UPDATE: Expectations vs. Reality: A first-timer's trip to the Calgary Stampede

Jul 12 2018, 1:54 am

So I just got back from the Calgary Stampede.

It was the first time I had ever been, and after a long three days, I’d like to think that I’m something of an expert on the festivities.

… Who am I kidding, even three straight days on the grounds isn’t enough to experience all that the Stampede has to offer, but I tried to jam in everything that I possibly could.

Between the parade, the rodeo, the games, the food, the chuckwagons, the shows, and the animals, there’s a lot to check out around the Stampede Grounds, and I was lucky enough to take part in most of the main shows and events.

See also

I wrote out an article before I left laying out exactly what I thought the Calgary Stampede would be like, so I figured it would only make sense to follow-up on just how wrong (though occasionally, somehow right) I was about what the trip would be like.

From here on out my initial expectations will be shown in italics.

And no, people definitely do NOT call it CowTown on a regular basis, other than ironically.

Good to know.

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.

Yeup. That was basically right on the dot.

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.

I feel like the people who told me what to expect from the Calgary Stampede could have elaborated a little more on the exactly how much stuff actually takes place during the 10-day event. Everywhere you look there’s music playing, people drinking, riding, or playing various games. It’s all this weird organized anarchy — but extremely entertaining.

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 Stampede had a hint of PNE in it, but for the most part, it’s entirely its own beast.

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.

I didn’t manage to find the Prairie Oysters Balls (not gonna lie, I didn’t look too hard for them) but I did try the cheesy chicken hearts, ribs, brisket, pickle dog, cotton candy/cookie dough burrito thing (yes, really), and it was all pretty good.

Of course, it was all a little over-priced, as these things are, but I was amazed by the sheer amount of variety available throughout the grounds.

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.

It was hot, but I think that was more to do with the unforgiving sun than anything else.

The city was most definitely cranked to 11, people were most definitely drunk, but I do have to say that I was a little disappointed in the lack of cowboy gear — it was mostly just those free cowboy hats you get with 12 cases of beer.

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.

No ponchos spotted, but a lot of cut-off jeans, cowboy hat + t-shirt combos, and aforementioned cowbeer-hats.

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 I 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.

I enjoyed wearing a cowboy hat and boots; it made me feel a little less out of place, if that makes any sense. I probably still looked ridiculous, but the hat was great for the shade — maybe that’s why cowboys started wearing them in the first place? Who knows.

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.

Overall it was all good vibes throughout the grounds. There was one incident where a drunk guy got a little heated after I gave him a shove in Nashville North (he had shouldered his way past me and some friends) but other than that it was nothing but drunk excitement.

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.

Didn’t end up seeing the sidesaddle racing, unfortunately. The chuckwagons were great and waaaay faster than I’d thought, and the lambs calf roping event was fun because occasionally the cowboys missed their lasso and the little guy made it free.


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.

I ended up very tired, not all that sunburnt (thanks, cowboy hat), and probably a few pounds heavier than I was before I left, but all in all, I’d say it was a success.

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?)

The Stampede was all that I thought it would be and more, and even though I was there for three days in a row it still feels like there is more stuff that I could have seen, done, and experienced.

I would definitely recommend going if you’ve never been, because there really is nothing quite like the Calgary Stampede.

Oh, and it’s definitely Yahoo

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

See also
Chandler WalterChandler Walter

+ Listed
+ Stampede