These are the grounds of the 2014 Calgary Stampede: the 102nd showing of the two-week long festival that at once brings the city streets to life and freezes any non-Stampede-related commerce. There are worse places to spend a few summer days in Alberta, so I drove down with a few friends for the annual spectacle. Having missed last year’s event, I was eager to return after having attended the centennial celebration, which I still maintain was the most fun I’ve ever had in Canada. Could 2014 top it?
As with the Montreal Grand Prix,i Calgarians go full-bore into the event, closing down streets and replacing cars with live music, food stands, extended patios, and street performers. The streets are lined with hay bails, everyone dons Western attire, and the streets come alive. This Salvation Army brass band on Stephen Avenue was fantastic, lifting the atmosphere of all who passed them by. For a group of volunteers, they were seriously polished. I’m not easily impressed by such things and I thought they hit it out of the park.
Calgary, the largest city in Alberta and fourth largest in Canada after Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto, has a much denser core than Edmonton, the 25% smaller capital. Calgary’s more mature building stock is far more comprehensive, with several beautiful old bank buildings still intact and having found new purposes, such as restaurants, bars and even fitness clubs. Like this Bank of Nova Scotia building:
Such is the advantage of having left its gorgeous masonry structures intact, whereas Edmonton unceremoniously and ignorantly tore them down in favour of ticky tacky boxes in the 1970’s. Calgary also has, easily, 3-4x more residential and commercial office towers in the core. So though Edmonton’s downtown is growing, it’s surely 20+ years away from being as lively as Calgary is today.
These are the girls and I on our way out to a fun little Mexican restaurant, followed by the Centre of the Stampede Universe: The Cowboys Tent. For attire, plaid is pretty much essential. And although a cowboy hat is the norm, it’s far less useful as a conversation starter than a jewfro.ii Also, they’ve yet to make a cowboy hat big enough to fit over that mop.
Said Centre of the Stampede Universe: The Cowboys Tent, was located just off the Stampede grounds by the casino. It was composed of one supertent, seen above from the entrance, and a smaller tent towards the back. It was a fucking zoo. The lines for drinks, bathrooms, and ATMs were egregious, the place stunk of urine and spilled beer, and… there were 6 hour lines to get in.iii It was (somehow) the place to see and be seen. Perhaps not surprisingly then, I ran into several people I knew from high school and University. All of them, like everyone else in the tent, were dolled up.iv It was an absolute meat factory in there.v Those of us less interested in the boyish and girlish anticsvi played various drinking gamesvii until the place closed down.
The next day, after a surprisingly solid sleep on the concrete floor of our friends’ apartment, we ventured back to the Stampede grounds, I found myself the largest turkey leg… in the world. Don’t let the scale of my hair throw off the scale of this turkey leg. It was as big as my forearm and lathered in BBQ sauce. I ate the whole thing.
And, of course, even amidst the sea of rural cum urban culture, I found time to visit the Glenbow Museum and its new ‘Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery’ exhibit. There, I found Matisse’s 1945 ink study entitled ‘Leda,’ of which this is my reproduction. Leda was the Queen of Sparta and was seduced by Zeus, who turned himself into a swan to mask his identity.viii
Calgary Stampede 2014 was a very different experience from that of 2012, and although this most recent experience didn’t quite match the last one for sheer unadulterated hedonism, it was still an opportunity to see Calgary at its finest. Edmontonians who hate Calgary “because hockey” would do well to attend. They’d be pleasantly surprised.
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- You can read the story of my 2014 Grand Prix experience on my other blog, CarEnvy.ca, here: Part 1: Qualifying and Part 2: Race. [↩]
- Girls either got their hands right in there or just smiled in amazed curiousity. Their comments were universally positive. The comments from boys (there aren’t a ton of men at Stampede, despite the posturing) were largely, maybe 80%, positive. The positive side fell into two camps. The first was World Cup-following boys who asked how I felt after losing to Argentina in the quarter-finals earlier that day. Apparently I looked like Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini.
To prove my identity as such, I was even asked by one kid to sprechen Deutsch and parle français. Der ehemalige war härter, as you probably could have guessed by the titles of the categories on this blog. Another guy, a bubbly Argentinian living in Calgary, came up to me offered his condolences and made a comment about how much better Canada was than the USA, having lived in each for 4 years. Surprise, surprise.
The second positive group was composed of those more inclined to pop music, and therefore LMFAO references.
The negative group was smaller, maybe 20% of those who made comments, and they were either too hick to deal with that much non-conformity or themselves balding and threatened by my hair’s superpower. And in some cases both. [↩]
- We “skipped the line” by ponying up for $112 “fast passes.” Fuckin’ crooks. [↩]
- A pretty, dark featured girl who was apparently a contestant on Big Brother Canada said she knew me from somewhere. I didn’t recognize her but found it amusing that the girl getting her picture taken with random passerbys was vying for my attention. [↩]
- The goal of those participating in the meat factory is to go home with someone ASAP. I’m told, by some of my more debonair friends, that it’s simply an odds game, and that, out of 10 tries, 3 are successful. The faster you can get those 10 tries in, the sooner you can take her back to your place. I’m also told that, over the two-week-long-non-stop-party, a disproportionate number of babies are conceived and divorce papers are filed, and that all bets as to the commitment to one’s partner are off at this time, thus “It ain’t cheatin’, it Stampedin’. [↩]
- Mostly because we were Stampedin’ as tourists, not locals, and were therefore not interested in calling off our commitment bets. Unless… [↩]
- Ever played Minesweeper? [↩]
- How’s that for not being poor? [↩]