Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Barely having recovered from the previous three days of hiking, I drove to Calgary on Monday morning to check out the Calgary Stampede - the biggest rodeo in the world & billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Parking well away from the centre of the city, I took the C-Train (light rail) to the showgrounds & busied myself looking around for a couple of hours at the various agricultural exhibits, multitudes of food stalls & just generally all the people in cowboy hats & boots. The whole city seems to go Stampede mad for ten days in July - I've never seen so much cowboy attire in one place.

The first big event of the day was the rodeo - there are a series of heats for the first eight days & then two days of finals. It was slightly larger than the only other rodeo I've been to - in Raetihi, central North Island, NZ. After a few of the crazies that participate in this sport by trying to sit on the top of a bucking animal for eight seconds had had their turns, the rain that had been threatening for a little while started. This quickly began to empty the seats in front of me & the rain just kept getting heavier.The thunder & lightning storm that followed was one of the best I have seen for many years - so close, loud & all round spectacular. I was lucky enough to be just enough under the roof as to not get too wet. After a enforced interval while the swimming pool drained to turn back into an arena & an injured horse was treated/euthanased behind a big black plastic sheet hastily held up by Stampede volunteers, the events were back on. There was bareback, bull riding, barrel racing (for the girls it would seem, although there was one woman trying to stay on a bucking horse), saddle bronc, steer wrestling & tie down roping. The last two, which were variations of catching an animal & getting it to the ground, seemed to have more apparent skill & some practical application. The funniest event was when three kids would try & rope a pony & one child would try to get on the pony while the other two tried to hold on to the rope. It was hilarious as a lot of the kids would end up getting dragged through the mud. All in all, the rodeo was three hours long & I spent a couple of hours exploring the rest of the showgrounds before the evening show. (I didn't take many photos as it was pretty dark & I've still only got the small camera...)

The evening program started off with the Chuckwagon Races. This basically consisted of a team of four horses pulling a slimmed down wagon (think Oregon Trail) with a couple of things in the back (a barrel & two long sticks from what I could make out) doing a figure of eight in front of the grandstand before racing around the entire racetrack (with four outriders on their own horses having to finish within 150 feet of their wagon). It was quite exciting to start with, but after nine heats of the same thing I started to grow a little tired of it. There were time penalties for all sorts of things (hitting other carts, knocking the figure of eight barrels over, dropping cargo, outriders being too slow & so on), so often the first cart across the line would not be the winning team.
After the racing, a 520 hp John Deere tractor towed the world's largest mobile outdoor stage in to place in front of the grandstand. At thirteen metres tall & weighing over one-hundred & thirty tonnes, this thing was sizeable to say the least. It is little surprise that it crept along the race track at 1.4 kilometres per hour. The show's theme was "World Party" & it started off with a horribly cheesy song that seemed to go on for ever about this so-called world party - the costumes worn by the hundred-odd performers were heavily African & Asia influenced & there were large pictures of acacia trees at sunset on African plains up on the screens. I found it slightly ironic that of the huge cast there was only one or two that were not of European descent. Once the cheesy start was over, the Ball of Death was wheeled out from the back of the stage & while a lot of singing & dancing was going on (with a more suitable & less-cheesy rock song playing) the first motorcycle stunt rider got inside the ball. I don't think I've ever seen the Ball of Death live, so I was suitably impressed as he rode all the way over the top safely. I was even more staggered as another & then another rider got in & they all started looping the ball simultaneously. With a fourth rider in there, it was neat to see three of the riders going around the inside of the ball pole-to-pole while the fourth rider was riding around the equator & they didn't crash once. At the same time there also a few guys doing supermans & back-flips off a jump set up behind the ball. It was difficult to capture a good photograph - so you'll just have to believe me about the third & fourth bikes being in there.
More singing & dancing later - all the kids were pretty cute & really well choreographed - it was time for the big fireworks finale, which was very impressive. For most of the big fireworks displays I've seen recently & remember (July 4 in San Diego & New Year's in Sydney [that one is going back a while]), one is quite some distance from the launching area of the fireworks. Here the fireworks were set off from the infield of the racetrack & as they were so close & so loud I really quite enjoyed it.

With the show finishing a bit later than I expected, it was back on the C-Train to the suburbs & the hour long drive back to Canmore finishing at 1.30 am - I was slightly tired at work yesterday.
It was a good day out though, & I'm glad to have seen the Stampede. Having said that, I'm not sure it lived up to its claim - the Sydney Royal Easter Show is a much better agricultural show & remember enjoying it much more when I went a couple of years ago. As a stage spectacle, I'd easily keep going back to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo - it is fantastic; on the other hand, I have no pressing desire to see the Stampede again.


  1. Interesting to read something of the local 'culture' for a change from the outdoor pursuits.

  2. The local culture in Canmore is outdoor pursuits! In Calgary things are a little different.