Hold your horses! July 6th to 15th is the 100th anniversary of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, a.k.a. The Calgary Stampede. A century ago the rodeo was the main event, but nowadays, family activities take centre stage. We’ve found the best ways for your little cowpokes to experience the Wild West without having to wrestle any large, angry animals. The challenge is squeezing it all into 10 days. Giddy up!
Wake up to parade views by bedding down at the Marriott Downtown or Fairmont Palliser. And some Calgarians actually prefer to get out of dodge during the festivities, so take their place —and beds—by house swapping (homeexchange.com or intervac.com), or renting short term (Kijiji.ca).
Kick off the party at 8:55am sharp on July 6th, with this two-hour spectacle of over 700 horses, 21 bands and 30 floats. Come prepared with snacks, water and hats (of the cowboy variety, of course). Locals are up with the roosters to hog prime curb space, so guarantee yours for a fee ($27-$45).
Over 200,000 hotcakes sizzle on griddles across the city during Stampede. Mosey downtown to Fluor Rope Square for flapjack flip competitions, aboriginal performances and to catch chuckwagon drivers mid-sausage. Find a breakfast on any given morning here.
Saddle up to the Agriculture Barn to pet critters in their pens, or journey along the Cattle Trail to learn how food gets from pasture to plate. Wee-ones compete in Mini-Chucks atop plush horses on wheels and for a glimpse of genuine horse power, check out the Heavy Horse Pull. Enter the Park via Olympic Way for the quickest access to the Kid’s Midway. The Big Four Building houses the ever-popular Super Dogs as well as Buckaroos, a play space kitted out with plasma cars, inflatable play structures and a multi-level indoor playground.
Be sure to sample mini donuts ($3) or, the best bargain in the Park, milk & cookies ($2) in the Ag area. New Midway indulgences include red velvet funnel cake, jalapeno corn dogs and deep fried wagon wheels. To take a break from all-things-fried-on-a-stick, try bannock, a native flatbread found in Indian Village, or some good old Alberta beef by AB Ranch.
Head west from Stampede Park to sample Calgary’s quirky food scene along 17th Avenue (a.k.a. the Red Mile). Kids are quietly mesmerized by vintage cartoons projected on the walls at Tubby Dog while chowing down on gourmet hot dogs, topped with kid favourites such as PB&J and Cap’n Crunch.
Treat the troops to a Clive Burger, or nip into newly opened Cibo for casual Italian including a kid’s menu (and high chairs). Just off the Red Mile, Canada’s original gourmet donut shop, Jelly Modern Doughnut, whips up organic, artisanal baked goods such as, maple bacon donuts, apple fritters and cinnamon buns.
More refined equine experiences can be had at Spruce Meadows, allowing little ones the opportunity to see a different sort horse sport. Besides the show jumping tournaments taking place during Stampede, families are welcome to tour the stables and meet the horses or, burn off energy at the Superstore Playground.
Calgary’s largest petting zoo, Butterfield Acres is a working city farm where hayseeds can ride ponies, milk goats and hunt for eggs. Be sure to pack a lunch, as it’s the perfect spot for a picnic, with well shaded areas including a tee-pee, to escape from the sun.
Free admission until 9am and breakfast for families makes July 8th and 11th insanely busy days. If you've had your fill of cowboys and lines and just want the rides, visit Calaway Park, Western Canada’s largest amusement park, instead.
Cowboy hat: they look cool and keep everyone shaded from the sun.
Rain gear: thundershowers can catch the crowds by surprise.
The convoy of games, rides and food trucks for the midway is 6km long?
That 19km of hotdogs, 50,000 candy apples, 2 million mini donuts and over 15,000kg of sugar will be enjoyed?