There’s a Reason it’s called The Wild West

by Barbara Barton Sloane


Hang on to your Stetson, Pardner! Get ready for excitement, tension and exceptional drama.  There’s a rootin’, tootin’, rip-roaring, down-and-dusty rodeo that takes place in Calgary, Alberta, Canada every July -  the famous Calgary Stampede known as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth - and yep, it’s happening again – July 3-12, ten days of bull riding, barrel racing, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping and more fun than should be legally allowed! Calgary, located in the heart of the Canadian West, one hour from Banff and the Rocky Mountains, is a vibrant, bustling city of over one million inhabitants and the proud host of the Calgary Stampede since 1912.


How the West Was Once

Because of the unique origin of rodeo, it has a fascinating history.  From the vaqueros to the American cowboy, rodeo history is filled with interesting characters and a multi-cultural mix of customs and practices.  At the heart of rodeo, however, is a sport which arose out of cattle herding and was based on the skills required of working ranch hands. A highlight of the Calgary Stampede and one of the most exciting events unique to this rodeo – Chuck Wagon Racing.  It is nothing short of heart-stopping! Also, the Stampede’s bucking stock is a rare and highly respected breed; their bulls are a hard-hitting, no-nonsense bunch that challenge the best cowboys in the world.


I had the fun-filled pleasure of attending the Calgary Stampede last year.  It was the most memorable western experience I could ever have wished for.  A ten-day citywide celebration welcomed over 1.5 million visitors and more than 2 million are expected to attend this July.  .


The moment I de-planed, I just knew that this experience was going to be something really special.  The airport was filled with happy, partying people and live, loud, good western music with songs like “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and that perennial Hank Williams’ favorite, “There’s a Tear in my Beer.”


Cowboy Gear Par Excellence

Before the Stampede kicked off, my colleagues and I had the chance to visit a couple of true Calgary institutions. Smithbilt Hats is a company that’s been around since 1919.  They are the only full line hat manufacturer in Western Canada and their hats, made of felt, wool, fur and beaver are sheer works of art. Bryce Nimmo, president of the company, allowed our group to try on some spectacular styles.  It was fascinating to see what a simple piece of felt goes through to become a cool Smithbilt cowboy hat, selling for up to $1,000!


On to the Alberta Boot Company. Tim Gerwing, the General Manager, explained that for 30 years this company has outfitted royalty, movie stars, the Royal Canadian Mounties and ordinary people from all over the world who are smitten with the Wild West.  Several of our group were fitted for their very own pair of custom cowboy boots which, considering the way they’re made, will probably last forever.


We lunched at the colorful restaurant Buzzards Cowboy Cuisine.  A live band was playing “I’m a Good-Hearted Woman in Love with a Good-Timin’ Man” which set the mood for a party.  Here, steaks and burgers rule as does their authentic Buckaroo BBQ Buffet ($14.95).  They also serve a most exotic dish, a little deep-fried part of our friend, the bull.  I won’t describe it here, just suffice it to say I did not try the dish, but if you’re at Buzzards and curious, hey, you’re braver than I!


Early morning of the next day, we began our adventure at Rope Square, where hundreds had already gathered to line dance, enjoy the flap jack flip and play a traditional game called the “Hat Stomp”.  You can probably imagine what this involves. Oh well. Retrieving our flattened and dusty cowboy hats, we hit the Stampede Midway at the fairgrounds.  This place has enough to impress even the biggest thrill seekers, from hair-raising rides to challenging games, live music, agriculture shows and hundreds of shopping and food experiences -    something here for the whole family.


The Wow Factor

Soon, the reason we were here – the rodeo!  We witnessed amazing events: bronc riders exploding out of their chutes and being shaken like Margaritas in a blender, calf roping done in seconds and with no harm to the animal, and bulls roaring into the arena, their riders twisting, turning, flipping sky high and trying to stay on for the required 8 seconds.  Eight short seconds, piece of cake, right? Not if you’re on a flinging, jumping 2,000 pound crazed creature who wants nothing more than to get you off his back!  But stay on and ride the bulls the cowboys did, and with élan and class.


Grandstand Show Spectacular

As the sun set, magic filled the night and the 90 minute outdoor musical extravaganza began.  It was nonstop entertainment by internationally acclaimed guest artists (this year Kenny Chesney will perform) at once dazzling and explosive, as the show concluded with an amazing award-winning fireworks finale! It was fitting end to a spectacular event.  So, all you cowboy and cowgirl wanna-bes, pull on some boots, put on a Stetson and come on up!  The Calgary Stampede is sure to transport you from the world as you now know it!


If You Go:

Calgary Stampede Ticket Information (

Buzzards Cowboy Cuisine (

Heritage Park  - Canada’s largest living historical village (

Hotel Arts – Home of Calgary’s best martini, “The Derelict”, rates from $150 (

Brewster’s Kananaskis Guest Ranch (

Calgary Olympic Park – for the fastest zipline in the world (

Tourism Calgary (

Travel Alberta Canada (


Photos  courtesy of Sloane Travel Photography