From the jacked-up prices on the fairgrounds to the excuse for Calgary grinding to a virtual halt for 10 days, The Calgary Stampede seems to have somehow lost it's original meaning and has become a huge, money making animal. Many Calgarians try to leave town, just to get some peace and quiet.
Unique Suggestions: It is worth going once if you've never been, and kids of all ages will love the midway. You can get cheaper midway tickets at all Calgary Safeway Stores for a limited time before Stampede. You can also save money by going on Family Day -- entrance is free if you get through the gate by 9:00 am.
If you have to go, at least check out the Indian Village. Albeit, these native people seem to be more on "display" than anything, but you get a chance to step into a real tipi, and talk to native elders who can tell you what it's really like to be a native Indian.
If you like animals, the agriculture displays are fairly interesting; you can see horses, cattle , pigs and other animals close-up. I enjoy the llama and alpaca presentations, plus don't miss out on the baby buffalo!
Fun Alternatives: Try going to some of the smaller rodeos in Alberta, and drop by the Bar U Ranch (see my Kananaskis page, under "off the beaten path" tips) to get a sense of Alberta's ranching history.
For something close to the city, The Millarville Rodeo is held in June. Call (403) 931-3411 for dates. Millarville is about 40 minutes south of Calgary, smack dab in ranching country. The annual Priddis and Millarville fair will be in it's 97th year in 2004 and is also a great alternative to the sprawling Stampede fairgrounds.
During Stampede, all of a sudden the drinks are more expensive, the cover charge is more, or if there wasn't cover charge before, there is now!!!
One of the best examples of this is Cowboys, which is considered "the place to be" during Stampede. Not only do they charge you $10 to get in (as opposed to the usual $5), you pay up to $10 for a drink, and have to tip well too if you want the waitresses to come back. Nevertheless, the line ups start as early aas 3:00 for the place that calls itself the most fun you can have with your boots on...I have been there many times, and I can tell you that statement is sometimes considered false advertising...
Unique Suggestions: Drink before you go if you plan on tying one on, or if you are just going to dance, get there early so you don't have to grease up the bouncers palms to avoid a lineup...
Fun Alternatives: Theres tonnes of bars outside of downtown that are lots of fun, or even if you go further down 17th Ave SW (still in the general vicinity) you can find some good places.
Don't do it!
Don't come to Calgary during the second week of July. The whole city wears boots and cowboy hats. They are crazy!! They watch grown men chase each other around in chuckwagons!! (photo courtesy of the Calgary Stampede website)
Unique Suggestions: Try and blend in. Wear an outlandish cowboy hat, jeans and cowboy boots. Drink beer all evening, sleep in and start again. Repeat for 10 days.
The Calgary Stampede, in my opinion. But you know, if you can't find a local rodeo outside the city, go to the Stampede and just avoid the obvious junk. Go to the rodeo and the chuckwagon races. They're great!
You will be compelled to buy a cowboy hat while out there. While I wasn't around during stampede, I did pick one up that was quite nice for a reasonable price. Be sure not to be swindled and don't impulsively buy something you are never going to use again, mine on the other hand it awesome!
Unique Suggestions: When you visit the stores be sure to check out the cheaper hats, if you are wearing one just for fun you can get one for between $25-50 that is of lesser quality but if its just for the trip go for it!
During Stampede, all of the business in the Victoria Park area come alive...many of the sales signs are taken off, and Cowboy hats you can get for $5 at Army and Navy are all of a sudden being sold at a kiosk for $35. There is no such thing as bartering in Canada (at least no where I have ever been) and so if you don't buy it, some other tourist will.
Unique Suggestions: If you wait until the last day, you can usually get the items for half price, they are trying to get rid of things by then, and they have had enough of the others come that they have quadrupled their profit margins. So, if you buy a cowboy hat the last day of Stampede, you will have a fresh one for the next year! Or, if you want to get into the spirit and suck up the costs, at least you had a good time wearing that chapeau...unless you lose it while trying to stay on the bucking bronco and the guy behind you runs off with it...:)
Fun Alternatives: Go to Wal Mart or Army and Navy...they have lots of stuff like that for much cheaper....
Ethical tourists should know the underpinning of the Calgary Stampede is a rodeo which exploits domestic livestock for entertainment and profit. Not unlike bull-fights, tame animals endure needless humiliation, catastrophic injury and death at rodeo events across the province of Alberta through the use of excoriating devices that encourage bucking, spurs and prodding and overcrowded chuckwagon racing tracks. Visit 'rodeo cruelty' on YouTube to see how very tough indeed it is to enjoy the true western heritage and hospitality of a beautiful city with this outdated vaudevillian circus happening on the grounds.
The Calgary Stampede is marketed as the biggest show on earth and it is a pretty big show, but to me it just seems like an oversized amusement park with a rodeo thrown in for good measure. This is probably just because i've gone to it too many times. the real reason to go to the stampede is because of the live perfromances. They almost always manage to wrangle a few good bands to play there every year. Check your FFW. Even though it is the city's biggest tourist trap and every hotel in the city is usually booked up like months in advance, if you are going to be here while it's on, i suggest you go, it's an interesting experience and worth seeing for the first time or if you're 7.
Unique Suggestions: Have fun! Be a kid again! and check out who's hitting the stage later, maybe it will be a band you've been waiting to see.
Fun Alternatives: um, well this sucker practically takes over the city while it runs so maybe head out to the mountains, get away for a while.
Head on down to Lammle's Western Wear and get yourself outfitted!!
For the first 10 days of July, why not get all decked out in your western duds and do some two stepping!?
Although the Calgary Stampede is probably the most over-rated event in the world, it is never the less, a great time!!!
There are tons of things to do, no matter what age you are! Rides, Food, Rodeo, Music, Shopping, and of course good ol' fashioned Stampede breakfasts on every corner!!!
As a Calgarian, I both love and hate this yearly event! I could do without the extra hundreds of thousands of cars on our already crazy buzy streets! But on the other side, what other city can you arrive hung over at work for 10 consecutive days??
What could be more fun than getting all dressed up in your western dud's and hitting the town? The people are definately the best part of the whole experience! Come to Calgary for some great hospitality and make sure you book early!!!
Unique Suggestions: The Calgary Stampede is a must! Even though it is a HUGE tourist trap and will end up costing you an arm & a leg!
If you are of drinking age, you must check out NASHVILLE NORTH (it's a huge tent/beer gardens with lots of live entertainment! Even if Country Music isn't your thing, you are guarenteed to have a great time!!)
Fun Alternatives: If the Stampede Grounds just prove to be a tad overwhelming, you can always hit the malls, museums, zoo or go hiking in beautiful Kananaskis Country!
EXPENSIVE - rediculously so. Now this is not very Calgarian of me, to boycot the Stampede, but I plain don't like it. The city streets and downtown bars are more interesting than the grounds themselves.
However, the fact that our entire town is willing to be hokey for over a week is embarrassing. You can spot the younger Calgary born because they will sound local but will be dressing as un-country as possible.
Unique Suggestions: See everything in the Stampede grounds - in one day.
Make sure you have sunblock, water and an umbrella, but carry as little as possible. It will rain or you will have heat stroke - prepare for both.
Fun Alternatives: DOWNTOWN Fiascos! Especially if you want to meet a bunch of crazy, fun (but drunk) people.