Saddle Up for the Calgary Stampede; Once a Year a Quiet Corner of Canada Explodes into Action as the Famous Calgary Stampede Kicks off. Cherry Wilson Headed to Alberta for a Taste of Life in the Wild West GO

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Saddle Up for the Calgary Stampede; Once a Year a Quiet Corner of Canada Explodes into Action as the Famous Calgary Stampede Kicks off. Cherry Wilson Headed to Alberta for a Taste of Life in the Wild West GO


Green fields sprawl as far as the eye can see and I stand, mesmerised, as a herd of around 50 majestic horses gallop across them.

A cowboy is directing them down a hill - it feels like I've just stepped into an old Western movie.

Despite the wind and rain, I'm transfixed by the incredible scene and the grace of these amazing creatures, which have been bred for years on one of the famous ranches in Alberta, western Canada.

Some of them will be taking part in what has long been billed 'The Greatest Show On Earth' - no, not London 2012, but the Calgary Stampede.

The event takes place every July, with cowboys from across the globe descending on the city of Calgary for the ultimate test of their skills, including braving the backs of rodeo bulls as they buck wildly in the air.

Brave or stupid, I can't make up my mind, but I'm certainly impressed by their courage.

The hotly-anticipated challenges also include steer wrestling and bareback racing. Contestants appear by invitation only, to fight for their share of prize money totalling pounds 1.6m.

Now in its centenary year, the organisers pulled out all the stops for the 2012 festival.

As well as the usual opening parade, flagship rodeo events, funfair, host of entertainment stages and X Factor-style stampede talent search, to mark the special anniversary there's a spectacular firework display and star-studded music concert, headlined by Canada's very own country superstar, Paul Brandt.

The Stampede is a major visitor draw for Calgary, attracting spectators from near and far, and one of the few times of the year that the destination falls under the spotlight.

Last year our very own Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate, headed to the event, and were photographed in their jeans and stetsons, soaking up the atmosphere.

There's no doubt it's a highlight in any cowboy's calendar, but there's a lot more to the region than saddles and boot scootin', as I discovered.

I may not qualify to compete in the Stampede, but I can certainly get into the spirit of things - starting with a trip to the famous Smithbilt hat company, where I picked up an authentic white cowboy hat.

Next it was off to the world-renowned Alberta Boot Company, for a pair of proper cowboy boots.

Now I really feel the part when I head out to find a line dancing bar.

Though tradition is whole-heartedly embraced in Calgary (which you can witness in full glory at Heritage Park Historical Village - Canada's largest living historical village), the city itself has undergone something of a transformation in recent decades.

Chic restaurants, boasting impressive menus and wine selections, now line the streets. A notable example is Rouge, situated in the former home of Alfred Ernest Cross - one of the four men who financed the first-ever Stampede.

The city certainly has a sophisticated side, and if you prefer your hotels more polished than Wild West, a good choice is the Hyatt Regency.

The 600ft Calgary Tower, which offers stunning views across the city, is just a 30-second walk away, and historic Stephen Avenue, featuring nine major shopping centres, is across the street.

With new theatres, festivals and art exhibitions springing up around town, it's easy to see why Calgary was named Canada's Capital of Culture for 2012. …

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Saddle Up for the Calgary Stampede; Once a Year a Quiet Corner of Canada Explodes into Action as the Famous Calgary Stampede Kicks off. Cherry Wilson Headed to Alberta for a Taste of Life in the Wild West GO
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