Sunday, July 09, 2006


Yer Calgary Stampede Primer
Having grown up in Western Canada, I just assumed that everybody knew about the Calgary Stampede, but after a conversation with Mint Sharpie and Barbara W on jian.ca, I realised that wasn't the case. And as we are now in the third day of ten days of debauchery and yahooing known as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, I thought I'd better give a little lesson.
Prior to moving here, I used to roll my eyes at the idea of the Stampede. I mean, come on, cowboy culture, and worse - people pretending to be cowboys for 10 days - is just so cornball and tacky. But I have to admit I have been won over by the spirit of Stampede. Yes, of course there is an emormous midway, and free concerts and million dollar rodeo and chuckwagon races, but the Stampede spirit takes over the entire city, not just the Stampede grounds.
Any morning during Stampede, you can wander down to one of dozens of street corners or parking lots and partake of a free chuckwagon breakfast - eggs, pancake, sausages, the works. Yesterday Chinook Centre mall hosted a breakfast for 50,000 people. Not my style! Waaaaaay too many people, but there are also dozens of much smaller ones to enjoy. You can eat for free for 10 days if you don't mind pancakes every day.
People play hard during Stampede. The journalist Catherine Ford once described Stampede as the time when you are expected to drink before 8 in the morning and still put in a full day's work. And you do.
The Calgary Stampede has a long and illustrious history. It was established in 1912 and shows no sign of retiring. In fact this year the rodeo prize was increased to a million dollars. And yes there are a lot of wannabe cowboys slouching around town, but there are also lots of real cowboys. This part of the country is, after all, ranch land. It is neither cornball nor fake to celebrate that fact.
Despite the fact that I've stayed away from the Stampede grounds for the past couple of years, I've developed a respect and a fondness for this venerable institution.
Yes, the bands at the Coca Cola stage suck this year (more on this another day), and yes, one gets tired of seeing cowboy couture, but my god, those Chuckwagon races! They are possibly the most exciting sport you will ever witness. They are intricate and lightning fast and complicated and the polar opposite of soccer. If you ever get a chance to go to Stampede, you have to see the chucks. You will never be the same again.
But here's my favourite Stampede story:

Every year the whole thing kicks off with a parade, which I never attend, as I hate parades. This year there were estimated to be 300,000 people in attendance at the parade. Again I cry "waaaaaaay too many people".
But I digress. Every year some person in the news is chosen to be the parade marshall. In the past, they've had Pierre Trudeau, Marc Garneau (astronaut), Christopher Reeves, Catrina Lemay Doane (gold medal Olympian). Who do you suppose were the parade marshalls this year?
Sara Renner and Bjornar Hakensmoen.
Who, you ask?

Sara Renner was the Canadian Olympian who won a silver medal in the cross country relay in this year's Olympic games, and Bjornar Hakensmoen was the Norwegian coach who raced onto the track to hand Renner a ski pole after hers broke, allowing her to finish silver and pushing the Norwegian team back to fourth place.
That, in my opinion, sums up the heart of Stampede spirit. It's not about the flashiest or the biggest or the loudest (although there is plenty of that); it's about the people and events that capture our imaginations and our hearts.

20 comments:

Barbara said...

That is a very comprehesive explanation of the stampede. Thanks for the links.
You did not list bacon on the breakfast menu... Is there any bacon? Not back bacon... real bacon (maybe with maple flavour).
And real cowboys also with maple flavour. Ok that's optional.

Ben Heller said...

Is that Norwegian bloke looking for citizenship because he daren't set foot in his own country after giving away a medal ?

I could eat free pancakes for ten days easily.

Sounds like a good show Barbara.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

No, Barbara W, I have never seen bacon served at a Stampede breaky. Sausages are probably much more portable. Maple-flavoured cowboys, on the other hand, something I have not considered but ...

Actually, Ben, he claims that this is simply the Norwegian way - that's it's all about the sportsmanship. He and his wife are getting 3 weeks of free travel throughout Alberta after the Stampede, so I guess fair play does pay off in the end.
Come to Calgary and I will personally guarantee you all the pancakes you can eat!

Leazwell said...

Wow, Ben Hur wild west style!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Most of the cowboys are clean-shaven, Leazwell, but other than that, that's pretty much the concept behind the chuckwagon races. You should come up to see them sometime!

She's Crafty said...

I have a little experience with what happens to a town during these "cowboy" events, although on a much smaller scale. I live in a little town called Cloverdale also know as the home of Smallville, where the film the TV show (and recently a Danny Devito & Matthew Broderick movie called "Deck the Halls" - has yet to be released).
Every year there is the Cloverdale Rodeo which I have vehemently avoided for more than 9 years,until this year. I went so that my daughter could see the animals and we could eat mini donuts. And yes there is a parade which I thought we could watch from the balcony of my apartment but it was one block up. There are always too many people. They come from everywhere for 3 days?! As long as they are having a good time right.
The only GREAT thing, in my personal opinion, that ever happened on the fairgrounds at the Raceway was LOLLAPALOZA 1994 - Screaming Buddha w/ Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day and more. The ground still shakes everytime I hear "Sabotage"!

Allison said...

Growing up in what you Westerners call 'the East', I really have paid no attention to the Stampede, I knew it existed, but really did not know what it was about. I think thats awesome about the parade and having the Norwegian couch share in the glory. If I'm ever in Calgary I just may have to go...except I really don't like crowds, but your story has kind of won me over :)

Alana said...

I remember going to the Manitoba Stampede about 8 or 9 years ago, it was the first time I ever saw Paul Brandt perform live...ah, memories. The Calgary Stampede is much, much better though!

And I'm with BarbW on the maple flavoured cowboys! That should be mandatory!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

mmmmm mini doughnuts......
Lucky you, She's Crafty - having a Lollapalooza right there - how awesome! Actually the lineup for it looks really good this year too - Falming Lips, Sonic Youth, Wilco (just saw them myself!, Dresden Dolls, Feist, Stars, New Pornographers, Violent Femmes, Death Cab... now I want to go!

I love the story behind this year's parade marshalls, Allison. If you came to the Stampede, I would whisk you through the crowds to the important stuff like the chucks.

Alana, is that the stampede that's in Morris? That's a pretty well-known one, I think. Most of these cowboys do the rodeo circuit.
And speaking of shows, oddly enough, the show I would most consider seeing at Stampede this year is a country band. But that's a teaser for another post.

Barbara said...

Are you gonna watch George S. on ABC's The One this summer? :-)

phlegmfatale said...

I LOVE this story - isn't it gratifying to be won over from an eye-rolling state to one of genuine respect by the sincerity and veracity of the event's participants? Celebration indeed. Sounds like my kinda thing. Tell ya what - if I hit the big time in the next 11 months, i'll come up and join you for the next one - I think that must be a splendid experience!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Barbara W - I would rather stick hot pokers in my eyes than watch The One (or any other "talent" show), regardless of who is hosting.

I am indeed a convert, PF. And I will hold you to that. If you find yourself here for Stampede next year, I'm taking you to the chuckwagon races. I have a feeling you'd enjoy those.

Maureen said...

I've been through Calgary so many times, but never at Stampede time. Dammit! Another thing on my "to do before I die" list, haha.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Maureen, before you die (and hopefully that gives a lot of leeway) you have to come to Calgary for Stampede. I'll show you some stuff and then I think I'll just let you go wild hahaha.

Maureen said...

What? You won't go wild with me? Oh ya, need someone to pick up the pieces later, right??

Barbara Bruederlin said...

okay okay, I'll go wild with you, Maureen, but I have to be in bed by 11:30. That's enough time to go wild, right?

michelle said...

The only thing I know about the Calgary Stampede is that there's been a lot of buzz amongst the PETA peeps that it's cruel or something.

Hell, sounds like a great time to me... but is there any credence to what the animaloverz say?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

There is some truth to that, Michelle. Not in the way the animals are treated; they are treated very well. But these are dangerous sports. People and horses have been killed in the chuckwagon races in the past.

Actually this year a horse had a heart attack during one of the races. It's sad. But it's still exciting. I am a hypocrit.

Will said...

A nice dose of Canadian history ... and something I was unaware of. Canada is just much cooler than America.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You have some pretty awesomely cool individuals in America, though. I'm looking at you, Will.