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The Calgary Stampede: A first-hand family experience

posted August 17, 2017

calgary stampede

Our Managing Director Kathryn took her family to enjoy the Calgary Stampede this year. This world-renowned rodeo took place from 7th to 16th July this year and will be back again from 6th to 15th July next year.

They say this is the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” and you might smile at this… that is until you have been yourself. Having spent two and a half days at this event, I can honestly say it totally is! So, get your Calgary Stampede cowboy hat on – it’s obligatory, everyone is wearing one, so you don’t want to feel out of place – and get stuck in. Here’s how we enjoyed the wild ride, and my family’s top tips:


Get started early with Sneak-a-Peek

stampede fairground

We started off at the pre-opening event called Sneak-a-Peek on the Thursday evening. You can enter for a small fee and enjoy access to the rides and a small array of shows for a fraction of the price and it’s nowhere near as busy, so this is a real gem of an insight. They always hold this evening the night before the actual Stampede starts and you can buy tickets at the gate. The gates open at 5pm so be early and enjoy it all. We really enjoyed the WestJet chair lift that runs above the rides – it gives such a great view of the park and allowed us to cross the park with no walking!


Rides big kids will love


We spent the entire evening doing the IGNITE rides. Luckily, we had unlimited ride tickets, so the kids could enjoy all the rides for a fraction of the price, otherwise the cost does mount up. But as it wasn’t too busy they only had to queue for a couple of minutes to do most of the rides. If you like heights and crazy, highspeed roller coasters and stomach churning rides, then this is for you! My kids totally loved it. Most of the rides require a height of 135cms, so that’s about age 10 before you can safely do all this stuff. There is a kids’ area for smaller rides with lots of choice. There are literally dozens of rides to do and the atmosphere is electric.


The weather was unseasonably hot this year and while it was lovely to be in 35°C, this made for a very hot and sticky park. Thankfully there are lots of food and drink stalls and we managed to eat and drink our way around the show that evening. We also made our way indoors to some of the events where the air conditioning was on, which was great.


Evening entertainment

indoor arena

I also sampled my first silent disco – which I really enjoyed! The kids were a little embarrassed by my dancing, but heck, that’s what parents do! I could have happily stayed there for a few hours! There were three DJs and each one playing a totally different set. It really was great. There are lots of stages and different entertainment arenas. Nashville is for over 18s but is buzzing with country music from popular artists and new emerging ones. You can hear the music around the area and it’s very lively in the evenings!


The Opening Day Parade


Do not miss this if you are in town for the opening! We experienced the Opening Day Parade which this year went from downtown Calgary to the Stampede park (normally it starts at the Stampede parks and head into town). It was amazing. Two hours of fun-filled parade glory! It’s an early start to the day as the parade kicks off at 9:30am, so you need to find your spot to sit in beforehand. Once the parade kicks off, for the next two hours you are thrilled with the floats and bands that go by. The atmosphere is electric and the crowds are wild for “yahoos” and participation. There are many local businesses, community bands, ranches and First Nations; it was great to see such an array of talent.

first nations parade

The streets are jammed with people and you need to be prepared for a lot of standing around. You can then walk to the Stampede grounds for start of your day’s entertainment. The crowds are crazy – there are so many people, but the queues to get in move very fast and the ticket agents are very friendly.


Choosing your seats


Canadian Affair have a couple of different packages on offer to suit your means, and I’d really recommend you get the best seats you can. The added extras make it totally worth the extra cost. You get a Stampede cowboy hat for free which is perfect, because everyone has a hat! We also used our vouchers to collect the free programme for the rodeo and again for the evening show. The programmes are lovely, take-home booklets and they explain the events and showcase all the competitors, which is very helpful.


First day of Stampede rodeos


We kicked off day one of the Stampede with gusto at the afternoon rodeo. We had lunch at 12 ‘o’clock in The Clubhouse, located in the main Grandstand overlooking the showground where the rodeo takes place. The views were fantastic and the food matched it! We enjoyed a wide selection buffet, but would recommend the roast beef and horseradish sauce that they are renowned for – it kicked like a bull! There were also plenty of salads and other yummy dishes on offer. We made room for some dessert as there was homemade ice cream and cherry pie along with freshly cooked doughnuts, warm cookies and red velvet and chocolate cupcakes. There was no room for anything after all that!


Learning the ropes

chuck wagon racing

The rodeo started bang on time at 1:30pm with thunderous music and cheering. The commentators were lively, engaging the audience with all sorts of jokes and hilarity and having fun with the camera going out to the crowds. Most people will be like me and will have never been to a rodeo before, so I didn’t have the first clue about any of the events and how they worked. Thankfully the show expects this, so they explain each of the events for the beginners like me. It’s presented in a friendly way and you start to catch on very quickly. You’ll see the bareback horse, tie down roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, saddle bronc and barrel racing. To finish off the afternoon there is a junior team event, which was really entertaining. The crowds love to see the young stars of the future in this massive arena.


Behind the scenes


We were very lucky to be invited by The Calgary Stampede marketing team on a VIP Chute Tour, which is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go behind the scenes and see where the action comes from. We stood behind the cages as the riders take to their event and also to go backstage and see their changing rooms, meet some cowboys and say hello to their trainers and physios etc. Sadly, this isn’t something that you can buy, but it did give an amazing insight into the hard work that goes into an event like this and how the Stampede really looks after their competitors.


We spent a lot of time walking round the whole park, viewing the First Nations area and the agriculture are – there were many shows and events to watch. All highly entertaining and superb fun for all the family!


Chuckwagon racing on Day 2


Today, after spending more time walking round the Stampede park in the day, we went for dinner at The Lazy S, an upscale bar and restaurant with seating over the grandstand. It’s fantastic – we enjoyed a three-course dinner and our seats looked over the rodeo grounds. We spent the whole evening here watching the chuck wagon races and the evening show. Again, the cowboy hats are compulsory as part of the Western dress code!


The chuck wagon races started at 7pm and lasted for almost two hours. It was an action-packed event. It’s lively and really competitive – there is a lot of money at stake, so the true fans are very engaged! Even as a complete novice to this sport, we picked up the rules quickly and it was very easy to get involved. The chuck wagon races are the most popular event of the whole Stampede, so this is not something you want to miss out on. The commentary is very entertaining and the crowds are encouraged to participate in the noise levels, cheering on each of the 9 races that evening.


The evening show

calgary stampede evening show

Once the chuck wagon races finish, the showground is very quickly transformed into the evening show stage and it kicks off at about 9:30pm, just as the sun is setting. The theme of this year’s show was Canada’s 150th birthday. It was called ‘Together’ and was co-written and hosted by the popular Canadian country singer, Jann Arden. It was totally spectacular. A totally professional show using Canadian artists. It finished at midnight after a huge firework show.

stampede evening show


I have to say the two and a half days at the Stampede was a huge amount of fun. But, I can’t pretend it wasn’t exhausting. We walked miles each day, had early starts and late finishes and this year it was unseasonably hot. So, when you are planning your Canada holiday with our advisors, just make sure you plan in a relaxing day or two afterwards. That way you can bask in the after-glow of the fantastic event before moving on to your next adventure.

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