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CALGARY STAMPEDE
PARADE, RODEO AND CHUCKWAGON RACES

Story and photos by

Bucking broncos. Free pancake breakfasts. Cowboys and Indians. Dazzling grandstand shows and fireworks. It's no surprise that the Calgary Stampede is called "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth," especially when you add midway rides, live music, agricultural shows, chuckwagon racing and free kids' activities.

Saddle bronc riding
Saddle bronc riding
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Alberta's Calgary Stampede has drawn visitors annually since it began in 1912. This year is no exception, with the Stampede Parade launching ten days of special events. Upcoming Calgary Stampede dates are July 6 to 15, 2018 and July 5 to 14, 2019.

Stampede parade

A two-hour parade (date: July 6) kicks off the Stampede, with marching bands, horse-drawn wagons and multi-cultural floats. It features more than 700 horses and First Nations people wearing splendid regalia.

Even the most inhibited visitors soon find themselves caught up by the wide-open western friendliness. With more than 400,000 people lining the streets, some families arrive as early as 5:30 am to get a good spot for viewing the Stampede parade.

Calgarians are cheerful and outgoing, eager to meet visitors and share with them the excitement of the Stampede. They wear cowboy hats and boots, square dance in the streets and join visitors in the 137-acre Stampede Park to continue their fun.

Pancake breakfasts

Each Stampede day begins with free pancakes, bacon and sausages served chuckwagon-style at city shopping malls. Store owners and employees, wearing aprons and white cowboy hats, cook pancakes on large grills and serve coffee and juice from covered wagons.

Save room for the midway foods, which include deep-fried sushi, cheesies, bacon donut cheeseburgers and Reese's peanut butter cups. For adult dining, check out the Triple B barbecue after 6 pm and the Wine Garden (location: Western Oasis).

On Family Day (date: July 9) and Kids' Day (date: July 12) Stampede volunteers serve pancakes to 20,000 people (location: Grandstand Courtyard). Free music, petting zoos, face painting and parades entertain people while they wait for their pancake breakfasts.

Riders and horses exit chutes for steer wrestling.
Riders and horses exit chutes for steer wrestling.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll
Cowboy and horse team for calf roping.
Cowboy and horse team for calf roping.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Rodeo events

Exuberant spectators fill the grandstand to watch the rodeo every afternoon. In the tournament-style rodeo, twenty top competitors compete for $2 million in prize money in six rodeo events: bareback, bull riding, ladies barrel racing, saddle bronc, steer wrestling and tie-down roping. In addition, novices compete in rodeo events like steer riding and kids vie for top spot in wild pony racing.

Chutes burst open. Bucking broncs cannonball out, bouncing and jolting their riders. Clowns distract enraged, snorting bulls while fallen cowboys make a hasty exit.

Invited rodeo participants include current and past world champions. Even they have trouble staying mounted on a bucking bull for the required eight seconds.

Cowboys wrestle steers to the ground in seconds. A cowboy and his horse work together to rope a calf. The cowboy lassoes the calf then jumps off his horse to tie the calf's feet with a rope that he holds with his teeth. The horse pulls gently, keeping the rope taut.

Chuckwagon racing

Every night (start time: 7:45 pm), the Evening Show begins with the GMC Rangeland Derby's nine chuckwagon races. Each chuckwagon has a driver, two teams of horses and four outriders. One outrider holds the two lead horses, while waiting for the starting signal. Another outrider holds the reins of his horse with his teeth, while picking up an 80-pound box containing the cook's stove and equipment.

Chuckwagons race around track.
Chuckwagons race around track.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

When the gun sounds, outriders throw the boxes into the chuckwagons and then jump on their horses. The chuckwagons make a figure eight before racing down the track. Horses frequently fall or get tangled in harnesses during the rush to begin.

Thundering hooves raise dust as riders and horses, with all the fury of Ben Hur, strain to reach the finish line in less than two minutes. The crowd screams with excitement. It's no wonder, because prizes for chuckwagon races total more than $1 million!

Agricultural shows

The 400 horses and 60 bulls in the rodeo come from the Stampede's 22,000-acre ranch near Hanna in east-central Alberta. The Calgary Stampede also showcases tamer animal exhibits, ranging from beef cattle and miniature donkeys to sheep and stock dogs.

There are competitions for blacksmiths and auctioneers, as well as vintage tractor pulls. In the Grain Academy, visitors learn about the history of grain, from farming grain in the prairies to transporting it and creating breads, cereals and other foods.

Live entertainment

The Calgary Stampede is more than an agricultural and cowboy show. In the city of Calgary, bars and pubs set up stages and beer tents in their parking lots for musical performances.

Free performances at the Coca-Cola Stage include the Calgary Stampede Showband, marching bands, hoop dancers, magic shows and street dancers. You can buy tickets for concerts by big-name stars, such as Lady Antebellum, and other popular groups performing on the Saddledome stage, as well as country music performers at the Nashville North stage.

Midway rides

Fireworks after grandstand show
Fireworks after grandstand show
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

At the midway, visitors find 35 rides (26 for children at the kids' midway). Main midway rides include the swing tower, mega drop, spinning coaster and the giant wheel (the largest portable Ferris wheel in North America). Buy a Midway Express Action Pass to save time waiting in line.

The WestJet Skyride runs across Stampede Park. In addition to the neon-lit amusement rides, games entice stampede visitors to win giant stuffed animals.

Grandstand show

Every night, after the chuckwagon races, the largest mobile stage in the world (weighing 300,000 pounds) is moved from the track oval to the racetrack to dock with the main stage.

The Grandstand Show stars 400 singers, dancers and musicians. As the grand finale, brilliant fireworks fill the sky.

Kids' activities

Besides the Kids' Midway, families will find lots of things for children to see and do. Buckaroos has a play area for toddlers, face painting, button making, a car racetrack and dance parties.

At The Steps, little kids can see magicians and other performers. Families can also pick up free tickets to see the Dog Bowl Show (location: Big Four Building).

Arts and crafts

Western Oasis in the BMO Centre has a Western Art Auction, a Photographer's Corner and a Western Art Gallery.

A Dueling Chef's Competition and a cook-off between the Calgary Police Service and the Calgary Fire Department attract foodies.

First Nations horseman
First Nations horseman
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll
Tepees at Indian Village
Tepees at Indian Village
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll
First Nations women dancers
First Nations women dancers
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Indian Village

Colorful tepees highlight the Indian Village in ENMAX Park where Treaty 7 nations demonstrate skills like meat cutting, drying jerky and pemmican, beadwork, baking bannock and making clothing from animal hides.

Visitors are welcome to ask questions about First Nations culture, look at regalia displayed inside tepees and taste traditional foods, including bannock and fry bread.

There are daily pow-wows, First Nations song and dance competitions, tepee-raising contests and horsemanship displays. Especially interesting are the hoop dancers whose movements mimic various animals.

Cowboy fashions

Traditional Stampede clothing consists of denim blue jeans, leather belts with big buckles and plaid shirts. The key symbol of Calgary is a white Smithbilt hat (given as a gift to every visiting celebrity, sports star, Canadian prime minister and U.S. president).

Footwear consists of cowboy boots, made by the Alberta Boot Company. The Calgary-based company manufactures boots for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as well as custom-made western boots from cowhide, rattlesnake, python, alligator and other hides.

You can buy cowboy hats and other western clothing at the airport gift shop and the Stampede Store.

Calgary Stampede tickets

In addition to general park admission at Calgary Stampede entrances, visitors can buy standing room tickets for the rodeo and evening shows, at the grandstand, 1.5 hours prior to each event. To buy tickets on-line or order by phone, call toll-free 1 (800) 661-1767.

Rodeo, chuckwagon race and Grandstand Show tickets, purchased in advance, include entrance to Stampede Park. The best deals are packages that include afternoon rodeo tickets, reserved evening show tickets for the chuckwagon races and Grandstand Stage Show, gate entry, Skyride tickets, souvenir programs, food vouchers and shopping discounts.

Download a Calgary Stampede mobile app to help you organize the attractions and events according to your personal schedule and interests.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Calgary Stampede: www.calgarystampede.com

Calgary information and accommodations: www.tourismcalgary.com

Other things to see and do in Alberta:

K-Days and Taste of Edmonton Festivals Combine Food and Entertainment