The first Calgary Stampede took place in 1912. As centenary celebrations begin, one should keep in mind that this first Stampede was essentially a rodeo competition. The modern Calgary Stampede is much more, and embodies the traditions and practices of its partner, the Exhibition.
The Calgary Stampede is also an institution whose blue ribbon event just happens to be a 10-day festival in July. Overshadowed in the annual discourse about fun and frolic, meaning, myth and money, is the institution itself, which has much ongoing worth to both city and region.
This is aptly reflected in the role played by the Stampede in coalescing livestock and agriculture in the city. Almost half of the Stampede committees are agriculture-based, and early Exhibition manager Ernie Richardson staged agriculture-related events year-round before the end of the First World War.
The annual bull sale is one of the best on the continent. Calgary is headquarters to various breed associations and just beyond the city limits are cutting-edge artificial insemination and embryo transfer facilities. Currently, agricultural education aimed at children is carried on in programs like Aggie Days, the Stampede School and 4-H on Parade.
By allowing its facilities to be converted to ice surfaces, the Stampede consolidated the presence of hockey and curling in the city.
The tradition of art exhibitions began in the 1930s and over the years has afforded countless young artists the opportunity to display their talent.
The Stampede’s commitment to community is also seen through its annual Western Legacy Awards where three individuals, including one youth, are recognized for sustained community work and for making a difference.
The encouragement of youth has figured prominently in Stampede priorities. Funded through the Stampede Foundation, the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts provides training and scholarships in voice, dance and gymnastics. The Young Canadians, along with the Stampede Showband, enjoy international reputations and rank among the city’s most popular ambassadors.
Perhaps the most telling statement about the Stampede’s place in the city’s urban fabric lies not in its major role as an economic growth engine but rather in its approximately 50 operational committees drawn from some 2,000 volunteers. The fact that the composition of these volunteer committees transcends age, race, gender and class, while demanding a heavy time commitment, says far more about what the Stampede is to the city than those “10 mad days in July.”