Downtown Calgary looks like any other affluent North American city: grid like organisation, tall buildings, and lots of glass. You need a spark of inside knowledge to find the quirkier parts of town. Yet even the financial institutions quieten down as the biggest rodeo show in Canada comes to town, attracting over one million visitors.
Dubbed “the greatest outdoor show on earth” by some locals, and the “trampede” by others, one thing’s for sure: Canada’s biggest rodeo is no place to go if you’re looking for a peaceful life.
Bringing and binding together almost everything that is modern Canada, it involves rodeo and Western culture, modern art, music and dance, First Nations traditions, agricultural education, science education, language education, free-spirited Burning Man soul mates and deep-fried everything with the odd organic treat…together with a whole lot of drinkin’ and dancin’ and foot stompin’ fun. The food stalls love to shock, aiming to out-fry each other through dunking oreos, “peanut butter ‘n’ jelly” sandwiches and cheese donuts into the batter.
At the heart of the Stampede is the rodeo, a strictly monitored two and a half hour event that attracts professional cowboys from across the world to compete for some of the best atmosphere – and money – in the sport. Expect saddle bronc riding, barrel racing and steer wrestling but also some more creative rodeo pursuits like Chuckwagon racing to stir up the dust.
At night, the rodeo arena converts itself into a high level scaffolding stage where dancers, singers and acrobats put on a show to rival an Olympic opening ceremony. For a European visitor, perhaps the most striking aspect lies in the small details. Cowboy hats. Cowboy boots. Belt buckles and big hair and rodeo princesses and the frequency of deep southern drawls. For many, Western culture is a real way of life based on hard work on ranches and a certain code of hospitality. To see that away from the movies and come to respect it is one of the greatest treats that travel has to offer.
If any one of these elements puts you off – it shouldn’t. This place is big enough and bold enough for everyone to find a home, from bright-eyed children to, well, those prefer the Cowboy bar and its slogan “the most fun you can have with your boots on.”
My stampede experience left me with plenty more questions: about stampede royalty, First Nation history, 21st century interpretations and more. It is clear however that you simply can’t find anything like the Calgary Stampede anywhere else in the world. So buckle up, grab a cowboy hat and experience the fun for yourself in July.
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