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.While the 1919 Stampede was successful, it was again held as a one-time event. Richardson was convinced that it could be a profitable annual event but found little support for the concept within the board of directors of the Calgary Industrial Exhibition. However, declining attendance and mounting financial losses forced the exhibition board to reconsider Richardson's proposals at their 1922 annual meeting. Richardson proposed merging the two events on a trial basis. Weadick agreed, and the union created the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede.Hundreds of men on horseback march down a city street as people observe from the sidewalks and rooftops.
The combined event was first held in 1923. Weadick encouraged the city's residents to dress in western clothes and decorate their businesses in the spirit of the "wild west".Civic leaders truly supported the event for the first time: Mayor George Webster followed the costume suggestion and allowed downtown roads to be closed for two hours each morning of the six-day event to accommodate street parties. The new sport of chuckwagon racing was introduced and proved immediately popular. 138,950 people attended and the event earned a profit. Over 167,000 people attended in 1924 and the success guaranteed that the Stampede and Exhibition would be held together permanently.
Attendance grew annually throughout the 1920s, peaking at 258,496 in 1928, but the onset of the Great Depression resulted in attendance declines and financial losses. After consecutive years of losses in 1930 and 1931, the exhibition board was forced to make cutbacks, a decision that strained the relationship between the board and Weadick.Furthering the divide was Weadick's growing resentment of the board's control of what he considered his event. The issue came to a head in 1932 when Weadick and Richardson engaged in a loud argument over the situation, ending with Weadick's threat to quit entirely.One month later, the exhibition board announced that it had relieved him of his duties.Angered by the decision, Weadick sued the exhibition board for $100,000, citing breach of contract and unfair dismissal. His claim was upheld in courts, but he was awarded only $2,750 plus legal fees. Embittered by the events, Weadick remained at odds with the board for 20 years until he was invited to the 1952 Stampede as an honoured guest and parade marshal.
At least seven movies were filmed at the Stampede by 1950. The most profitable, the 1925 silent film The Calgary Stampede, used footage from the rodeo and exposed people across North America to the event. Hollywood stars and foreign dignitaries were attracted to the Stampede; Bob Hope and Bing Crosby each served as parade marshals during the 1950s, while Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip made their first of two visits to the event as part of their 1959 tour of Canada.The Queen also opened the 1973 Stampede.
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