Thanks to long running soaps such as Dynasty and Dallas, I hold quite strong prejudices against the idea of a Western ‘getting-rich-quickly’ oil city. I never thought that I would take a liking to a place which is all about cattle and oil and intimidating skyscrapers. In my imagination, all that happens in such places are continuous dialogues between rich people who like to cheat and scam each other while they fumble around in intrigues about their weird family relations and discussing who-is-betraying-who.
So imagine my surprise when we arrived at Calgary, Alberta in the midst of the most important event of the year; the Calgary Stampede. Though the city is full of intimidating skyscrapers and cowboys and oil-dynasties, it has a friendly feel to it with lots of different areas to explore. Unlike Edmonton, Downtown Calgary is very compact and the buildings stand close to each other. Chinatown is just a stone throw away from the newest skyscraper and in the smack middle stands the Calgary Tower. Build in 1967, it was a dominating feature of the Calgary skyline, but today it is hidden away between major corporate buildings. From across the bridge on Centre St N there is a wonderful view of the entire Calgary Skyline.
But enough about Calgary. I didn’t come to marvel over the city structure. I came to experience the Calgary Stampede. So say ‘howdy boys!’
I doubt many people back home would know what a stampede is, so for those who did not grow up in the Wild West, here is a small definition or two from online resources.
- an impulsive headlong rush of startled cattle or horses
- headlong rush of a crowd: a stampede of shoppers
- any sudden large-scale movement or other action, such as a rush of people to support a candidate
- ( Western US ), ( Canadian ) a rodeo event featuring fairground and social elements
- to run away or cause to run away in a stampede
from Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition 2009
1828, from Mex.Sp. estampida, from Sp., “an uproar”, from estamper “to stamp, press, pound”, from Gmc. root of Eng. stamp (v.). The verb is from 1823. The political sense is first recorded 1846. As the name of an annual exhibition of cowboy skilld in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, it is attested from 1912.
from Online Etymology Dictionary, 2010
Though events relating to the life of the Alberta farmer has been taken place on the Victoria Park area since 1889, the first actual Calgary Stampede went off in 1912, after trick roper Guy Weadick convinced the Big Four to sponsor a competition that would celebrate the life of the Wild West. Though a huge success, the Stampede only performed that one year and didn’t return until 1919 when Calgary celebrated its returning WW1 soldiers at a Victory Stampede. Since then the Stampede grew in attendance as it merged with the Calgary Industrial Exhibition and became used as a background setting in several movies.
Today it is a mixture of a huge and busy amusement park, a shopping area, concert arenas, agricultural and industrial exhibitions and off course the central nerve; the Stampede Grandstand.
For days I have worried about buying tickets for the Rodeo. All through Banff and Bar U Ranch, my boyfriend has had to lay ears to my concern that I might miss this event. And here we are – at the entrance to the park. Finally, I am about to experience my first ever rodeo.
Unknown to the Stampede grounds, we end up at the shopping area where we walk through the wonders of bathing equipment, juice-makers and real cow rugs. It seems a Mecca for excess items. However, it is also a great place to look for cowboy hats, and having promised myself to get one, I excitedly drag my boyfriend in the direction of a shop which sells them. Now, at the Stampede it seems fashion to buy cheap cowboy hats made from straw, and you see them in the thousands; on the heads of people and in the shops and stands of the Stampede area as well as beyond. They are to the Stampede, what green is to St. Patrick’s Day. But dreaming of a real cowboy hat and secretly hoping to look like a 50’s movie star, I have no plan to get hooked on a souvenir hat. Instead I end up with a beautiful black woollen cowboy hat with a thin leather string. Oh my, I could step right in to a 50’s Western!
I felt a bit silly as I first took on my newly acquired cowboy hat, since I never before wore one. In fact, the only ones who do wear them where I come from are dancers or girls out on a stag night – and on such occasions, the cowboy hat is most often pink or with gold pallets. But after a little while and as I start feeling more and more a part of the Stampede crowd, I start appreciating the shadow on what has become a hot July day.
With tickets to the rodeo we head towards the Stampede Grandstand, eating a bit of amusement park fast food on the way. At the ground we are led in to the standing area. Though amazed by the Grandstand, the standing area is far from cleverly constructed. The area is placed behind, a fence, a scene, a clown and a long line of newspaper photographers. It seems more important that the poor standing spectator view entertainment at the stage than the actual events on the ground.
Pulling out my camera and an extra long lens, I start taking pictures of the cowboys while trying to avoid the fence, the scene, the clown and the long line of newspaper photographers. My results are for you to judge (pictures are at the bottom). The crowd is roaring and the atmosphere is great while one brave/clever/fortunate cowboy after the other tries to stay the magical 8 seconds on the pissed off horse. I wonder how anyone would ever make themselves get up on such a wild horse unless it was strictly necessary, and secretly celebrate that my boyfriend’s fascination for horses hasn’t led him to pursue a carrier in the rodeo. But no more time for thinking as yet another one bites the dust.
It’s horses, it’s leather, it’s sweat, it’s the Stampede and I am addicted!
Zofka, former city girl – newborn cowgirl