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.
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.