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Canada: Calgary, Stampede City


Canada: Calgary, Stampede City

story by: Tom Ricketts

If you’re planning a trip to the beautiful Canadian Rockies, you’ll most probably be going through Calgary at some point. The city is home to almost 1.5 million people and lies on the vast Canadian prairies which stretch from the Rockies in the west, all the way to Ontario on the east. Most people will land in Calgary and head straight for the Rockies which are only an hour away, but there a few good reasons to add a night or two in Calgary to your itinerary.

The city is surprisingly young, younger even than Christchurch and Auckland. To start with, the outback town grew modestly, however things began to change when oil was found nearby. The first growth spurt came in the 1940’s thanks to the oil, but it was the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 that really changed things for Calgary. With the prospect of high paying jobs and stagnant economies in other provinces (particularly Atlantic Canada), Calgary suddenly found itself growing by 20,000 people a year. Many large oil companies moved to the city too, and Calgary now boasts one of the most impressive skylines in the country. Skyscrapers are going up almost overnight in this city. One rather comedic outcome of this belongs to the Calgary Tower. The 191 metre observation tower was built in 1968, but unlike Auckland’s Sky Tower, it no longer towers over the city. Instead of amazing city views, tourists now ascend the Calgary Tower and look straight into the surrounding office buildings, five of which are actually taller than the tower!

An iconic part of Calgary is its Wild West history. Nowhere is this better witnessed than at the Calgary Stampede. This yearly event is billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’ and attracts over a million people during its ten days. An electric carnival atmosphere grips the city and the Stampede Grounds are alive day and night with chuckwagon races, rodeos, circus rides and many other attractions. Be sure you’ve packed a plaid shirt, jeans, and a cowboy hat as this is seemingly the only appropriate attire during this time. If you’re not there for Stampede, the Heritage Park Historical Village is a step back in time with many great features. 

The emergence of the skyscrapers and the harsh winter climate have not done great things for the city’s streetscapes. Most shops are built into a highrise foyers or malls, so window shopping is not particularly easy here. But in the centre of town is 8
th Ave, more commonly known as Stephen Ave. This pedestrian street is the main shopping strip in town and home to big department stores such as The Bay (The Hudson Bay Company) and Holt Renfrew. The city’s restaurant and bar scene is best experienced on 17th Ave, the only other real shopping strip in the downtown core. This is the place to be if the local ice hockey team, the Calgary Flames, are playing. If the team makes the playoffs, 17th Ave becomes known as the Red Mile and Calgarians flock to the street to cheer on their team. If they win, it’s madness as fans spill out of the bars and parade down the street.

Queenstown loves to boast having three skifields within half an hour of the town, but Calgary boast something even better… they have a skifield in the city! In 1988 Calgary was host to the Winter Olympics and Canada Olympic Park (COP) was built for the event. In winter it’s open for skiing, snowboarding ski jumping, cross country, bobsleigh and luge! In summer the facility has mountain biking tracks, zorbing and it’s the location of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

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