Today is Friday, July 8th the official kick-off for the Greatest Show on Earth, the Calgary Stampede 2016. Sneak-A-Peek opens the evening before but the parade is the official kickoff for 10 days of festivities that consume the city and highlight our western heritage. I’m embarrassed to say but I have never been before, as a child no one had ever taken us and as an adult I choose to avoid the crowds and instead watch it on TV from the comforts of home. I had a pre-conceived idea of more hassle than fun, off overwhelming crowds, people deep, fighting for space or a spot to peek thru the masses. I heard people would camp out the night before or head down in the wee dawn hours just to get a premium spot, if you arrived later you’d be out of luck unless one of the lucky few who have company sponsored bleacher seats.
My son, also recently unemployed thought it was an opportunity to see the parade and wanted me to go with him for a father-son day. I really had nothing urgent so I reluctantly said I would go and packed a lunch to take with us. The next morning we left the house a bit after 7am and drove down to the LRT Station, we had no trouble finding a parking spot, bought our tickets and boarded the train for downtown. The train quickly filled up with Stampeders as we headed north, arriving at the 4th Street Station shortly after 8am we got off and followed the crowd towards the parade route. The parade starts at 6 ave and 3rd street traveling west, I figured most people would gravitate towards the start of the route so we headed further down on 9th ave (it turns south at 6th ave and 10 street and then heads south down 9th ave). It turned out to be a good call as we had no trouble finding a great spot and could easily have had front row seats had we brought chairs.
As we arrived the pre-parade had already begun (started at 7:30 am) and sufficiently entertained us as we waited patiently for the main event. The parade starts at 8:55 am and takes about 2 hours to complete its way, from our spot we could see the front of the parade heading towards us, coming down the Ave at about 9:10 am. Between people watching and the pre-entertainment, time had gone quickly and soon we were yelling ‘Yee Hah’ and ‘Yah Hoo’ with the rest of the crowd, cheering on the parade!
Over 2 hours we watched a spectacle that included over 15 marching bands from all over the world, 40 floats, 750 horses and 4000 participants. I have to say the marching bands are so much better live as well as the colors, costumes, smells and sounds that dazzle the senses. The town of Fort McMurray (recently devastated by fires that caused the worst natural disaster in Canadian history) had an entry to thank the city and first responders. It caused many to well up with a bit of emotion but filed the parade route with pride and gratitude. The military had a convoy of tanks that impressed with their enormity and agility only eclipsed by Wild Willy, a well behaved 3000Ib brahma bull ridden down the route. Paul Brandt and Jann Arden were the parade marshals, followed by a variety of vintage vehicles filled with the city’s shakers and makers.
The parade was totally enjoyable and although there were crowds of over 200,000 people, everything flowed well. The parade ended and I felt like I had been missing out all these years, I now understand why it’s an annual tradition for many Calgarians.
Following the parade some major crowds were heading for the LRT trains, we knew there might be some waiting so we decided to head down 8th ave mall in search of a pub and beer. The mall was bustling with an ambiance of celebration, food trucks, vendors, activities and entertainment flanked both sides of the street, you could make a great day of wandering here. We decided to go to a restaurant called the National, I had always wanted to check out their roof top patio which is supposed to be the biggest in the city. It’s a bit of a local secret, the restaurant is on the third floor in The Core shopping complex off 8th ave and the stairs to the rooftop are hidden behind the bar. There was a bit of a wait for the patio so we started in the restaurant with an enjoyable pint from a local brewer called The Village Wit, we had some delicious Sliders and tried a flygt of six different beers which I’d recommend.
Later we headed up to the patio and joined in on the party taking place upstairs, it was full of revelers decked out in their best western wear, partying to the beat of country music pumping from the DJ booth.
We had a wonderful father-son bonding day and glowing from all the beer headed to a platform and boarded a train for our journey back south. It was a great day and a great kick-off to the 10 days of Stampede activities. It reminded me of all the things you can do Stampede week on little or no budget, from the many free stampede breakfasts that happen each day all over the city, the free street entertainment on 8th ave mall, events in Eau Claire, 17th ave, or Inglewood. Pop up beer gardens, entertainment and parties at every possible bar, usually just for the cost of a pint. The city vibrates with activity and people come from all over the world to join in on the fun, you have to come next year!