The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth… For realz yo

By Veronika Janik

Over 100 years ago, Calgary hosted the first Calgary Exhibition. In 1912, Guy Weadick set out to create the biggest, most extravagant Wild West Cowboy Show that would surpass even Buffalo Bill. What Weadick didn’t anticipate was that this show would continue for over 95 years and would become recognized world-wide as a true celebration of Western culture.

Originally the Calgary Exhibition was a tradeshow to showcase various agricultural products, while simultaneously creating a gathering point for urbanites and rural communities. In 1923, Weadick’s Stampede and the Exhibition morphed to form what we have all come to know and love as the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede.

Although the event originated in a time when the rural economy was booming, the general idea of the Stampede remains present in Calgary’s mainly commercial society.

“It’s about preserving and promoting our western heritage and values,” says Senior Manager of Corporate Development for the Calgary Stampede, Paul Rosenberg.

Among others, these small-town values include being able to do business on a handshake, helping people when they need help, and honoring your neighbors. In addition, the Stampede emphasizes the fact that agriculture is a huge part of business in the province of Alberta.

“The Stampede is absolutely as beneficial today as it was 100 years ago,” says Rosenberg.

“It’s a different type of business. The beef breeder of today is looking for international buyers compared to breeders in the previous economy, but it’s still big business,” he adds.

Nonetheless, the Stampede has undergone some big changes since the early 1900’s. Originally a six day event, and the main focus was on the tradeshow and the rodeo. In 1967, it become a 10 day extravaganza, and as years went by, the Stampede began incorporating the midway and the free entertainment presented in various areas of the park such as the Coca-Cola Stage.

During its 10 days, the Stampede receives a lot of leeway from local businesses, which Rosenberg considers very fortunate.

“We have a lot of what I like to call forgiveness from the business community, so if we said we were going to add another week, businesses might sit back and begin questioning the impact of this,” informs Rosenberg.

With over 1,000,000 visitors each year, the Calgary Stampede not only transforms downtown Calgary, but livens up the entire city. Those who have grown up waiting for those fateful July days have come to associate the Stampede with a sense of pride, while newcomers are encouraged to participate and learn about what goes on.

“One of the things we see is a lot of participation in the city at all different kinds of levels, and we want to encourage that,” says Rosenberg.

“Ultimately, it’s about spreading the idea and people having fun. A festival should permeate the city, and should be about food, music, and friendship.”

Although the verb “stampeding” covers virtually anything from Stampede breakfasts to Stampede block parties, the actual grounds have a lot to offer for all age groups. Recently, the organizers of the Stampede placed a large emphasis on making sure that a trip down to the park can be as fulfilling for an eight year old as it is for an 80-year-old.

“We program the park for everybody. Each year we program against the population and age of the city,” says Rosenberg.

“A 23-year-old may like something and dislike others but when that 23-year-old is 33 and comes back, I am fairly confident they will like those things that they didn’t pay much attention to in previous year,” he adds.

For those individuals who can only afford to head down to the grounds once or twice, Rosenberg suggests three must-see events for all local or international patrons.

The first is the world-renown Calgary Stampede Rodeo. This rodeo is the first $1,000,000 regular season professional rodeo and contains six major events including saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, barrel racing, tie-down roping, and steer wrestling.

“The rodeo is at the core of what we do and it’s what started it all in 1912,” says Rosenberg. “You don’t need to be a rodeo fan you just need to be an entertainment fan.”

Second on the list is the chuckwagon races. Each evening, nine heats of four wagons and 16 outriders compete in the GMC Rangeland Derby, while stampeders sit back and bet on winners. This homegrown event, which was created in Calgary in 1923, is a must-see for all locals as it lies at the heart of Western Canadian tradition.

Lastly, Rosenberg suggests checking out a source of live entertainment on any one of the free stages located around the park.

“It’s about the act, but it’s also about being part of the crowd and the outdoor excitement. People should find an act they like and participate,” he says.

With this year’s Stampede just around the corner, individuals such as Rosenberg, anticipate another great turn-out, and another great year.

For 2005, the organization has been working on providing different genres of music on the entertai- nment stages, bringing in ticketed concerts in the Saddledome particularly within the last five days, and improving the overall experience of the festival.

“We are all about experience and we’re trying to look at how we can improve everything from when you arrive and park, to when you walk through the gate,” says Rosenberg.

“We need to do a better job of communicating and delivering the experience so we don’t end up being a commodity,” he adds.

With the Stampede organization expropriating its remaining properties in Victoria Park, plans for expansion are currently underway. This means a bigger area to work with, which in turn provides a better experience for patrons, as well as continued success.

Whether your definition of the Stampede is getting half cut and visiting Nashville North for a night of debauchery, watching the rodeo, chucks, or grandstand show, or just watching those crazy ass super dogs do their thing, the Stampede is a place for everyone to celebrate Alberta’s Western heritage.

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