Expectations vs. Reality: A first-timer's experience at the Calgary Stampede

Jul 4 2018, 4:11 am

I’ve never been to the Calgary Stampede.

If that wasn’t glaringly obvious from the headline and all, you should probably know it right off the top.

I just landed in Calgary, and I am one day away from watching the Stampede parade wind its way through these Albertan streets.

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It’s that parade that kicks off 10 days straight of rodeo events, amusement rides, cold drinks, deep-fried everything, and a city-wide party that seems too big to even imagine.

I’m on a media trip courtesy of GMC (btw thanks, GMC) to experience my first-ever Stampede, and I have no idea what to expect.

Scratch that, I have some idea of what to expect… if I didn’t, then this rambling article wouldn’t really be possible, would it?

Basically, this is an exercise in finding out just how wrong (or right) I was about what is in store for me in CowTown.

Side-note: Do people seriously call it CowTown?

Guess we’ll find out.

First thoughts

I’ve heard that the Calgary Stampede is a debaucherous mix of drinking, dancing, eating, and rodeo-ing that has not – and cannot be – recreated anywhere other than Calgary, Alberta.

I mean, come on. Just the title, “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”, brings with it some high expectations, which have only been raised by all the people I’ve talked to who say that I’m going to have a blast.

Jury’s still out, Calgary Stampede — mostly because it, y’know, hasn’t started yet.

I’ve been to music festivals, I’ve been to Vancouver’s PNE, and I’ve been to more than my fair share of rowdy nights at the bar. The Calgary Stampede is apparently all of that and more, smashed together into one giant playground of Calgarian celebration… so that’s the expectation I’m going in with.

The food

Let’s just say that I’m heading into this thing with a promise to the Daily Hive Food Editor (who also happens to be my desk neighbour) that I’m going to try tasting just about everything I can get my hands on while I’m there. Yes, even that. No, no, probably not that — though we’ll see how I’m feeling after a few drinks.

The atmosphere

I heard from someone that the Stampede Grounds are generally about 5°C hotter than anywhere else in Calgary at any given time, and I’m wondering if that’s more to do with the immense crowds or just the way the sun hits that particular geographic location.

Either way, I’m expecting a city cranked to 11, a scene straight out of a spaghetti Western, and drunk people as far as the eye can see.

The outfits

I love the classic cowboy look; The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly was one of my favourite movies growing up. I know that there aren’t going to be many Clint Eastwoods walking about the Stampede grounds in ponchos while I’m there, but I’m holding out some small measure of hope.

I’m sure that, instead, it’ll be mostly cowboy hats, plaid shirts, and denim jeans… and apparently I’m getting outfitted at Lammle’s with a real, genuine cowboy hat and boots combo.

Full Disclosure: I’m a 24-year-old half-Japanese dude, and the one time I ever dressed up as a cowboy for Halloween even knew it looked ridiculous.

We’ll see how things turn out, though my overall appearance will probably err more on the side of Ugly and Bad than somehow looking Good.

The people

I recently interviewed a divorce expert on the fact that inquiries at her company, Fairway Divorce Solutions, jump by up by 50% during and after the Calgary Stampede (yes, really), and I remember her talking about how the Stampede is really a time for everyone in the city to come together, let loose, and destress from the “workaholic” lifestyle seen in the city.

It sounds like people will be looking to have a good time, which will hopefully result in enthusiastic acceptance of some kid from Vancouver. Only time will tell.

The rodeo

I can’t say I’ve ever seen a rodeo in person, but I’ve watched them on TV before and done a seriously pitiful job of riding a mechanical bull this one time.

I hear that the chuckwagons are a can’t-miss, and I’m excited to see the sidesaddle racing because whaaat? Though I do feel kind of bad for those little lambs that get all tied up.


I’m excited, a little nervous, and extremely curious to see how this trip will all play out.

I expect to return home somewhat sunburnt, quite tired, and completely full of first-hand, Calgary Stampede experience — along with far too much deep-fried goodness.

Obviously I can’t write up the Reality portion of this article without actually experiencing the Stampede, so that’ll be coming at a later, more hungover date.

Until then, I’ll be on the Stampede Grounds from Friday, July 6 to Sunday, July 8, so if you happen to see a bearded, Asian cowboy with a media pass, feel free to say hi and buy that (probably sweaty) guy a beer.


(Or is it Ya-Hoo?)

Disclaimer: Travel and accommodation are provided by GMC. All views and opinions are those of the author.

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Chandler WalterChandler Walter

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