Imagine if you lived in a city of 1,000,000+ people. Once a year, the downtown core hosts a parade, and hundreds of thousands of people line the streets to wave at stagecoaches filled with local celebrities and beauty queens. Before the streets are swept, your city shifts into party mode. For ten days, everyone from oil company executives to farmhands costume up, skip out of work early, head to the rodeo, then party hop with locals and tourists alike.
Welcome to the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, running July 3rd to 12th, 2009.
In early July, some Calgarians pack up and head for the hills, grumbling the whole time about how their city is more than bandanas and boots. They make room for the 1.2 million celebrants who fill hotel rooms and descend upon the Stampede Grounds in the Beltline to celebrate in western style. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your Stampede Experience.
Western clothing is high art in Calgary - don’t be surprised if that pretty, pulled together cowgirl spent more on her outfit than you do on rent. For western duds, look no further than Lammle’s Western Wear & Tack. The real deal, you’ll find ranchers intermixed with the city folk searching for Stetsons. Local tip: cowboy boots aren’t for the faint of sole. Buy a custom made pair at Alberta Boot and ship ‘em home; Jake Gyllenhaal supposedly bought a pair while filming nearby!
The toughest guys and gals compete for over $2 Million in prize money; tackling, roping, riding, and wrestling their way into the finals. Words cannot describe how hard this event can be on its participants; after all, no one in the world is more rugged than a man who can stay on a really grumpy bull for over eight seconds. Grab a Caesar (local libation consisting of Vodka, Clamato, Worcestershire, and Tabasco) at 30X Saloon, throw on your Shady Brady to keep out the sun, grab your seat in the Grandstand, and dig in!
Stampede Flapjack Breakfasts
Free breakfasts for ten days? Yes, if you know where to look! To find a free (or nearly free) breakfast every morning of Stampede, check out the Flapjack Finder. Designed and managed by local Calgary design gurus KARO Group, Flapjack finder ensures maximum flapjack and syrup consumption with minimal research on your part – they even have an iPhone app! Wear your cowboy gear, or you’ll be stared down as the interloper you are.
Gettin’ yer Party on
If you want the full western experience, ignore the wine bars and gastropubs who throw a bale of hay at the door and drive up the price of their whiskey; your best bet is where the cowboys actually drink year round. Ranchman’s is an authentic western saloon and Calgary legend, where grizzled cowfolk intermingle with nubile cowgirls – try the mechanical bull and hold on to your hat. Elsewhere, lowly parking lots are elevated to the status of A-list clubs when tented for corporate parties. Getting on the invite list to some of the more exclusive shindigs is harder than roping a wild filly, but try if you can. Befriend a local working at an energy firm, and you may find yourself rubbing shoulders with local elite, sipping a complimentary Grasshopper beer.
Only during Stampede could there be a food festival dedicated to the culinary preparation of a young calf’s business. Buzzard’s Cowboy Cuisine celebrates their yearly, ahem, “Testicle Festival” in early July, where prairie oysters are sautéed, braised, and breaded and fried to perfection.
To check out my Newbie’s Guide to the Calgary Stampede trip, click here.