There aren’t many places where you can dress up like a cowboy while shouting “yee-haw” and still fit in with the locals. Then again, Calgary isn’t like most places during the Calgary Stampede. For 10 days in July, the city transforms into one of Canada’s premiere celebrations – a tribute to the Old West filled with cowboy hats, music, food and culture that’s been dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” Even if this ain’t your first rodeo, the Stampede is unlike any other event. Here are some of the basics.
Put on a cowboy hat and you'll fit right in for a night of line dancing and country music at some of the bars that go flat out western for 10 days.
At its heart, the Calgary Stampede has always been a party celebrating the Old West. In 1912, Guy Weadick, an American performer and promoter arrived in Calgary looking for financing for an event to celebrate the disappearing Old West. Four prominent businessmen gave him $100,000 along with one simple instruction: “Make it the greatest thing of its kind in the world.” Weadick did just that and Stampede organizers have been building on that legacy ever since.
During the Stampede, everybody (yes, everybody, from CEOs to children) in Calgary dresses western. If you don’t have the right clothes in your closet, there are plenty of great shops in Calgary that can help you cowboy up. You’ll find custom-made hats and boots as well as great off-the-shelf options. If you don’t want to commit to the full cowboy ensemble, pop on a pair of jeans, a button-down shirt and a bandana and you’ll fit in.
You can't help but get into the Stampede spirit, starting with the kick-off parade in downtown Calgary. It's just the beginning of a non-stop 10-day celebration of Canada's western and multicultural roots.
It’s hard to describe exactly what it is, but Stampede spirit is definitely a thing. At Stampede time, the good vibes are infectious. For 10 days, this convivial feeling permeates the city and becomes almost tangible. There’s something about this event that makes fun a priority over everything else. It’s like one big party that runs around the clock. When Stampede Park closes for the night, the clubs in Calgary keep the party hopping all night long.
This is no time to go on a low-carb diet. Seriously. Stampede pancake breakfasts date back to 1923, when pancakes were served from the back of a chuckwagon on Stephen Avenue. Today, you’ll find hundreds of public pancake breakfasts all over the city. Most feature live music and entertainment. You might get a chance to try line dancing or square dancing. The best part? Most Stampede breakfasts are free. For real.
The rodeo will get your adrenalin pumping when you watch some of the world's best athletes compete for big money. Canadian Tourism Commission
If you can only go to one rodeo in your life, make it this one. There’s exciting rodeo competition, clowns, a Stampede queen and princesses and, later in the evening, unique races of stagecoach-style horse-drawn chuckwagons. It’s the world’s richest tournament-style rodeo, so it attracts the world’s best athletes. It’s a fascinating look into a sport and lifestyle with deep roots in the west.
You have to try the mini-doughnuts, which are a staple of the event, but why stop there? There’s a midway full of all kinds of unique and, well, novel foods. New offerings are added every year and part of the fun of going to the Stampede is sampling new midway foods. You’ll find everything from chili-lime popcorn-shrimp perogies to deep fried Jell-O and funnel-cake poutine. If you really like mini-doughnuts (and who doesn’t?) you won’t want to miss the mini-doughnut ice pops that have become a Stampede classic.
The colourful costume dance competitions are one of the highlights of the Elbow River Camp.
The Elbow River Camp has been an important part of the Calgary Stampede since Guy Weadick organized the first Stampede in 1912. Today, Stampede-goers can visit 26 tipis representing the five First Nations of the region: Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, Siksika and Piikani. Each tipi has a unique design and contains artifacts that represent the culture of a nation. You can enjoy traditional foods in the camp, watch costumed dance competitions, speak with elders and learn about the culture and beliefs of the people who have lived on this land for thousands of years.
You can find live music all around the city, but be sure to check out the outdoor Coca-Cola Stage to hear some top bands. It's a fun way to spend an evening on the Stampede grounds.
The Calgary Stampede is one of Canada’s largest music festivals, At Stampede Park and in music venues and all over the city, you can listen to local musicians and international headliners of all genres and styles. Mixed in with the western culture at Stampede Park, you’ll also find acrobats, BMX riders, stunt dogs and other unique acts. Every night there is a Grandstand Show with song-and-dance numbers, musical performances and an incredible fireworks finale. Not to worry: You’ll be entertained.
From the midway to the agricultural fair (with super dog competitions!), and foods to sample from around the world, theres's a reason they call this the "greatest outdoor show on earth."
Watch Peking Acrobats. Sample Thai treats. Purchase hand-painted Mexican pottery. You can do all those things at the International Pavilion, a venue that celebrates Canada’s multiculturalism. There’s a global street market, international foods and a stage with an exciting lineup of artists who provide cultural music and dance performances.
What’s the difference between an appaloosa and a quarter horse? A stroll through the Nutrien Western Events Centre will answer that question, while entertaining you too. It’s a chance to see livestock close up, view agricultural displays and watch events like the heavy horse pull or the stock dog trials. It’s all part of an agricultural fair that dates back to 1886.
Grab a bag of warm mini-doughnuts and cruise the midway for some old-fashioned games like the ball toss or fishing pond.