Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Calgary Stampede in suburbia

My street yesterday afternoon
Yesterday, more than 90,000 people went through the turnstiles at the Calgary Stampede Exhibition Grounds. Downtown would have been crowded too: bands; small parades; no end of food trucks and hot-dog stands; office workers in western garb, and tourists from all over the world. It is called "the greatest outdoor show on earth".

Many Calgarians, however, find it difficult to keep up the enthusiasm year after year. Some pick the time to go on vacation, others might check out the Stampede for just one day to see what's new (usually it's always about the same).

I saw my first Calgary Stampede in 1966 at the age of sixteen. Back then, things were a bit different: there were still bison in the Stampede Parade (discontinued after one charged the crowd). Back then, the Midway was run by Royal American Shows. It was a real carnival where you could see strange sideshows showing "giant Parisian sewer rats" (actually a South American coypu in a cage); The man-eating chicken (you guessed it, a man sitting in a chair eating a chicken drumstick).  You always knew the sideshow would be some sort of fake, but you paid your money to find out how it was done. Sometimes, though, it was all real. I wondered how they were going to fake "the world's largest steer". When I entered the tent there it was, looking something like the extinct auroch, I had to look upwards to see the gigantic black creature with its horns that must have been about six feet wide. Over the years, though, the Stampede board has been trying to eliminate such sideshows, thinking that the games where you spend six dollars to win a prize worth $2.49 was far more respectable. They replaced the genuine Royal American Show carnies with a sanitized Canadian version. Even the independent carnies started to suffer.  A friend of mine has been a carnie most of his life: Scott McClelland (aka Nikolai Diablo) is now most famous for his Carnival Diablo. I worked with Scott in the "Black Castle" and it was through him that I met my future wife.

One Calgary Stampede, Scott asked me to help out as one of his employees had quit and there was no one to run one of his sideshows. So for ten days, I called people over and collected the tickets as people entered the tent to see "the missing link" in its icy coffin. Scott happened to have dropped by when one customer was complaining afterwards, saying loudly, "It's all fake!" Scott yelled back, "Of course it's fake! Never trust a carnie!" The other people lining up for the sideshow just smiled ― they knew.

At that time, the Stampede grounds held a secret: in the middle of a group of large trucks and electrical generators was a large hidden tent. It was just for the carnies. There were tables and chairs and all the facilities for a nice home-cooked meal (with plenty of vegetables) where the carnies could unwind, chat with each other and eat the sort of food (unlike most on the midway) that would not bring about an early death for carnies on a long summer tour. It was the last year that the Stampede Board provided the space for the carnies, and many of them decided not to return the next year, Scott included. For the Stampede Board it was just a waste of space, and who cares about carnie's health anyway! Carnie culture was under attack.

An empty park and playground
So, this year, I decided to feature the quiet side of Calgary during the Stampede ― suburbia. I took these photographs yesterday in my neighbourhood. There were very few people about at 3.30 p.m. I only passed one person ― a visitor from England who stopped to ask me for directions. Everyone else seemed to be either at the Stampede, at work, indoors, or out of town.

There was no one in one of the parks a couple of blocks away. Even though the schools were out for the summer, the playground was empty. How could swings rival the midway rides? Mind you, when I took a shortcut across the park when walking the dog the previous day, I noticed that the mosquitoes were out in full force, so it turned out to be a very quick walk across the grass, and I didn't even stop to gather a bit of the sage growing in the grass as I sometimes do.

The empty street alongside the park
As I left the park, there were few cars on the street, either passing or parked and the dog and I did not pass another person all the way home. I did see a couple of people playing tennis in the court at the end of my alley, so there were a few people here and there, but it seemed more like an early Sunday morning (with less parked cars) than a Monday afternoon.

Walking back up the alley to my place, we encountered one of my four-legged neighbours, a jackrabbit (they are actually hares) that often hangs about in the back garden resting, or dining on clover. He (it is a small male) did not even seem too concerned about my

Jackrabbit enjoying the sunshine
coyote hybrid as we approached and he let me take his photograph before he left. You should never feed urban wildlife, by the way. A Calgary woman once started to feed a jackrabbit carrots every day. Soon, numbers of them were showing up (they are usually fairly solitary creatures), you only usually see a number of them together in the mating season ― usually a large female and several smaller males. Well the offer of free food not only attracted more jackrabbits, but coyotes and large hawks who were not interested in carrots but what was eating them. Of course, jackrabbits can be very fast when they have to be. Not so much the neighbourhood cats, though!


  1. Interesting looking at other people's neighbourhoods, the jackrabbit/hare unperturbed by your dog, who was probably on the lead anyway. My collie Moss (long gone) chased a hare for a couple of miles - the hare won of course!

    1. Hi Thelma,

      Quite often, Tristan will suddenly lurch after a small animal but I'm trying to stop him doing that as sometimes he almost pulls me of my feet. I've taught him the word "slow", so when I saw the jackrabbit I said "slow and Tristan went into his stalking mode so I was able to get close enough for a decent picture. The jackrabbit usually freezes when he sees my dog. Once, the jackrabbit was only about six feet away and we walked right by it without Tristan even knowing it was there.

      My neighbourhood (Killarney) is quite old but many of the older houses (mainly post war bungalows) are now being replaced with two or three story houses. I like it because it has many trees and green spaces and the neighbours are very nice. I've even noticed that more cars stop for pedestrians here than in other parts of Calgary.