In an instant the dark night sky explodes with colour. Cascading waterfalls of shimmering gold stars, vibrant crimson chrysanthemums and whirls of blue and green light dance with the music. Every few seconds the enthusiastic whistles, cheers and awe like gasps that reverberate through the audience are silenced by the fireworks’ sonic boom. Mesmerized, I watch the radiant display and feel the shiver of goosebumps wash over me.
The opening day of my first ever Calgary Stampede has been epic. We just moved to the city a few months ago and seeing my new community rally together to celebrate our province’s rich western heritage is heart warming. First thing this morning I headed downtown – with what seemed like half the city – to watch the Stampede Parade with my three-year-old, decked out in her purple tutu dress, white jean jacket and sparkly pink cowboy boots and hat. Together we watched the endless stream of marching bands, multi-cultural dance troupes, First Nations on horseback in their finest regalia and larger than life floats pass by with great excitement and pageantry. My daughter was captivated from start to finish.
Come late afternoon it was time for my husband and I to hit the fair grounds solo. To say that Curt likes to eat could be considered the understatement of the century. He spent the week leading up to Stampede drooling over the many weird and wonderful culinary creations on offer this year. Of course the tried and true were of equal interest. Fall-off-the-bone, smoky sweet barbeque ribs and tender, juicy Alberta beef brisket served with slaw were first on the agenda. Then we toured the midway munching on those famous mini doughnuts – fresh from the fryer. Once Curt’s voracious appetite was satiated I was ready to nourish mine with a little shopping.
Entering the Western Showcase felt like we’d stepped into a different world. The excitement of the midway’s games and rides faded away behind us. Soft lighting, trickling water features, scented flowers and lush greenery had transformed the indoor exhibit space at BMO Centre into a serene oasis. After touring the western art gallery, meeting some of the artists and purchasing a beautiful rich chocolate brown felt hat with teal trim we retreated to the wine garden for a chilled glass of white. While it would have been easy to spend the evening appreciating the finer things in life, we had tickets for an event with a whole lot more action.
The GMC Rangeland Derby is considered to be one of the world’s premier chuckwagon events. It’s certainly one of the most popular at the Stampede. Over nine heats, 36 drivers – 4 per heat – compete in a heart and hoof-pounding race to the finish. Curt and I faced off with a friendly wager on which driver would place first in each heat. Determining which team won isn’t so simple though, as it’s not always about who finishes first. Teams are penalized for a number of infractions including if any of the barrels are knocked down, or if the driver’s outriders cross the finish line too late. Curt found this out the hard way and is now on dish duty for a week. The Grandstand Show happens after the “chucks.” Live music, acrobatics and choreographed dance performances take over the stage. It’s a spectacle in itself and the fireworks that follow are the perfect finish to my inaugural Calgary Stampede.