100th Stampede quite the ride

..and what a memorable ride it was

photo by toque & canoe


The truth is, we’re still recovering. This year’s Stampede centennial celebrations pretty much chewed us up and spit us out.

We mean this mostly in a good way. Minus the chronic fatigue from too little sleep. Minus the West Coast Trail-worthy blisters on our heels from trotting around the city in cowboy boots.

And minus the soft-tissue damage to my foot when – during the sardine-packed Stampede Roundup party at Fort Calgary – a carousing urban cowboy fell backwards on top of me.

Every day of this record-breaking event – a celebration that saw 1.4 million visitors from around the world – held some kind of highlight.

The main event, of course, was the rodeo. From steer wrestling to barrel racing to bull riding – this is the equivalent of the cowboy Olympics.

Lucky for us, we got to hang out behind the rodeo chutes because when it comes to the Calgary Stampede? Well, it turns out this is where the action lives.

Seething anticipation hung heavy in the air among competing cowboys as they prepared to conquer powerful bulls and hope to God to hang on for that eternal ‘8 seconds of hell.’

Kinda hard to beat.

That said, we had fun traveling on a Stampede parade float along with international media – hailing from New York to Paris – and waving to enthusiastic onlookers dressed in ill-fitting Stetsons and shiny new cowboy boots.

We sampled our first prairie oysters which, if you don’t know, are fried bull testicles.

Otherwise known as cowboy caviar, this chewy little Stampede tradition left our stomachs (and imaginations) churning for hours.

We got to hear Calgary country western singer Bobby Wills perform possibly the sweetest rendition ever heard of George Strait’s “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls” at the historic Ranchmen’s Club during a Stampede lunch.

We took in a supremely cool behind-the-scenes tour of Stampede barns where we witnessed first hand the bond between a cowboy and his horse. “When you look into your horse’s eyes, he looks deep into your soul,” said Wetaskiwin, AB cowboy Rick Fraser on the topic. “We’re connected. There’s no separating us.”

And we traveled near and far to attend a whole range of Stampede events.

From the annual Liquid Courage fundraiser for military families in downtown’s gritty Royal Canadian Legion #1 where local band Sweet Potato brought down the house with a killer version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene –  to Alberta ranch country where we attended a pig roast while our children swam in a nearby creek and fished for minnows.

This year’s nightly Stampede Grandstand Show was something extraordinary. (Look out Cirque de Soleil is all we can say.)

The energy that poured off the stage struck just the right tone, especially when local singer Paul Brandt – his voice soft and thundering all at once – unleashed his popular hits Small Town, Albertabound and Shotgun. The show went into overdrive when it wrapped with the most impressive fireworks display the Stampede has seen in its 100 year history.

But the sold-out event’s most profound moment happened when world champion First Nations hoop dancer Dallas Arcand joined in on one of Brandt’s songs – descending impossibly from the skies on the back of a giant steel eagle and sending a collective shiver up the spines of thousands of onlookers.

Canada’s First Nations had a strong presence at this year’s centennial celebration. Which makes sense given they’ve been part of the Stampede since the get go – since 1912 when Stampede founder Guy Weadick insisted that the exhibition he envisioned would include Canada’s First Peoples.

“When Guy Weadick came up with the idea for the Stampede, he knew that without us, there was no frontier. We embarked on a partnership based on respect,” this year’s Indian Princess Amelia Crowshoe told us.

Crowshoe – who seemed to be everywhere all the time throughout the celebrations – says her family has been part of the Stampede’s Indian Village for five generations.

As for the term “Indian” princess – the young woman, who is a member of the Piikani-Blackfoot Nation – says she’s ok with the moniker.

“‘Indian Princess’ is a title and it was originally given with good intentions. The role gave me a chance to meet people from the around the world and to tell our story. The first thing I told people is that I’m First Nations and proud of it.”

centennial stampede indian princess amelia crowshoe / photo by toque & canoe

No question, meeting Amelia – an outstanding human being in every way – stands out as one of our very favourite centennial Stampede moments.

That’s the thing about the Stampede.

We’ve come through the 100th celebration with a deeper understanding of the event’s history, but each year gives us an opportunity to learn something new.

Admittedly, we’re “still recovering” but we like to think we’ve survived a boot camp of sorts.

In other words, expect us to return in 2013 and take that bull we all know as the Calgary Stampede by the horns.

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