No matter who you talk to, without fail, the statement remains the same … “you have to go to Stampede”. What is interesting about this fact is that it would seem that a significant portion of people in Calgary flee to the hills and mountains during the ten days of Stampede. The Calgarians that remain in the city undergo a transformation that involves … jeans, plaid shirts, cowboy hats, cowboy boots and HUGE shiny belt buckles! This makes it all too apparent that the Calgary Stampede is a big deal in this city and as new Albertans we just had to see it for ourselves. So, on Saturday morning we drove down to the Heritage C-Train station and boarded the train. As we arrived at each stop moving northward and closer to the Stampede grounds the number of “cowboys and cowgirls” kept doubling until there was no breathing room left. We finally arrived at Stampede Station and poured off the train along with a hundred or so people and marched in a steady stream to the entrance of the grounds. The line was long but moved quickly and the buzz of excitement grew as we got closer to the ticket sellers. A mere $18.00 per person gained us entrance to the grounds for the day which provided a variety of shows and exhibitions scattered around along with an infinite selection of food. Trying to find a comparison from our own experiences we equated the Stampede grounds akin to the Toronto Exhibition combined with the Royal Winter Fair, but on serious steroids.
There was lots to see and do. Far too much for one day. We started with the heavy horse show where yearling Clydesdales were being judged. Even at their young age, these were large animals. We also took an extreme bike show, featuring BMX bikes, ATVs and motor bikes. The jumps and stunts were spectacular, but a ‘Captain Morgan’ pose mid jump took the cake! We toured the midway which is much like any other midway. The same crazy games with the same bizarre prizes to be won. The food vendors were anything but ordinary! This place took BBQ to a whole new level with award winning specials. For those who know us, you can understand why we were in heaven! Pulled pork and chicken was everywhere. Foot long hotdogs were wrapped in bacon or turned into corn dogs. BBQ’d turkey legs were so big they looked prehistoric and were lugged around by many in the crowd. Our personal favourite – melt in your mouth brisket with a splash of heat!
We continued our exploration with a visit to the ‘Working Dog’ competition, which was an impressive show of ability and partnership. That said, the sheep didn’t seem as impressed as we were! Enmax presented Cirque Éloize, which was an amazing display of dance, acrobatics, athletics and even wizardry on bicycles and trampolines. A great bonus for those in attendance at the afternoon show was the avoidance of golf ball sized hail that pummelled the fairgrounds. By the time we emerged from the Centre, there were piles of hail, like snow everywhere and many of the catch basins had clogged causing flooding. The volunteers and staff at the Stampede did a great job clearing the walkways, getting things back to normal. We took the opportunity to tour the horse stalls and agricultural displays while the rain tapered off.
Our last stop was the Indian Village. An impressive array of tipisand cultural artifacts were on display. Bannock and jerky were being made on site using traditional tools and techniques. Traditional head dresses and clothing brought a great deal of colour, artistry and diversity to those visiting.