up in Western gear and both the Calgary Stampede and the Fairmont Palliser encourage their guests to do so, making for a really authentic experience.
Learning the Ropes
You may be surprised to discover that 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 in 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.) Undeterred, Weidick returned in 1912 looking to finance a huge event that would celebrate the Old West and with the backing of four local investors, created the first Calgary Stampede.
Located just 17 minutes from downtown and Stampede Park, The Fairmont Palliser is a Heritage landmark hotel that opened just two years after the first Calgary Stampede, as a luxurious respite for businessmen
when the Calgary Petroleum Company struck oil in 1914. And so continued ‘the golden era of travel’ by the CNR (Canadian National Railroad) criss-crossing Canada’s prairies bringing investment and new settlers to the city.
Beginning in mid-June, The Fairmont Palliser offers guests a Calgary Stampede Package with their own Stampede Concierge who will assist in arranging tickets (they sell-out fast,) for all of the 10-day events.
As you enter the lobby, you’re immediately transported into a rustic ranch setting with bales of hay, Wild West props and memorabilia including chuckwagon wheels, barn fencing and country music. All the hotel’s staff are decked out in traditional Stetsons, jeans, chaps and bandanas.
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 about 350,000 spectators who line the route along 9th,10th and 6th Avenues beginning at 8:00 a.m. to watch chuckwagons, cowboy and cowgirl rodeo and lasso riders, marching bands, dozens of floats and of course, those men and women in red, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police aka Mounties. Members of the Treaty 7 First Nations on horseback in full ceremonial regalia also comprise the two-hour celebration.
Ride ‘Em Cowboy!
Over 10 days the Calgary Stampede Rodeo showcases the skill of its competitors and their finest horses going head-to-head with bulls and steers competing for $2million dollars in prize money. Every afternoon cowboys and cowgirls face-off in the toughest display of talent and grit as the clock counts down in nine categories with every win leading up to the Showdown Sunday finals. From steer wrestling, bull riding, barrel racing (in which timed competitors circle three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern,) bareback and saddle bronc riding amongst others, riders must contend with strict judging of technique and rules.
City slickers will be dazzled by the GMC Rangeland Derby featuring nine heats of four chuckwagons each; the Indigenous Team Relays of incredible riding horsemanship follows and when the winners thunder over the finish line and the dust settles, enjoy the spectacular Grandstand Show- 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 at the 2018 Calgary Stampede
When the Calgary Stampede wanted to commemorate their 50th year of Grandstand entertainment this year, they called on Emmy and Grammy Award-winning Canadian music producer, Dave Pierce. He created the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics 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 Saddle Dome Stage & Coca Cola Stage
Every year the Calgary Stampede invites legendary musicians to perform in the Virgin Mobile Concert Series. Over 60 big draws take to various stages including country legends, Luke Bryan and Grammy Award-winner, Brad Paisley rocking the Saddle Dome Stage. Nine-time Grammy Award-winner, Sheryl Crow headlines on the Coca Cola Stage. And you can practice your line dancing and even take lessons at Nashville North’s 10 nights of country music.
Immerse Yourself In First Nations’ Culture
For over 100 years, Indian Village and the Treaty 7 families have preserved their relationship within the Calgary Stampede through cross- cultural experiences like a traditional Pow-Wow competition, story-telling, dancing and crafts. Presented at 26 tipis throughout the Village, each reflects the unique design and art of Treaty 7’s five nations: Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, Siksika and Piikani.
Chow-Down at The Calgary Stampede and Fairmont Palliser
Part of the fun of experiencing the Calgary Stampede is food tasting 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 Executive Chef Eraj Jayawickreme at the Fairmont Palliser. The Rimrock Restaurant 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 with chilli fries and the classic Palliser Angus Beef Burger with an onion/mushroom marmalade.”
Or saunter into the Oak Room Bar to relax. It’s been transformed into a rustic Wild West-style saloon with the long wooden bar and order up a “Dusty Boots Cocktail” served in a mason jar and made with bourbon, simple syrup, lemon & lime juice, 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!