The province of Alberta is known as the "Texas of the North," for its history in oil and right-wing politics. And I've seen more cowboy hats the past two days here than I ever did in Texas. To be fair, I happened to be visiting during the Calgary Stampede, my second wayward stumble of the year into a cultural festival.
A Brief, Modern History of Calgary
The modern history of Calgary plays a vital role in its formation, so let's get into it, briefly. Early industries in Calgary were mainly agriculture, cattle herding, and the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. However, the city really exploded in 1914 when oil was discovered. (By World War II, the Turner Valley oilfield was producing 95% of Canada's oil!) During the height of the oil boom, much of the city's infrastructure was built up, and many of these skyscrapers are still owned by or bear the names of gas companies like Shell, Gulf, and Chevron. While Edmonton was chosen as the capital of Alberta, Calgary is currently the largest city in the province with over 1.4 million residents. As a result, the city is filled with cool architecture, old buildings, massive apartment complexes, and so many parking lots.
The History of The Calgary Stampede
In 1908, Calgary was awarded money by the federal government to host an exhibition akin to the World's Fair. They built pavilions and a racetrack and threw a parade with a rodeo, horse racing, and lassoing events. The city saw 100,000 visitors to its mere 25,000 residents, which was a real boon during the economic recession. After the Dominion Exhibition, a group formed to put on a similar Calgary Stampede in which cowboys from all over North America competed for prize money. The first one occurred in 1912 and raised $120,000 in revenue. The festivities have continued ever since, and it was recently declared a Canadian National Historical Event.
I've accidentally timed my stay in Calgary to coincide with the 10 days of festivities, and it's been an interesting and confusing experience. For one thing, I'm not sure there are always so many haystacks lying around town. We overheard the chef at our Italian restaurant complaining about "Stampede Week" because their menu was offering a BBQ plate. And I was rudely awoken at 7 am by a concert in the parking lot next to our hotel that included covers of both Jolene by Dolly Parton and Kiss by Prince and lasted until 9 am. I'd be curious to know what Calgary is like the other 355 days of the year. I don't imagine I'd experience so much cognitive dissonance from hearing "Soorry" from a man wearing a ten-gallon hat.