Calgary Stampede: dig in the culture of Canadian Cowboys
Written by Lewis Pearson
On 28 May 2024

Ever fantasised of being in one of those old-style Western movies? You may be thinking that you’ll need to travel to the Midwest for this, but really you can find it at the foot of Canada. If this sounds right up your alley, the Calgary Stampede might be your jam.

Whilst Calgary is mostly known for its wide array of mountain peaks, crystal clear water, amazing skiing opportunities over winter and staggering architecture, for 10 days it turns into a midwest cowboy central.

Enriched with deep history dating back to 1912, the Calgary Stampede was routed from a travelling Wyoming cowboy. Running from 4 July to 14 July, this 10 day festival is at the heart of Calgary, celebrating the deep roots of the area and is a cultural event not to miss.

At the centrepiece of this festival, and the most notable event, is the annual rodeo. By definition, a rodeo is ‘an exhibition or contest in which cowboys show their skill at riding Broncos, roping calves, wrestling steers etc.’

The rodeo events consist of 6 categories, including bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, barrel racing, steer wrestling and tie down roping, all of which lead up to the showdown Sunday finals. These events fall under a bigger title, being the world’s largest outdoor rodeo.

Bareback riding involves the chosen rider holding on to a rigging on a horse aiming to stay on whilst getting higher spurs. This event is ranked based on how high the spurs are, with the higher the spurs the more points awarded. In the rules, the cowboys should hold on for at least 8 seconds.

Chad Besplug, lead director of the rodeo event and a former champion bull rider organises all of the rodeo events across the 10 days. He thinks the rodeo gains the sheer amount of popularity because: “Its a combination between the culture and mystique of the cowboy combined with the fact that it’s a dangerous sport, seeing something which only exists in a certain area.”

Despite this, Chad says: “Calgary is a large city, it’s very much an urban area but the surrounding rural area definitely has the cowboy atmosphere.”

With the size of the city, and the cultural mesh, events like the Calgary Stampede are vital to maintain community engagement and support.

Chad supported this by claiming: “It’s huge for the city of Calgary you know, compare it to sports events with all different people who come in support of one thing. It’s very unique of Calgary, everyone comes together and wears their hat. It very much focuses on the local Calgarian.”

Supporting this community atmosphere, there are plenty of opportunities for residents and visitors to socialise in and about the city during the event. 

Chad said that: “There’s a lot of different parties going on in the city, different concerts, different beer gardens, that entire downtown core there’s stuff going on.”

There is truly something for everybody at these events.

For the foodies among us, the midway offers a wide variety of different cuisines and interesting eats, so there’s something for everybody. From classic Canadian dishes like poutine, a dish of french fries covered in cheese curds then smothered in rich gravy, to the adventurous crispy pig ear, the opportunities are endless. 

If you enjoy food but don’t want to miss out on great live music, The Big Four Roadhouse might be more up your alley, offering a range of food and drink whilst having a view of the Bud Light Stage. The venue gains its name from a group of wealthy cattlemen who all backed and invested in the proposal of an annual stampede.

If laying back and listening to your favourite artists is more your jam, then you’ll be pleased to know that the stampede is home to 4 venues hosting massive names. Yet, perhaps the most reputable is the Scotiabank Saddledome, having hosted the biggest names like Katy Perry previously. This year it hosts Nickelback, The Jonas Brothers and Motley Crue, so there’s really something for all ages.

Saskia Skulmoski, a student at the University of Calgary, particularly enjoys the Stampede. She says: “You can really grasp what the Stampede can offer through the vast array of events, games and entertainment opportunities available to you.

“When I was younger what I enjoyed most about the stampede was all the carnival rides and games! Now that I’m older I really enjoy the free concerts, parties every night and the whacky food, ” says Saskia.

Emily Osgood, who lives in Calgary explained how: “It’s something I do every year and I love tradition. Also the concerts, the vibes. The whole city dresses up western for 10 days, and with the decorations and everything – it’s like Christmas! It’s way bigger than any other event, in Calgary at least.”

Whilst the Calgary Stampede is clearly a monumental event for Calgary, visitors and tourists can also embrace Calgarian culture in other forms. A key example of this can be viewed through Banff, a short journey away from downtown Calgary. Visitors can embrace the natural lakes, wildlife and hiking trails which it has to offer. The central town also offers great food and beverage opportunities, alongside a retail space for those with an eye for retail therapy.

If you’re more of an adventure seeker, there are also adrenaline-pumping activities for you to take on. Enjoy a nice, cold plunge whilst white water rafting.

Whilst in Calgary, you should take time to appreciate the indigenous culture at your doorstep. During the stampede, all Treaty 7 nations gather at the Elbow River Camp, forging teepees and producing various drum beats.

So, you would be mistaken to assume that the stampede is directly representative of Calgarian culture. Classed as a top 10 ‘liveable’ city, and being the third most diverse major city in Canada, Calgary is able to offer a variety of cultural experiences for the interested traveller.

It is advised for those wanting to visit to fly into Calgary YYC airport since it is the closest airport to Calgary. If you are staying on the outskirts of Calgary or Banff, there is a string of train and bus routes which run directly.

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