Monday, July 09, 2012


It's that time of year again in Calgary - the time when the natives either party on or get out of town, and the city is overrun by tourists.

That's right ladies and gentlemen, it's Stampede!!!

If you're a native Calgarian, you might just love to hate this particular event.  It means 10 straight days of horrendous traffic, packed out trains for commuting, and a city wide excuse to get drunk.  Locals know and love to quote random statistics like the fact that Calgary has a baby boom about 9-10 months following stampede, and divorce lawyers have their busiest season for new clients in August, after Stampede has come and gone, and various affairs have been revealed.  Girls seem to take it as an excuse to wear as few clothes as possible (seriously, skanky is just skanky, never sexy!) and everyone drinks way too much.

I've honed my complaints over the years, and rarely head down to the grounds, but this year I did.

It's the Centennial.  100 years of what is known as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth".  I talked myself into going because my favorite country singer, Paul Brandt, was headlining the evening Grandstand show.  I tagged along with a couple of friends who've never experienced Stampede before, and surprised myself by having a great time.

It turns out the key to having an awesome time at Stampede is to entirely avoid the midway. No rides. No carnival games.  Skirt the outside of that whole crazy section.

It helps if the friends you're taking are new to the whole thing.  It's even better if they both have agriculture degrees, and what they're really interested in are the things that Stampede was founded to celebrate, and not so much the beer gardens and midway rides.  We wandered through barns, watched a sheep shearing competition and a vintage tractor pull.  We checked out the entirety of the tradeshow, watched a little bit of surfing (indoors!), and walked through the arts and crafts.  We savored the best tasting goodies (hello beef bacon BLT, mini donuts, and little greek honey donuts, not to mention dole whip).  And then we left, took a break and ate dinner in their back yard. Burgers and sangria never tasted so good.  (I walked away with a recipe for a great pasta salad dressing, too!)

We came back in time for the grandstand show, found our seats, tried to pick winners in the chuckwagon races, and then watched the show, which included variety acts, motorcycle trick artists, acrobatic troops from several countries around the world, and of course, Paul Brandt.

I admit that it helps that the grandstand wraps up with a 20 minute long fireworks show.  I love fireworks, and the grandstand building has the best seats in the house for this amazing show.

After finishing late Saturday night, I dragged myself out of bed early Sunday morning to meet my work client back at the grounds by 8 am.  We checked out the Superdogs show, and got some ice cream.  My perspective was different as I guided her in her wheelchair through the grounds and crowds, and watched her enjoyment of a season she describes as "my Christmas!"

Apparently it turns out that the key to appreciating Stampede is some new eyes and perspectives.  It's avoiding the crowds and embracing the agriculture and spirit that caused this event to spring up 100 years ago.  It's seeing the joy in someone's eyes as they taste a treat that they look forward to all year long, and it's laughing at bad jokes with new friends.  It's learning the finer points of a tractor pull (who knew this was a competition sport?) and marveling over the speed at which someone shears a sheep.  It's mini donuts and dole whip and laughter.

I had fun gaining a new perspective on Stampede this year.  I'm probably set for another five years or so, but it was great to have new eyes and find enjoyment in something that I mostly dread each year.