A hundred years ago, Calgary, Alberta, was a rough Western town — a place that had not yet seen its first oil explosion and where homesteaders flocked to claim a piece of land to ranch and farm. Through energy booms and busts, the Heart of the New West has preserved this culture, serving as a home and a gathering place for cow folk and those who continue to romanticize the Western life.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Canada’s Calgary Stampede offers more than a glimpse into the Heart of the New West — past and present.
At the heart of that preservation has been the Calgary Stampede, a combination rodeo, agricultural show and amusement park that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Billed as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Stampede dominates the city for 10 days, with Calgary’s population doubling as more than a million people fromaround the world travel to the city for a chance to share a beer with a real cowboy and immerse themselves in the Western lifestyle, from learning animal care to eating prairie oysters.
If You Go …Jelly Modern Doughnuts
Gourmet doughnuts to cure a hangover or quash a sugar craving.
100 1414 8th St. SW
Whether you’re a cowboy or a wannabe, Smithbilt’s White Hat is the uniform at Stampede.
1103 12th St. SE
Ranchman’s Cookhouse & Dancehall
Gives a rough-and-tumble meaning to the term country club.
9615 MacLeod Trail South
Heritage Park Historical Village
Get an authentic glimpse of what the Old West was like.
1900 Heritage Drive SW
Banff National Park
Canada’s oldest national park holds some of the most impressive sights in the world. Bring bear spray.
Banff Information Centre
224 Banff Ave.
“It’s the biggest time of the year for Calgary and for ranchers,” says David Cowley, who has participated in 31 Stampedes in his 31 years and works as vice president of Rafter Six, a dude ranch outside Calgary. “The city becomes Stampede.”
Started by an American trick roper and four businessmen, the Stampede was created to offer a more authentic Wild West experience than many traveling shows provided at the time. While some aspects of the event have evolved (think extreme carnival food like macaroni-and-cheese pizza), the heart of the celebration remains little changed in a century.
The main draws are still the rodeo and chuck-wagon horse races, which offer some of the largest cash prizes in the world for competitors, but there are also tributes to the First Nations people who still have a large presence in the province; the chance to learn about farming and agriculture; and an evening show that combines the best of Broadway, Cirque du Soleil and a fireworks spectacular. And don’t forget the partying. Lots of partying. Those looking to cut loose can find a drinking buddy and a live band at almost any hour of the day.
To do the Stampede right, though, takes a little effort. With so much going on, even 10 days isn’t enough time to catch everything, but with some careful planning, everyone, from families looking to out-Disney Disney World to college kids in need of a summer spring break, can find ceaseless entertainment.