The Calgary Stampede is an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival held every July in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The ten-day event, which bills itself as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth", attracts over one million visitors per year and features one of the world's largest rodeos, a parade, midway, stage shows, concerts, agricultural competitions, chuckwagon racing and First Nations exhibitions.
The event's roots are traced to 1886 when the Calgary and District Agricultural Society held its first fair. In 1912, American promoter Guy Weadick organized his first rodeo and festival, known as the Stampede. He returned to Calgary in 1919 to organize the Victory Stampede in honour of soldiers returning from World War I. Weadick's festival became an annual event in 1923 when it merged with the Calgary Industrial Exhibition to create the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede.
Organized by thousands of volunteers and supported by civic leaders, the Calgary Stampede has grown into one of the world's richest rodeos, one of Canada's largest festivals and a significant tourist attraction for the city. Rodeo and chuckwagon racing events are televised across Canada. However, both have been the target of increasing international criticism by animal welfare groups and politicians concerned about particular events as well as animal rights organizations seeking to ban rodeo in general.
Calgary's national and international identity is tied to the event. It is known as the "Stampede City", carries the informal nickname of "Cowtown" and the local Canadian Football League team is called the Stampeders. The city takes on a party atmosphere during Stampede: office buildings and storefronts are painted in cowboy themes, residents don western wear and events held across the city include hundreds of pancake breakfasts and barbecues.
The Calgary and District Agricultural Society was formed in 1884 to promote the town and encourage farmers and ranchers from eastern Canada to move west. The society held its first fair two years later, attracting a quarter of the town's 2,000 residents. By 1889, it had acquired land on the banks of the Elbow River to host the exhibitions, but crop failures, poor weather, and a declining economy resulted in the society ceasing operations in 1895. The land passed briefly to future Prime Minister R. B. Bennett who sold it to the city. The area was called Victoria Park, after Queen Victoria, and the newly formed Western Pacific Exhibition Company hosted its first agricultural and industrial fair in 1899.
The exhibition grew annually, and in 1908 the Government of Canada announced that Calgary would host the federally funded Dominion Exhibition that year. Seeking to take advantage of the opportunity to promote itself, the city spent C$145,000 to build six new pavilions and a racetrack. It held a lavish parade as well as rodeo, horse racing, and trick roping competitions as part of the event.〔 The exhibition was a success, drawing 100,000 people to the fairgrounds over seven days despite an economic recession that afflicted the city of 25,000.〔
Guy Weadick, an American trick roper who participated in the Dominion Exhibition as part of the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show, returned to Calgary in 1912 in the hopes of establishing an event that more accurately represented the "wild west" than the shows he was a part of. He initially failed to sell civic leaders and the Calgary Industrial Exhibition on his plans, but with the assistance of local livestock agent H. C. McMullen, Weadick convinced businessmen Pat Burns, George Lane, A. J. McLean, and A. E. Cross to put up $100,000 to guarantee funding for the event.〔 The Big Four, as they came to be known, viewed the project as a final celebration of their life as cattlemen. The city built a rodeo arena on the fairgrounds and over 100,000 people attended the six-day event in September 1912 to watch hundreds of cowboys from Western Canada, the United States and Mexico compete for $20,000 in prizes. The event generated $120,000 in revenue and was hailed as a success.〔
Weadick set about planning the 1913 Stampede, promoting the event across North America. However, the Big Four were not interested in hosting another such event. Businessmen in Winnipeg convinced Weadick to host his second Stampede in their city, but the show failed financially. A third attempt held in New York State in 1916 suffered the same fate. Weadick returned to Calgary in 1919 where he gained the support of E. L. Richardson, the general manager of the Calgary Industrial Exhibition. The two convinced numerous Calgarians, including the Big Four, to back the "Great Victory Stampede" in celebration of Canada's soldiers returning from World War I.〔
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