A brief explanation of the 10 wild days that are the Calgary Stampede

Jun 25 2019, 1:12 pm

Dubbed the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Calgary Stampede puts Calgary on the international map while paying a tribute to the culture of the Wild West.

But what does all that mean, exactly?

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For those of us who grew up attending the Stampede since we were able to walk, that question sounds absurd. The Stampede is the Stampede, obviously…

However, for our neighbouring provinces (and countries, for that matter), the answer is not so straightforward.


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One misconception that the Stampede gets often is that it’s a “large party centred around bull riding.” Not wrong, but not entirely right, either.

The Stampede has changed A LOT since we were kids in the 80s and 90s, and it has slowly taken on a life of its own outside the grounds.

What began as a rodeo and exhibition has turned into an entire citywide celebration, complete with daily pancake breakfasts, parades, party tents, internationally-acclaimed musical acts, and much, much more.


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So when it comes to the question “what is the Calgary Stampede?” the answer is unfortunately not a simple one, but we’ll try to sum it up as best as we can for you below.

Let’s start with a quick history lesson!

The Stampede began as the Calgary Exhibition in 1886 as a place to share knowledge about practising agriculture in the west.

Guy Weadick (the Grandfather of the Stampede) came up from New York in 1912, and, with the help of the ‘Big Four’ — George Lane, Pat Burns, A.J. McLean, and A.E. Cross, who were all prominent businessmen aka the influencers of their time — they pulled off the very first Stampede.


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In true Stampede fashion, it rained for half the event, but the high-action rodeo, flashy performances at the parade, and the merging of cultures in at the Elbow River Encampment were all a huge success and are still prominent fixtures at the grounds today.

The Big Four put Weadick up to the task of putting on the “greatest thing of its kind in the world,” which he did (and then some), as it drew 80,000 people in its first year  — double Calgary’s population at the time.


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Fast forward to 1923, which marked a pivotal year for this iconic YYC event, as it was the first year that the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede joined forces.

Weadick got the city excited, resulting in merchants decorating their storefronts and many residents dressing in western wear. There was a huge parade throughout the centre of the city, along with the first pancake breakfast, and the first Chuck Wagon Races – the Stampede as we know and love it was truly born.


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Since then, the Stampede has significantly grown in size and has been known to host international royalty and celebrity guests.

The Round-Up Centre, BMO Centre, and Grandstand buildings were all eventually created, along with the formation of the Young Canadians and the Grandstand show, a spectacle that could rival even the best shows at American State Fairs.

The Stampede is a huge representation of Calgary as a whole, showing its community strength, endurance, dexterity, and stamina.


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It endured both world war’s and other international events, along with the devastating 2013 floods.

It’s also an event that generates many charitable dollars, while giving a nod to the Indigenous peoples that came before us alongside the western hospitality that is infused into our everyday culture.

So now we know where it came from, but what the heck is the Stampede as we know and love it today? In the simplest terms possible, here’s what you can expect to experience this year.

A rodeo


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An obvious assumption, but it’s the core of the event, so we had to mention it!

Get up-close-and-personal with the animals as you learn where your food comes from in the Agricultural Zone at the Nutrien Event Centre and catch a viewing of the Cutting Horse Competition, Tractor Pull, or Sheep Dog Herding.

Over at the Grandstand Infield, you can’t miss the iconic rodeo events in the afternoon or the iconic Chuckwagons at night. It wouldn’t be the Stampede without some healthy wild western competition.


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A music festival

Every year the Stampede acts as something of a 10-day-long music festival, along with a massive citywide party!

Catch some world-renowned performers putting on live performances across the Stampede Grounds and out into the city. And, no, it’s not ALL country. There is something for everyone’s musical tastes and interests!

On the grounds you can catch live music on the Coca-Cola Stage, Nashville North, The Big Four Roadhouse, Bulls After Dark, and the Virgin Mobile Stampede Concert Series at the Saddledome.

Throughout the city, on all 10 days, there are concerts scheduled for the Cowboys Music Festival, The Badlands Music Festival, Ranchmans, Wildhorse Saloon, and the legendary Roundup Musicfest, and Oxford Stomp — both at Shaw Millennium Park.


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A carnival

Enjoy the midway and all of the classic exhibition fun that comes along with it. Think games, midway rides, interactive booths, lottery games, and more.

Enjoy the “Great FUNtier” as you hit up mainstay rides, such as the Crazy Mouse, Giant Wheel, The Zipper, the Polar Express, and more.

With the midway split up into the Thrill Zone and the Kids Zone, you’ll likely find something that the whole family will enjoy!

Calgary Stampede

Calgary Stampede (Lucas Scarfone photography)

An entertainment spectacle

From the legendary parade down 9th Avenue to the grandiose performances at the Grandstand that dazzles audiences year after year – nothing is done small at the Calgary Stampede.

You’ll be able to check out the Superdogs in the Dogbowl, Freestyle Motocross at the Compound, and daily performances by the Stampede Showband, to name only a few.

The entire event is filled with large spectator acts that will leave you in awe. Don’t forget to stay until the end and catch the fireworks!


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A foodie’s paradise

This is the perfect place to photograph your cake and eat it too! The Stampede takes its food offerings seriously, which is why the Stampede Diet is a real thing.

Get in shape to have 10 cheat days in a row, and then it’s back to your regular scheduled programming for the rest of the year.


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You have to attend at least one (if not more) Stampede Breakfast (they are FREE after all), along with some of the deep fried concoctions at the midway – if you don’t gram it, you didn’t eat it!

New this year is Bar 1912, along with a fresh take at “The Market” in the BMO Centre, and everyone’s favourite “The Range Food Market” in the Big Four Building. You will certainly leave the Stampede happy with your tummies full – we can guarantee you that!


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A cultural experience

It’s not all rides, food, and beer! For those who like to take in the culture, there is a lot for you to do and explore here.

Check out the Elbow River Camp where you’ll have the opportunity to tour 26 tipis, shop local artisans, try traditional bannock, and enjoy the traditions and customs of the First Nations Peoples of Treaty 7, who have been a huge part of the Stampede since its birth in 1912.

You can also experience authentic western culture by perusing the Western Art Gallery, saying hello to the Stampede Royalty, and simply taking in all of the culture and rich history that lives within the grounds of the iconic Calgary Stampede!


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Learn more about the history of the Stampede here, and stay tuned to our page for daily updates and exciting guides on how to experience the 2019 Calgary Stampede!

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Kristy ArchibaldKristy Archibald

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