Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Heart of the New West

Stampede - My sister Rachel had begged us all to come up and experience this event/celebration/cultural happening in Calgary ever since she moved there a few years ago. After we finally purchased the air fare and made it official, I started doing some research on this annual festival that the entire city goes insane for. I had been to Calgary before, and never really noticed any evident or distinct cowboy qualities, so I was intrigued.

According to the website, the core purpose of the Calgary Stampede is to preserve and promote western heritage and values, with the first Stampede taking place in 1912. If you have a mindset similar to mine, you may be confused and thinking to yourself Cowboys in Canada?! Oh yes. Lots of them. 

For one week in the summertime every year in Calgary, the entire city turns into a country-western sanctuary. Every business downtown is decorated to the nines with hay bails, lassos, and country music blaring from their speakers. Any restaurant, hotel, coffee shop, or retail store you went into, the employees were wearing cowboy hats, boots, and belt buckles. In nearby Stampede Park downtown, there is a huge Midway full of fair rides and foods, and live music all day. Every evening, there are the Chuck-wagon Races and a Grandstand Show, followed by a huge fireworks display. 

All of us at Stampede!

The event kicked off on Friday with a parade downtown. The weather was perfect- high around 70 with cool dry mountain air. It just so happened that the Royal Couple was in Calgary celebrating Stampede too (and staying at our hotel!), and they even started off the parade (from the comfort of their Cadillac, but hey, they were there!). The parade focused on the heritage of the city, with lots of cowboys and Native Indians in huge headdresses.

That's Kate in the back
Yahoo, y'all

Side note - They do not say "yee-haw" in Calgary. It is "Yahoo" instead of "yee-haw". It took a while to get used to, not gonna lie.

After the parade, the Midway, the Chuckwagon Races and the Grandstand Show, I was as tired as a one legged man in a butt kickin contest. And this was only day 1. 

Chuckwagon Racing

The next day we headed over to their living history park, where you're taken back in time to the Pioneer days of the late 1800's. They built a small village from old historical buildings, with everything from a church to a post office to a newspaper mill. We went on a steamboat ride and learned a lot more about the history of the city. It reminded me a lot of Historic Jamestown in Virginia, to give a comparison - everyone is dressed from that era, and you can learn how to knit, churn butter, and wash clothes on a washboard. 

There was also a car museum, and apparently there is an old brand called Auburn. So naturally I had to get a picture next to the Auburn car.

War Eagle from Canada

The last day we headed to the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park and Lake Louise. The mountains were snow capped, the water a deep teal blue, and the air crisp and fresh. We walked around the lake, and hiked to a waterfall, and even got to see bears on three separate occasions!


Calgary is outstanding- the city is big but not overwhelming, it's clean, and they are very green/energy efficient (my hotel was completely run on wind-power!). Everyone is in a good mood all the time... even the police (mounties) were extremely courteous. In the summer, the sun rises at 5:30 AM and sets at 10:30 PM. I went for an 8 mile run, and I didn't have to wipe the sweat off my brow ONCE because the air was so dry. The beef there is to die for, as is the local produce. There are pristine snow capped mountains a little over an hour away.

And they love their western heritage and country music. 

Doesn't get much better.

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