A Small Town Girl Dreaming of the Big Stampede

Growing up in a small northern Alberta town means a whole lot of the same; same long winters, rainy springs, predictable days.  Except for two days in the summer. That was when the Elks had the Stampede.  Stampede, for a kid in a small town, means excitement, rodeo, fast rides, games, cotton candy, candy apples and other delicious treats we only get once a year.  It was the two days we anticipated all year long.

Those two days were our summer holidays and we made the most of them. So imagine what we thought when we heard about a ten-day Stampede!  In June, our teachers would hand out passes to “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’ in Calgary, and I would dream of going to see this show that promised so much.  After all, ours was really good and this one said it was the greatest!!

Life has a way of meandering through dreams and my family and I moved to Calgary.  The anticipation building up to our first Stampede was electric.  The Stampede Planner came in the mail and we planned our day according to who was performing on the Coca-Cola Stage and when the Super Dogs were on, as well as when the draft horses were being shown. We realized we would need more than one day to see all that we wanted to see. The night before the Parade we went downtown and set up our lawn chairs to reserve a good “Parade watching” spot.  We all trotted downtown for the parade bright and early the next morning and the tradition began.

Our first time passing through the gates onto the grounds was a rite of passage.  The small town girl who dreamed of coming to the “big” Stampede was there. And, oh, it dazzled.  It was shiny, bright and larger than life!  But the funny thing was the “big” Stampede managed to have the “at home feel” that the small town Stampede had. It was welcoming, comfortable, and had a real sense of community.  From the first “Howdy” at the gate and the friendly smiles of the greeters with their white Stetsons to the sense of security and comfort, the Stampede felt like home.

The Stampede has a way of bringing people together. At the Parade it is common to talk to people from all over the world. The Parade itself has floats and bands that represent many cultures. This is carried over on the Stampede grounds where we often hear many different languages being spoken and see many different cultures being represented. It is a culture of inclusiveness that is encouraged by a sense of community and promoted through hospitality.  It is the high standard the Stampede sets for itself through all it offers its patrons that is its’ greatest achievement and it is what impresses me every year. This is what embraced this small town girl who walked through the gates with wide eyes on that first Stampede and it is what keeps me coming back.. It truly is The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

Cindy Stewart