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Calgary’s Stampede Traditions

Calgary is synonymous with Wild West culture, embodying it in every way! So much in fact that once a year we throw a massive horse and buggy fest, the world’s biggest in fact, colloquially known as The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth.

And it is!

A big part of what makes the Calgary Stampede so awesome, is it is encompassed in history and traditions. From the older ones like the Stampede Parade, Pancake Breakfasts and Stampede Beer Tents to the newer traditions like the annual indulgent and unusual Midway Foods, and of course the World Famous Stampede Club Crawl!

As a visitor to Calgary these are experiences you can’t miss, and as a local Calgarian, these are the things you love to indulge in no matter what your thoughts on the Stampede are!

So where did it all begin?

Calgary Stampede Parade

‘The first parades in Calgary were associated with the exhibitions held in the early 1900s and were historical pageants on a grand scale.’ – Calgary Stampede

The parade is now, as it was then, synonymous with the Stampede and Exhibition experience, and has grown exponentially over the years to become the single largest Stampede event gathering, with over 250,000 people in attendance to watch live and 2 million more tuning on on TV! Lasting two hours, the procession is lead by the Parade Marshal, (usually an outstanding Canadian, of which in past years has included a list of stars like William Shatner, Leslie Nielson, and Commander Chris Hadfield to name a few) and features everyone from local politicians to stampede marching bands to sports and television stars. Calgary’s downtown core empties on parade morning as offices and businesses close and people spill on the streets to celebrate and welcome another Calgary Stampede!

Pancake Breakfasts

The 1923, Stampede was a special one for Calgary, it was the first time that it was held in conjunction with the annual Calgary Exhibition. Guy Weadick, One of Calgary’s Big Four, worked hard to make the event truly special, and was integral in creating many of the unique traditions you still see today. He enticed businesses to decorate, city folk to dress western, held the first chuckwagon races, and really pushed the whole city to embrace the celebration. There was dancing on Stephen Ave and lots of cowboys around. Weadick even persuaded some of the chuckwagon drivers to go downtown to give a glimpse of their wagons to the public on the first day of the Stampede.

There, they unloaded their stoves and set up shop, cooking pancakes. One of them, Jack Morton, started sharing flapjacks with the people who had come to watch and so the tradition of the pancake breakfast was born! The pancake breakfast became a Calgary symbol for western hospitality and has remained as such ever since.

Today it’s hard to turn a corner during the a.m hours of Stampede without coming across a pancake breakfast and indulging in as many as you can during the ten days of Stampede is akin to a sport, with websites hosting listings of the Calgary’s free Stampede Breakfasts! Of course, the breakfasts are just the beginning of it all and many businesses host Stampede BBQ lunches and dinners also! There are multiple  accounts of locals eating for free all week long, and there is plenty to go around for locals and visitors alike! That’s before you even get to the grounds to taste all the amazing food on offer at the Stampede Midway!

Midway Foods

From heat to sweet, there’s something for everyone (and perhaps some things for only a select few) at the Stampede Midway. Midway foods have progressed from the traditional ice cream and corn dog of years gone by to the straight up bizarre to include options such as scorpion pizza (yeah, that’s right sting you and take your life scorpions!)

Each year, the list of new foods to taste outdoes the previous year, and there’s no shortage of menu items to drool over or be astounded by! This year’s list can be viewed here. We recommend filling your belly at the mid-way and on free pancakes because when you’re done eating, there’s plenty of drinking to be done at Stampede!

Stampede Tents

The Calgary Stampede always provides a good reason to let loose and enjoy a good party. Calgarians and visitors alike can attest to great times at the Silver Slipper, Nashville North, Knoxville’s and Cowboys inside their massive marquees. Long before any of these venues came (or went), beer tents were popping up through the Stampede grounds and  Calgary Brewing and Malting were hosting thirsty patrons fresh off the midway and rodeo alike.

Today’s tents host extravagant show featuring international performers playing almost every kind of music you could think of! Stampede tents have become a staple fixture of the Calgary horizon during July. The World Famous Stampede Club Crawl is the best way to experience as many as you can in one day!

The World Famous Bust Loose! Stampede Club Crawl

Beginning in 1986, the then Bust Loose! Stampede Pub Crawl, hosted revellers from all over Calgary touring the city’s hottest night spots, bars, and clubs on a marathon-esque bar hop! Word spread quickly and soon enough the crawls were starting out in local fields and baseball stadiums and featured thousands of patrons. Registration for the insanity began at 10:00am and the Crawl started at high noon. Back then, the crawl had an ending time, and only the toughest made it to 10:00pm!

As the event grew, streets surrounding venues were closed, police barricades were set up and intersections were blocked while the Bust Loose! Motorcade made its way through the streets of Calgary! Event organizers had their own police officer and squad car assigned to them! Crowds became so large that the event was attracting international media attention, and thus the event was dubbed The World Famous Bust Loose! Stampede Club Crawl!

Club Crawlers were said to have been spending over a quarter of a million dollars in a 12 hour period! Did we mention Calgarians take their partying pretty seriously?

Today the World Famous Bust Loose! Stampede Club Crawl continues the tradition of former years, and revellers pack on to party buses making their way to Calgary’s best Stampede party venues, as guests embody the uncouth ‘wild west spirit’ of those before them. Rumour has it, that if you pull one of the event hosts aside at the bar and but them a shot during the crawl, they’ll share stories of all the behaviour that’s too wild to share on a public blog!

The Stampede Club Crawls are so massive they are held over two seperate dates during Stampede, the second one, the Bust Loose! Stampede Wind-Up Crawl was created to quench Calgary’s insatiable thirst for partying. The biggest controversy among our guests is whether our Wind-Up Crawl is crazier than our World Famous Stampede Club Crawl. The best way to truly judge however, is to experience both!

Ready to carry on the tradition?
Join the Bust Loose! World Famous Stampede Club Crawl
Join the Bust Loose! Stampede Wind-Up Crawl


bust loose