What is the greatest outdoor show on earth, and why you should attend?

Categories: Canadian Travel

If you Google “The greatest outdoor show on earth” your whole first page of results will be about the Calgary Stampede.
Good marketing, to be sure!

But is it really the greatest outdoor show one earth? Well, consider the evidence:

Good marketing, to be sure!

But is it really the greatest outdoor show one earth? Well, consider the evidence:

1. It’s large! Very large! The ten-day event draws well over a million visitors through its gates each year, with a record of almost 1.5 million. There may be larger festivals somewhere in the world but, by any standard, that is a huge number! Would you want to find Waldo in a crowd that size?

2. It has history. 2017 marks the 105th year since Guy Weadick organized the first rodeo and festival, which he called the “Stampede.” (It’s remarkable enough that the name hasn’t changed in over 100 years.)

3. It has one of the largest rodeos on earth. While the rodeo itself is only one of four major elements on the grounds, including concerts, pavilions and a traditional Indian Village with authentic teepees. The Stampede Midway offers games of all kinds for all ages. Visitors can throw axes, shoot paintballs, and go on theme park-like rides, or you can relax and check out Calgary from high above on the giant ferris wheel. It is the rodeo however, that defines the event and that draws visitors from around the world. The rodeo itself features nine different events, including wrestling, saddle bronc, bareback, ladies barrel racing, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and more. Prizes add up to approximately $2 million, which attracts the best of the best to compete.

4. The Chuck-wagon races, also known as the “Rangeland Derby,” were reportedly invented for the show by its founder, with a chuck-wagon driver being lead by a team of horses. Thirty-six teams now compete for over $1 million in prize money. Each year advertising space on the canvases that make up the chuck-wagons is auctioned off, with total auction values reaching $4 million.

5. It is highly controversial. From animal rights groups who would like to ban all entertainment involving animals, to strong reactions when a horse has to be put down, the show has its detractors. All combined, 7500 animals take part in various events each year. It is accidents involving the chuck-wagons, though, that account for the biggest casualties. Organizers claim that humane animal care is a top priority, and the show even has its own 22,000-acre ranch on which to nurture their stock in a humane environment. But that argument will not mute the voices of those opposed in principle to such events. In the end, the controversy elevates awareness for, and ultimately (as controversy so often does), the appeal of, the event.

6. It defines a City, and region. For ten days every July, an otherwise generally conservative city in the heart of Alberta’s cowboy country, is transformed into a party. Businesses close their doors for portions of the time, storefronts decorate with western themes, residents put on western wear, and streets are transposed into beer gardens and outdoor concert venues. Calgary is known worldwide as “The Stampede City” or, even less formally, “Cowtown.” Alberta’s Canadian Football League team is even named the Stampeders.

7. The parade and the fireworks. The prelude to the parade starts at 8AM when people start taking their places, but no one is bored while waiting. Groups of clowns and mascots begin to circulate, entertaining spectators along the entire parade route. Musical groups, dancers, singers, martial arts experts, equestrians and even belly dancers perform on every corner along the route. The main parade starts promptly at 8:55 a.m. on parade day. The parade provides two hours of entertainment consisting of intricate floats, marching bands, western riders and much more. Participants also included members of the Stoney Nakoda Nation, which has been a part of the Stampede from its beginnings in 1912. The parade is of universal appeal as they invite all in the city to contribute to create a culturally diverse experience that touches everyone.

8. It draws a lot of celebrities. Famous people who have served as parade marshals over the years include Walt Disney, Prince Charles, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Lanny McDonald, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka Will and Kate).

9. Free pancake breakfasts–everywhere, every day. Insiders say that, with a little planning, you can eat for free for the whole ten days.

10. It’s academic. Really? Apparently, the University of Calgary has an undergraduate course dedicated to the Calgary Stampede. (Hey, how’d you like to have that count towards your degree?)

Oh yes, and one other thing: They claim the birthrate spikes in Calgary every April—nine months after the Stampede.

So, do any of those things make it the greatest outdoor show on earth? Do they collectively? Who’s to say?

You’ll just have to come out and find out for yourself, because its “greatness” cannot really be measured objectively. It’s a matter of opinion.

Tips for getting the most out of the Stampede:
a) Dress appropriately; comfortable shoes as there will be lots of walking as well as standing in line-ups.
b) Weather will be warm so a (cowboy) hat is a must to ensure you don’t get heat stroke.
c) Stay hydrated, and save the money, by bringing your own water bottle. There are water fountains across the park. Lots of water will also help you remember the Stampede (bars and restaurants across Calgary can sell alcohol starting at 8 a.m. during the Stampede – it is a party!).
d) Enjoy free pancake breakfast in the morning.
e) Some organizations and companies have booths set up throughout the Stampede grounds and many have raffles, giveaways, and special deals. They also sometimes have free coupons for events or free food.
f) Bring a zoom lens or something to take great action photos as there will be lots of great photo opportunities!

Dates this year are July 7-16, 2017 which line up perfectly with the Grand Rockies Circuit tours departing July 1st and July 8th

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