Come July, Calgary in Alberta province welcomes hundreds of thousands of people to the largest rodeo in the world!
Calgary Stampede from the 8th until the 17th of July is a spectacular sight for anyone travelling on holiday to Canada. Dubbed “the greatest outdoor show on Earth”, this claim is not far off the mark as the event boasts a full rodeo, multiple concert stages and countless stalls to visit.
Beyond the Stampede grounds, the spirit of this annual festival can be felt all around Calgary city. We spoke to local attractions and businesses to get the low down on riding out the rodeo and what else you can see during your stay in Calgary.
“The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”
Calgary Stampede is like no other summer festival in Canada. Attracting visitors from around the globe to the city in Alberta, the event is as much about bringing people together as it is a showcase for world-class rodeo talent.
Explaining the spirit of the Stampede, Amanda from The Calgary Farmers’ Market tells us: “The Calgary Stampede is a 10-day event that the entire city rallies around. We all sport our Western wear, gather at pancake breakfasts and cheer on our favourite chuck wagon drivers. It is truly a 10-day celebration for the whole city; young and old, everyone loves the Calgary Stampede. We believe it is the energy and excitement that draws the crowds and tourists from all over to enjoy the spirit of the Stampede.”
Likewise, Erin of Calgary’s innovative science museum TELUS Spark explains the event’s close ties with the community: “Organisations across the city participate and a real sense of community emerges. It’s a contagious feeling and you can’t help but take part in the activities.”
Whether you’re local to the city or visiting Calgary for the first time, the festival will certainly make an impression as it stampedes into action, inspiring Canadian pride all over Calgary.
“As a born and raised Calgarian, what stands out to me about the Stampede is the fact the ENTIRE city shifts into Stampede mode for 10 days each July,” says Barb from the Heritage Park Historical Village that sits on the Elbow River just down from the heart of the city.
“Pretty much every business person trades in their corporate work wear for jeans and plaid, offices are decorated in Western style, windows are painted with Western deckles and there are hay bales and wooden fences put up all over the city. It is 10 days of non-stop pancake breakfasts, concerts (and not just Country music), parties, pop-up bars and a festival atmosphere, especially downtown.”
Looking for inspiration? Check out this video from the Calgary Stampede.
Tips for Calgary Stampede 2016
If it’s your first time at the festival, or in Canada for that matter, the following advice will prove invaluable when making your first foray into Calgary.
Firstly, when you’re organising travel to Canada we offer flights to Calgary from the UK making it convenient to get to the city. The Stampede Ranch where the festival is held is a massive 22,000 acres, so it’s best to arrange car hire in Canada and drive to the venue, parking closer to the action.
When your packing for your Canadian trip, Barb says remember to “Bring your Western wear! Or pick up an authentic cowboy hat and boots at one of the many Western outfitters in the city.”
Erin encourages you not to be afraid to jump in and participate, saying: “What makes this time of year fun in Calgary is that everyone is ready to try new things. Dress up in whatever cowboy or cowgirl duds you have. Anything goes during the Calgary Stampede. Boots – check! Hat – check! Checkered shirt – check! All of the above – check! None? That’s ok, too.”
The sheer scale of the Calgary Stampede can be a little overwhelming and it’s recommended that you plan ahead, taking the opportunity to check out the festival line-up and deciding which rodeo events or musical acts you want to see before setting off.
Marnie from Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary describes the entertainment on offer at the festival: “The Calgary Stampede is one of the world’s largest annual rodeos, held in July with fun for the whole family! There are amusement park-style rides, chuck wagon races, international food competitions as well as concerts each day with some incredible bands and musical entertainment.”
Calgary is also a time to remember and celebrate the province’s agricultural roots as Marie from one of Calgary’s best known cultural outlets, Gainsborough Galleries, explains: “Calgary Stampede celebrates the cowboy culture of the West. It draws on the stories of the Old West and offers a contemporary take on traditional competitions, shows, and festivals.”
Practical advice for festival-goers
Tourism Calgary tells us that Calgary balances the best of urban life with Canada’s stunning natural landscapes. Think “a cosmopolitan city feel, but with mountains in the background.”
Calgary proves a popular place to visit because it offers the ability to spend the morning browsing boutiques, hiking trails in the afternoon and still be back in the city in time for an evening out.
“Calgary caters to a wide variety of interests, making it a comfortable location for anyone such as shoppers, adventure seeks and foodies.”
Tourism Calgary has put together some useful tips for those visiting the city for the Calgary Stampede:
- Be early for parking, getting down to the grounds, purchasing event tickets and getting in the queue. Crowds can increase in size around mid-afternoon.
- Bring an umbrella or hooded sweater. The weather in Calgary is always changing.
- Hotels can be pricey during Stampede. It is recommended to book accommodation as early as possible.
- During Stampede CTrain services run 24 hours
- There are numerous other forms of entertainment occurring during Stampede outside of the grounds. Restaurants, patios, pubs on popular roads (such as Stephen Avenue and 17 Ave) are bustling with people sharing a drink amongst friends. Such restaurants, patios and pubs may adopt a saloon décor for the duration of Stampede.
- Each year the midway (on the festival grounds) invites visitors to push their stomachs’ limits and taste new creations, including this year’s mac and cheese stuffed burgers and fruit infused grilled cheese. See the whole list here: http://www.calgarystampede.com/stampede/attractions/food
Calgary’s attractions away from the Rodeo
The excitement of the Calgary Stampede is incredible to experience, but after a few days of negotiating the crowds, you’ll likely want some down time away from the ranch. Fortunately, there’s plenty going on elsewhere in the city and much of it is inspired by the main event, so you can keep up the rodeo fever and see more of Calgary at the same time.
Calgary Farmers’ Market
Calgary Farmers’ Market is a must see destination, especially if you want to explore the city at its most authentic!
Colourful local produce piled high, the smell of freshly baked croissants, locally roasted coffee brewing, bright bouquets of fresh flowers, and the sounds of local musicians are just a few of the experiences for your senses that await you at the Calgary Farmers’ Market. Central to the city, this market is a meeting place for all where people can come to select the best produce from Alberta – alongside music, art and culture all year round.
“With over 70 unique vendors we guarantee you will find something tasty to sample and even more to feast your eyes on. Also, check out the Farm Fun kids’ play area, impressive food court, performing buskers, and the huge selection of locally sourced goods,” adds Amanda.
Heritage Park Historical Village
Heritage Park Historical Village is Canada’s largest living history museum, connecting visitors to the settlement of Western Canada from the 1860s to the 1950s through a living history representation of four different time periods:
- 1860s First Nations’ Encampment and Hudson Bay Company Fort
- 1880s Pre-Railway Settlement
- 1910 prairie town with steam train, paddlewheel boat and antique midway
- 1930 streetscape- with shops, restaurants and Gasoline Alley Museum
See Alberta’s past come to life in 127 acres of park, with exhibits and activities such as raising a tipi, churning old fashioned ice cream or taking a ride on the historic train. You can also dine in style at Heritage Park Historical Village, whether you’re grabbing a hotdog or settling into the 1920s dining car aboard the steam engine for finer fare.
Barb explains: “You don’t even have to go down to the Stampede grounds to have a Stampede experience here. Maybe that’s what attracts such a diverse group of people to the city.
“Heritage Park is a great place to visit during the Stampede. We show visitors how the West was once, so while they’ll get a taste of our current Western culture at the Stampede, at Heritage Park they can get a better understanding of where it all came from. And we’re not all about cowboys here- we talk about ranch life, the oil boom, the railway, First Nations and paint a picture of what Calgary was like in 1910, around when the Stampede first started.”
See some of Calgary’s most prominent artwork at the Gainsborough Galleries, the city’s longest-running commercial gallery which specialises in Western Canadian art. If you’re in town for the Stampede, you’ll find work by artists whose work will feature at the Calgary Stampede along with art from Alberta, neighbouring British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada.
“Visitors can expect to learn about the vibrant energy that this city has to offer; about what draws people from all over the world to not only visit here, but to live here and become a part of the city,” says Marie.
“When people visit us during Stampede, they can expect a feature exhibition which highlights rodeo-specific subject matter. Horses, cowboys, bulls and other notably Albertan subject matter. We might throw in a bear or mountain.”
Be inspired by over 150 experiences designed to engage your brain and “get your neurones firing” at TELUS Spark. This museum brings the wonderful worlds of science, technology, engineering, maths and art together to help visitors discover what makes the world around us work.
Little ones and adults alike will find plenty to do at TELUS Spark, as Erin describes “you can climb up a three story tower and slide 63’ down. While you’re up there, take in the view of the city of Calgary. Create your very own animation in Open Studio or take in a movie or a live planetarium show in the Dome Theatre. Generate your own electricity in Energy & Innovation and find out what the landscape of Alberta has to give in terms of resources. Experience an audio storm in Earth & Sky and watch a video time lapse of a year in the city of Calgary.”
Celebrating Calgary Stampede, TELUS Spark’s own Western-themed exhibit ‘Sparks ‘n’ Spurs’ on July 6th is sure to get you in the spirit. Enjoy food from the guest trucks on site as you listen to Dan the One Man Band or introduce your kids to Alberta’s agricultural roots with farmyard animals to hold. You’ll also be able to decorate your own sheriff badge to wear with pride when you make it over to the rodeo.
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame
If you’re interested in sports and visiting Calgary Stampede for its world class rodeo displays, why not take a trip to WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park home to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame?
Open seven days a week throughout July and August, this museum offers 12 interactive galleries and a further 52 exhibits to get involved in. Learn more about the country’s top sporting moments including the 1988 Olympic Winter Games which were held at the site. From shadow boxing to 3D hockey, your favourite sports come to life at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and there’s also an impressive collection of artefacts representing the 605 sports legends that have been inducted over the years.
“Our mission is to share the stories of the achievements of our inducted Honoured Members so that we can inspire everyone to be the best they can be in all aspects of life,” says Marnie.
“With the induction of Earl W. Bascom in 2015, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame welcomed its first Honoured Member known for Rodeo. With the help of innovators like Bascom, the modernised version of the sport features new methods and equipment which helped shape the face and spirit of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Visit Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame to see this piece of Canadian Rodeo history.”
Wherever you decide to visit in Calgary you’ll find new experiences and a different atmosphere everywhere, as “Each neighbourhood downtown has its own unique flare”, Tourism Calgary tells us.
Travel Alberta also suggests that you can see more of the province during your stay with a road trip out of Calgary city for the day. Scenic routes such as the one along the Cowboy Trail are an excellent way to take in the fantastic landscapes surrounding Calgary and learn a little more about Alberta’s Western heritage.
Image Credit: Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Telus Spark, Calgary Farmers’ Market, Gainsborough Galleries, Heritage Park Historical Village, ItzaFineDay (flickr.com)