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The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
July 6, 2001.
This month's Friday Feature gives you a taste of what is happening in Calgary for the next ten days. Who better to write about the Calgary Stampede than occasional contributor Cathy Bates, a born and bred Albertan who just happens to be living and working in Seoul, South Korea, right now.
The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth
By Cathy Bates
How befitting it is to write about the Calgary Stampede for this Friday Feature. As long as Craig gets this issue out on time, the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede begins today, Friday, July 6. Any Calgarian will tell you that the Calgary Stampede is "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth". For ten days in July, Calgary goes back in time to the days of the wild West as business people, kids and everyone in between trade in their shirts and ties for boots, Stetsons and wild Western shirts. Not much work gets done as everyone gets into "Stampede Mode". Walk into your favourite grocery store, bank or even a law firm and you will be greeted by someone in Western garb. Recognized as the world's premier rodeo, the Stampede draws over one million visitors every year to take in the midway, parade, chuckwagon races, free pancake breakfasts served from the famous Stampede caravan and, most of all, Calgary's Western hospitality and friendliness.
Back in 1912 Guy Weadick, a brash, young trick-roper and vaudevillian from Wyoming in the USA, enamoured with everything about the wild West, envisaged Calgary as the prime location for a week-long rodeo. Together with H.C. McMullen, a livestock agent for the Canadian Pacific Railway, they foresaw a cowboy championship and show that would honour the cowboys, ranchers and old-timers of the "Old West". Confident that their show would be a success, the pair approached local Calgary businessmen in an attempt to get at least $100 000 in financial backing. Weadick and McMullen gained the support of George Lane, Pat Burns, A.E. Cross and Archie Maclean, known today as "The Big 4" and for whom a building on the Stampede Grounds was erected to honour their major contribution to the Calgary Stampede. Today the Big 4 Building houses the Stampede casino, food fair and exhibits.
The first Calgary Stampede was held September 2-7, 1912. Featured was a parade attended by 80 000 Calgarians that included nearly 2000 Natives from Calgary and surrounding areas. Today the Stampede parade kicks off the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" with floats, Aboriginals in traditional dress, horses, and historical cars dating back to the 19th century -- all to pay homage to Calgary's Western roots and traditions. The entire downtown core is closed to traffic and businesses remain closed until noon while the parade takes downtown Calgary by storm. Even the night before people chain lawn chairs to parking signs to guarantee a good seat at the historical event that boasts Calgary's Western charm. Past estimates indicate that over 800 000 people attend the Calgary Stampede parade.
Weadick arranged for 200 head of Mexican steer, 200 bucking steer and wild horses to be brought in from the ranches around Calgary for the 17 championship rodeo events. The rodeo was much wilder than what we know today -- in the bucking bronco event horses were blindfolded because there were no chutes, and the last cowboy or cowgirl still on horseback was declared the winner. Prize purses of over $20 000 were offered to attract competitors. Contestants flocked from all over Canada and the United States to register in the Calgary Stampede, as prizes were quadruple that of any other competition in North America. Today the world-renowned Calgary Exhibition and Stampede Rodeo offers over $500 000 in prize money with saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and ladies barrel racing events.
The founding Stampede was an overwhelming success. Temporarily suspended during World War One, the Calgary Stampede came back like gang-busters in 1919. Originally set as a five-day event, the Calgary Stampede was extended to nine days in 1967 and to ten days in 1968.
The famous Rangeland Derby, otherwise known as the chuckwagon races (or "Chucks" to Calgarians), was first introduced in 1923. Back then, the first chuckwagon driver to cross the finish line, set up his tent canopy, and light his stove was declared the winner. Today, more than 75 years later, the Chucks are an integral part of the Stampede with the ultimate goal to be victorious in the $50 000 winner-take-all Rangeland Derby. The Rangeland Derby promises to have you on the edge of your seat as the Chucks careen around Stampede Park's "Half Mile of Hell". Spectators yell, scream and cheer on their favourite driver racing four horses in a chuckwagon, while outriders on horses follow closely behind. The starting gun signals the driver to carefully manoeuvre a figure eight around barrels before jostling onto the track to the finish line, with the outriders racing to keep up to complete the race within a specified time after the wagon. The victor of the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby is touted as the top chuckwagon racer on the planet.
The Rangeland Derby was not the only historical Stampede event originating in 1923. Jack Morton, a young chuckwagon driver, camped at the CPR train station in downtown Calgary where he cooked his breakfast on an old stove. As Jack cooked, cowboys and passers-by were cordially invited to join him. Here began the tradition of Calgary's friendly Stampede breakfast hospitality which continues to grow. Visitors and Calgarians alike are guaranteed to stumble upon Stampede breakfasts just passing by any street corner in downtown Calgary. Companies traditionally have a breakfast not only for staff, but to schmooze clients. Don't worry about having to pull out your wallet or not being invited because anyone is welcome to the many free breakfasts, adding to Calgary's already well-known friendliness and hospitality.
In keeping with Weadick's vision of Native heritage being a major part of the Calgary Stampede and Western culture, Native Indians play an integral role in the event every year. The Stampede Grounds house the Native Village to provide a place for Indians to stay on the grounds and to educate attendees about Native Indian customs. Traditionally the Indians have been granted free admission to the Stampede Grounds. However, in the 1960s the Stampede board chose to begin charging admission. In retaliation the Indians did a rain dance and it poured rain until the Stampede board agreed to admit them for free. They did another dance, and the sun shone again.
Even in the 21st century the Stampede espouses everything about Calgary's deeply-rooted Western traditions, yet successfully stays in tune with the modern era. Free concerts are held on the Coca-Cola stage at Stampede Park. Headliners this year are Collective Soul, Tea Party, Nickelback, The Wilkensons, Bif Naked, The Moffatts and Glass Tiger with Chilliwack (my personal favourite). So what if I have a hard time letting go of the '70s and '80s music eras! If country music is more to your liking, you can attend free concerts in Nashville North. This year you can see Jason McCoy, the Twain Twins (I highly doubt any relation to Shania), McQueen, Lisa Brokop and Farmer's Daughter, to name a few.
The midway is a myriad of rides, games, sideshows and contests where you can test your luck and break your bank account playing the many games of skill. Ride the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster. If you have the stomach for it, go on the tilt-a-whirl! Want to win a new house or a new car? Buy some tickets for the dream home or enter the many Kinsmen draws to win everything from cars and trucks to boats and motor homes. You can even buy a ticket to win a pot of gold!
Eat to your heart's content at the many food booths that serve everything from corn dogs (just thinking about them makes my mouth water) and fiddle sticks (ice cream dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts) to barbecue beef on a bun. Visit the exhibits in the Round-Up Centre that sell everything from K-Tel mops to food choppers. Take a peek at the Native art exhibit that captures Western Native culture. Visit Weadickville just inside the gates, a small town to honour the memory of Stampede founder Guy Weadick who died in 1953.
Not only is Stampede a haven for tourists, it is enshrined in the souls of Calgarians as an excuse to party for ten days straight, not to mention an excuse to throw away business attire for jeans and Western paraphernalia. Special beer gardens, casinos and jam-packed bars are all part of the Stampede culture. Daily parades throughout the downtown core and the Stampede Grounds featuring the Stampede Show Band and the Round Up Band add to the tradition of the Calgary Stampede.
Over one million people participate in some way or another in the Calgary Stampede, whether it be going down to the Grounds, to the parade, or "chomping their bits" at one of hundreds of stampede breakfasts throughout the city. Attendance at the Stampede Grounds surpassed one million for the first time in 1976, and in 2000 the Stampede beat its all-time attendance record with 1 218 851 people passing through the gates!
The Stampede is guaranteed to give Calgarians and tourists a toe-tappin', heel-kickin' good time in any area in which they choose to participate. Anything and everything goes with Western wear and everyone is encouraged to participate.
Guy Weadick remained with the Calgary Stampede for 20 years. To his credit, he turned the Calgary Stampede into a world-class premier rodeo event by offering the best prize money and inviting top rodeo performers. Weadick's vision of Western heritage and pride will live on and is still evident today, and he will always be fondly remembered as the founding father of the Calgary Stampede.
This year, The Calgary Stampede runs from July 6-15, with the parade kicking things off in downtown Calgary at 9:00 am sharp. It is guaranteed to live up to its coveted title as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
To all my friends in Calgary: enjoy the Stampede! This will be two years in a row that I will have missed it. I admit, the only time I am homesick is during Stampede and Christmas. Have a few "trads" for me!
== PREVIEW ==
On Sunday I'll profile Liona Boyd in our biography feature and Lions Bay in our geographical feature, list some Canadians born during the week, tell you about stuff that happened during this week in history, tell you about the Jacqueline Lemieux Award, and list the first and last (sorted alphabetically) ten places in Canada.
Sounds like Calgary is the place to be in the coming ten days. My thanks to Cathy for writing this guest column. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
== LINKS AND RESOURCES ==
FactsCanada.ca -- http://www.factscanada.ca
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