I’m getting close to a wrap on this series of posts about my trip to Canada last summer. This photo is of a monumental cowboy sculpture at the Calgary Stampede, which is probably the best known rodeo, or what is otherwise billed by the promoters as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” It’s sort of a combination of a rodeo show, a massive county fair and a Canada-centric display of regional pride.
The rodeo itself is a daily competition with the usual events, such as roping and riding, but with one addition that sets it apart from many other such events. The Calgary Stampede includes wagon races, which harken back to the wild west. The wagon races begin with the team, which includes two on the wagon and outriders on horseback, putting away a kettle in the back of the wagon to represent cowboys breaking camp. The wagons then weave around barrels before racing around the perimeter of the rodeo grounds. It’s a charming evocation of rural western culture.
For most people the highlight is the bull riding, which is brutal, impressive and dangerous. I’m quite sure that we saw one young rider suffer a serious shoulder separation getting thrown from a bull. An interesting cultural twist is that some of the best bull riders are from South America, which has a cowboy culture all it’s own.
In the evening there is a stage show with music, dancing and singing. I don’t know if the theme changes each year, but the show we saw was focused entirely on all things Canadian. I actually learned some things about Canada that I didn’t know. For example, which of the four major professional sports was invented by a Canadian? Nope, not hockey. It’s basketball. Ironically, there is only one NBA team in Canada, which is the Toronto Raptors. On the other hand, Canadians represent the second most non-American NBA players in the league. A highlight of the show was the inclusion of aboriginal tribal leaders dressed in traditional costumes. So, cowboys and “indians” all around.
Aside from the rodeo itself, the grounds include lots of other activities you might find at a county fair, and a lot of barbecue. There are several stages with musical acts to keep things lively. It’s definitely worth seeing if you plan on visiting Alberta. A lot of good, clean fun, and a noticeable lack of over-celebration when it comes to alcohol. Oh, and while you’re in Alberta, be sure to go to one of the steak houses. The Alberta beef is fantastic, if you enjoy a good steak.