About This Festival
White hats, big belt buckles and bull-riding sound like a scene from the Wild West, but every July the Calgary Stampede takes over the city with the world’s largest rodeo. A celebration of the western way of life, the Stampede puts together 10 days of parades, musical performances, rodeo events, food and more for what they call The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
Giddy Up at the Calgary Stampede
Big things were happening in 1912, from The Titanic to the formation of the Republic of China. It was also the year of the first Calgary Stampede rodeo and parade. Guy Weadick was a New Yorker working as a cowboy and vaudeville entertainer in a popular traveling Wild West show. He had a vision to preserve the authentic culture of the Old West in a rodeo and exhibition of epic proportions, and the Stampede was born. Though the Calgary and District Agricultural Society had been holding a fair since 1886, it was Weadick who made the festival what it is today—a family-friendly event that drew more than 1.4 million attendees on its 100th anniversary.
Ready, Set, Stampede
Stampede Park is home to the 10-day festival and hosts everything from bareback bull riding and steer wrestling to amusement park rides and livestock shows. The parade is the official start to the Stampede with a procession of horses, mounted police, more than 150 floats and traditional Native American dance. Members from the First Nations have been participating in Calgary’s events since 1886, despite resistance from the Department of Indian Affairs. Hundreds of tribe members joined the inaugural Stampede, and the Native population has played a central role in the festivities ever since.
It wouldn’t be a rodeo without some competition. More than $1 million is doled out on the championship day, and each individual event champion takes home more than $100,000 in prize money. Weadick’s craziest idea is one of the Stampede’s most exciting events. The rangeland derby pits chuck wagons against one another in what’s nicknamed the Half Mile From Hell. Four horses, one rider and a tented wagon race three other teams around a track where a lot can go wrong—and it has (there have been fatalities for both riders and horses). The race is so popular that there’s a tarp auction for advertisers to put their name on the wagons (2012 earned more than $4 million).
The spirit of the Stampede doesn’t go away after the festival and parade; Calgary owes much of its identity to this famous rodeo, from its food to its dress code. Breakfast in Calgary always includes hot stacks of flapjacks, and the white cowboy hat, first adopted by the festival in the 1940s, can be seen year-round.