The Calgary Stampede is an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival held every July in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The ten-day event, which bills itself as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, attracts over one million visitors per year and features the world's largest rodeo, a parade, midway, stage shows, concerts, agricultural competitions, chuckwagon racing and First Nations exhibitions. Calgary takes on a party atmosphere during Stampede; residents don western wear and events held across the city include ever popular pancake breakfasts and barbecues.
The Stampede's roots are traced to 1886 when the Calgary and District Agricultural Society held its first fair. American promoter Guy Weadick launched the first rodeo in 1912 though the second was not held until 1919 when the Victory Stampede was organized to honour soldiers returning from World War I. A 1923 merger with the Calgary Industrial Exhibition created the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede and it has been an annual event since. Over two million people visit Stampede Park annually as events are held throughout the year.
With over $2 million in prizes, the Stampede is among the richest rodeos in the world and attracts top competitors from across North America.
The Program for 1912 Calgary Stampede featuring the Big 4: Burns, Lane, Cross, and McLean. The Calgary and District Agricultural Society was formed in 1884 to promote the town and encourage farmers and ranchers from eastern Canada to move west. The society held its first fair two years later, attracting a quarter of the town's 2,000 residents. By 1889, it had acquired land on the banks of the Elbow River to host the exhibitions but crop failures, poor weather and a declining economy resulted in the society ceasing operations in 1895. The land passed briefly to future Prime Minister R. B. Bennett who sold it to the city. Naming the area Victoria Park after Queen Victoria, the city leased the land to the newly formed Western Pacific Exhibition Company which introduced a new agricultural and industrial fair in 1898.
Calgary Exhibition and Stampede
Stampede in-field and the Stampede Showband on the stageThe Calgary Industrial Exhibition continued its annual fair but faced declining attendance into the 1920s. In 1922, it approached Weadick in the hopes he would join his Stampede with the fair and hold both in conjunction. Weadick agreed, and the union created the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. The combined event was first held in 1923, and Weadick encouraged the city's residents to dress in western clothes for the event and decorate their businesses in the spirit of the wild west. Civic leaders truly supported the event for the first time; Mayor George Webster followed the suggestion to dress western and allowed downtown roads to be closed for two hours each morning of the six-day event to accommodate street parties.The new sport of Chuckwagon racing was also introduced in 1923 and proved immediately popular. 138,950 people attended and the event earned a profit. Over 167,000 people attended in 1924 and the success guaranteed that the Stampede and Exhibition would be held together permanently.
The discovery of Leduc No. 1 in 1946 along with major oil reserves in the Turner Valley area ushered in a period of great growth and prosperity as Calgary was transformed from an agricultural community into the oil and gas capital of Canada. The city's population nearly doubled between 1949 and 1956, and Calgary's immigrant population not only embraced the Stampede, but encouraged their friends and family in their home towns to do the same. The 1950s represented the golden age of the Calgary Stampede.
Patsy Rodgers was the first Stampede Queen in 1946 and is seen here as the Parade Marshal in the 2008 Stampede ParadeAttendance records were broken nearly every year in the 1950s, and overall, attendance increased by 200,000 from 1949 to 1959. The growth necessitated expansion of the exhibition grounds at the same time. The 7,500 seat Stampede Corral was completed in 1950 as the largest indoor arena in Western Canada. The board of directors operated the Calgary Stampeders hockey team, which won the Western Hockey League championship in 1954 and helped establish the Corral as the centre of Calgary's sporting world. During Stampede, acts such as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and Louis Armstrong played the Corral, however the arena's poor acoustics were a frequent concern to organizers and patrons.
Attendance continued to grow throughout the 1960s and 1970s, topping 500,000 for the first time in 1962 and reaching 654,000 in 1966 prompting organizers to expand the event from six days to nine in 1967 and then to ten one year later. One million people attended for the first time in 1976. The park, meanwhile, continued to grow. The Round-Up Centre opened in 1979 as the new exhibition hall, and the Olympic Saddledome was completed in 1983. The Saddledome replaced the Corral as the city's top sporting arena, while both facilities hosted hockey and figure skating events at the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Stampede Grounds as seen from the Calgary Tower. The Saddledome is on the left, and the race track and grandstand in the distance to the right. Stampede Park is located southeast of downtown Calgary in the Beltline District. The park is serviced by Calgary Transit's light rail system as well as neighboring property owners who rent parking spaces during the 10 days of the festival. Permanent structures at the site include the Saddledome and Corral, The Big Four Building, The BMO Centre – a convention and exhibition facility, a casino, the Stampede Grandstand, the agriculture building, and a number of facilities that support the exhibition and livestock shows.
Events and Parade
Parade - Beginning shortly before 9AM on the first Friday, the parade serves as the official opening of Stampede. Each year features a different parade marshal, chosen to reflect the public's interests at that time. Politicians, athletes, actors and other dignitaries have led the event over the years. The event features dozens of marching bands, 170 floats and hundreds of horses with entrants from around the world, and combines western themes with modern. Cowboys, First Nations dancers, members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their red serges are joined by clowns, bands, political and business leaders. The first Stampede Parade in 1912 was attended by 75,000 people, greater than the city's population at the time. As many as 350,000 people attended the parade in 2009.
Weadick is credited with inventing the sport of Chuckwagon racing in 1923, inspired either by seeing a similar event in 1922 at the Gleichen Stampede or watching impromptu races as he grew up. As it was the first year the Exhibition and Stampede were held together, Weadick wanted to add a new and exciting event. He invited ranchers to enter their chuckwagons and crews to compete for a total of $275 in prize money.
Chuckwagon races are a popular attraction at the StampedeKnown at the Stampede as the Rangeland Derby, and nicknamed the "half-mile of hell", chuckwagon racing proved immediately popular, and quickly became the Stampede's largest attraction. While just six groups raced in 1923, today's Rangeland Derby consists of 36 teams competing for $1.15 million in prize money. Races are broadcast nationally by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
When the agricultural exhibition was first launched in 1886, Alberta was an overwhelmingly rural province. Today, agricultural producers make less than two percent of the province's population, but the exhibition remains an integral part of the Stampede. Nearly half of all visitors attend the 50 agricultural programs that are organized by more than 1,000 exhibitors. In addition to livestock auctions, exhibits and competitions, the Exhibition serves to educate the public about Alberta's ranching and agricultural heritage through events like Agrium Ag-tivity in the City.
Midway on the Stampede Grounds
The Stampede midway has been operated by Conklin Shows since 1976. The midway is unique within the Stampede, as it is the only aspect of the event operated on a for-profit basis. It is considered an essential component of the Stampede, but exists separate of the central western themes that dominate all other aspects of it. The midway opens on the Thursday night before Stampede opens and is known as "sneak-a-peek" night. In addition to the traditional rides and carnival games, the midway features two concert areas - the Coca-Cola Stage and Nashville North, which feature rock/pop and country music respectively, and draw acts from all over North America.
On July 16, 2010, a midway ride called the Scorpion collapsed at around 8:30 pm. One arm of the carnival ride was said to have collapsed, sending riders to the ground, leaving them with cuts and bruises. 10 were injured, with 6 where taken to hospital for further care.
The tradition of pancake breakfasts dates back to the 1923 Stampede when a chuckwagon driver by the name of Jack Morton invited passing citizens to join him for his morning meals. That act of hospitality grew over time and today, dozens of companies and community groups hold free pancake breakfasts across the city each day. The largest, by far, is the breakfast hosted at the Chinook Centre shopping mall. Four hundred volunteers are required to feed over 60,000 people who attend the one-day event that enjoyed its 50th anniversary in 2010. Other groups, such as the Calgary Stampede Caravan, feed as many as 120,000 people over the ten days of Stampede. The rising popularity of the barbecue grill in the 1960s and immigrants from the city's population boom at the time brought with it the growth of community and company barbecues throughout the city during Stampede.
First Nations peoples had been frequent participants of the Calgary Industrial Exhibition since it was first held in 1886, participating in parades, sporting events and entertaining spectators with native dances. By 1912 however, pressure from agents of the Department of Indian Affairs to suppress their historic traditions and to keep them on their farms nearly ended native participation at the Exhibition. Weadick hoped to include natives as a feature of his Stampede, but Indian Affairs refused, and asked the Duke of Connaught, Canada's Governor General to support their position. The Duke refused, and after Weadick gained the support of political contacts in Ottawa, including future Prime Minister R. B. Bennett, the path was cleared for native participation.
Animal advocacy groups have voiced concern over the Stampede and rodeos in general. The Stampede has countered that they protect the safety of animals, years go by without losses, and they cannot avoid all accidents. After every accident resulting in the death of a human or loss of an animal, the Stampede conducts a review which results in safety modifications.
In 1986, 12 horses died during the Stampede (most were euthanized because of injuries), making that year the worst for loss of stock. As a result, the Calgary Stampede implemented major safety changes to make collisions less likely. Between 1995 and 2005 there have been 21 horse deaths at the Calgary Stampede.
In 2009 the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun both refused to run an ad by the Vancouver Humane Society depicting alleged cruelty in the calf roping rodeo event. That same year, four animals were killed at the Stampede when three chuckwagon horses died and one steer had to be euthanized after incurring a spinal cord injury during the steer wrestling event.
In 2010, six horses died during competition at the Stampede, the majority due to stress-related injuries. The British League Against Cruel Sports encouraged British travel agencies to boycott the Stampede, and more than 50 members of the United Kingdom's Parliament signed a motion asking the Canadian government to improve the treatment of animals in the rodeo.