Welcome to the first edition of our Cowboy Courier Calgary Stampede Blog. Over the next two weeks we bring you a close up look at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
While 1.3 million+ people will pass through the Stampede Park turnstiles for the 10 day exhibition, all star rodeo, chuckwagon races, concerts and agricultural fair…a celebration of western heritage and community spirit spreads like wildfire through the city.
Over 10 days the city goes Stampedin' attending pancake breakfasts and lots of corporate parties networking with a western flair. It’s Calgary's signature event and it’s known the world over. In my travels, I’ve found that when people find out that you hail from Calgary they talk about Stampede with great affection. They either attended previously or want to get there and take it all in.
The Calgary Stampede kicks off on the first Friday day of the ten day celebration with the one of the biggest parades in North America.
Snagging a prime curb location – preferably the same spot every year – is one of the goals of a successful parade experience. This determination to secure a clear view of the parade is a tradition. In the early days, parade goers sat on wooden boxes bought for 10¢ from the Chinese-owned grocery stores on 7th Avenue. Some sat on the roofs of buildings overlooking the route or even climbed telephone poles for bird’s-eye views.
The modern parade is a two-hour celebration of the Stampede and its place in the city. Its unique western theme permeates the city. About 350,000 spectators line the route, and a Canadian television audience of 2 million is joined by countless millions more viewers around the globe, courtesy of numerous international media outlets. Of all the world’s parades, the Rose Bowl is the only one larger than the Stampede’s. On parade morning, most downtown offices and businesses are closed, and people spill onto the streets to celebrate the beginning of another Calgary Stampede.
At precisely 8:55 a.m., the warmed-up and now wide-awake crowd hears the familiar sound of a marching band. The award-winning Calgary Stampede Showband has led the parade since 1971, its members attired in red and white uniforms.
In the distance is the tell-tale clip-clop of the first horses. In the early days, there were thousands of horses in the much-anticipated parades. This focus on the horse has continued, with about 850 “parade-broke’ horses in the spectacle in an average year. And right behind each entry is the necessary clean-up crew.
Coming up next? Many more bands and dozens of floats, with entries varying from year to year. Cowboys and spacemen. Miniature donkeys and chuckwagons. Tiny Shriner airplanes. Politicians and clowns. Water guns and princesses. Pipe bands and dancing music. Members of the Treaty 7 First Nations dressed in traditional regalia, their horses with beaded adornments as beautiful as their riders’.
A glittering display … and the participants know it. The proud paraders brim with characteristic western friendliness and find it surprisingly easy to connect with celebrants sharing their spirit on the streets of Calgary.
Another Calgary Stampede tradition is the hundreds of Pancake Breakfasts that happen throughout town.
During the 1923 Calgary Stampede, a grizzled young chuckwagon driver by the name of Jack Morton had, (due to lack of funds or accommodation), resorted to camping at the CPR train station in downtown Calgary. Jack, a likeable character, was well-known in the area. Soon old friends began stopping by for a visit. One morning a number of cowboys were sharing Jack's breakfast as Calgarians and visitors alike passed by. They were cordially invited to join the group. Thus began the tradition of friendly hospitably, which has made Calgary famous throughout the world.
Such tradition is carried on today by the Stampede Caravan Committee. Since 1976, these enthusiastic volunteers have been providing a hearty meal and good old-fashioned western entertainment for special events around the World. They've spread Calgary hospitality throughout Canada and as far away as Great Britain, Kentucky, Hong Kong, Australia and Texas.
The Stampede Caravan volunteers get out early in the morning, rain or shine, to provide a Calgary welcome and a western pancake breakfast and entertainment. The best part, it's free of charge to those who attend!
The two biggest breakfasts happen on the first weekend of Stampede. Since 1960, a breakfast serving over 60,000 hungry Stampeders has been held in the parking lot of Chinook Centre.
The Chinook breakfast has grown steadily since its humble beginnings as a mustache-growing contest. As the years passed and the crowds grew, organizers needed to solve the problem of how to make enough batter for the masses.
Now 10 volunteers from the fire department operate one commercial dough mixer and one small cement mixer from 6 to 11 a.m. to turn 4,200 pounds of dry pancake mix into batter.
Once mixed, the batter is dumped into large pails and hauled off to the 24 pancake stations which are rented out by various retailers and community partners, each for a $450 donation to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.
As in years past, the lineups start at 6 a.m., but breakfast starts at 7. So get there early, grab your grub and your fixins' and settle in for some entertainment on the stage featuring Aaron Lines & Tim Hus.
Sunday Morning at Stampede Park during Suncor Family Day free breakfast is served for the first 20,000 guests between 7-9:30am in the Grandstand Courtyard. And there is also free gate admission between 6am-9am.
The popularity of Stampede Breakfasts has also led to web sites like freestampepancakes.com so you don’t miss out on this Calgary Stampede tradition.
Tomorrow in our next Stampede edition of the Cowboy Courier we preview this year’s Rodeo & Chuckwagon competition
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