It's party time every July when the Calgary Stampede hits town, attracting more than one million visitors who come to experience not only one of the largest rodeo shows in the world but everything that goes with this huge, annual event.
While the daily rodeo show is the heart of this ten-day bonanza, Calgary's Stampede Grounds also host stage shows, agricultural competitions, music concerts, chuck wagon races and First Nation exhibitions every day, ensuring the festival appeals to a wide cross-section of people. In downtown Calgary there are free events and activities every day of the Stampede, including pancake breakfasts, square dancing and country music.
Everyone is encouraged to join in the Western theme of the Calgary Stampede, including office workers, who can be seen wearing checked shirts, Stetsons and cowboy boots for the duration of the festival.
Aimed at celebrating Calgary and Alberta's western culture and heritage, the Calgary Stampede originated in 1912 when trick roper Guy Weadick's idea for a world-class rodeo competition won support from four prosperous southern Alberta ranchers.
A few years later it became an annual event and started to attract large numbers of locals and visitors, eventually growing into the festival it is today. It is a not-for-profit community event, supported by volunteers and all revenue is invested back into the Stampede and into its associated youth and agricultural programmes.
If you're a rodeo fan or want to experience this spectacle for the first time you need to buy a ticket for one of the afternoon grandstand shows either in advance, if you want a seat, or on the day from inside the festival grounds, when there may be standing room only. An advance ticket to a rodeo or evening show, which costs from about CN$25, also admits you to the Stampede Grounds.
The afternoon rodeo lasts for about three hours and includes novice and experienced bareback bronco, saddle bronco, bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping and ladies barrel racing. If the weather is hot, as it was when I went, you need plenty to drink, a hat, sunglasses and sun lotion, as the less expensive seats are in the uncovered section of the stadium.
A First Nations man in the Calgary Stampede Parade
Separate tickets are also required for the evening show which includes chuck-wagon racing, a stage show and a fireworks display.
Almost 200 horses take part in the Calgary Stampede parade downtown on the first day of the event and many more participate in the rodeo and chuck-wagon events. The organisers seem to be vigilant about animal welfare, including that of the steers and bulls that are also involved in the rodeo show. You can read more about this aspect of the Stampede on the organisers' website.
The Stampede Grounds themselves take on the feel of a massive country fair with a plethora of food and Western clothing stalls, death-defying fairground rides, dare-devil stunt motorbike riders and livestock barns where you can see beautifully-groomed heavy horses, miniature donkeys, sheep, pigs and cows, and watch demonstrations of milking, sheep-shearing and dog agility.
For the children there is a kids' zone with age-appropriate rides and games, and daily 'My Little Pony' and 'Dora the Explorer' shows.
Areas where alcohol is served are contained and strictly age controlled, especially before 6pm, to ensure that everyone has a good time at the Calgary Stampede.
Entrance to the Stampede Grounds costs about CN$18 per adult, CN$9 for a child. There are various packages available and also special days, such as Suncor Family Day when there is free admission for people arriving between 6am and 9am, Western Heritage Day with free all day admission for seniors aged 65 and over, and BMO Kid's Day when there is free admission for children aged 12 and under from 7am to 9am.
The easiest way to reach the Calgary Stampede Grounds is by C-Train (Victoria Park/Stampede or Erlton/Stampede stops) and there is ample parking near the show ground.