By Gillian Birch
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Wrong! Calgary in the middle of July serves tens of thousands of free brunches, and breakfasts too! So what’s it all about?
The Calgary Stampede promotes itself as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’, and it probably is. The town comes to life in July and relives its rodeo past with shows, bronco riding contests and wagon racing in the Saddleback Arena. If you’re not wearing a Stetson that week, you are definitely underdressed.
As part of its Western welcome, any Calgary business worth its salt joins in with the goodwill event and offers to stage a meal or two for visiting southern folk. Waffles, pancakes and orange juice go down well for breakfast. Of course you are not alone, as over a million visitors come into town for the Calgary Stampede. The good-natured chattering line waits patiently in the morning sunshine, and the breakfasts are certainly cooked fresh. Raise your nose in the air to decide which way to go for the next tasty freebie. Of course, eventually money does have to rear its ugly head, but here it is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars given in prize money.
In between grazing, try to attend some of the spectacles that the Calgary Stampede is really all about. There are blacksmith competitions, vintage tractor pulls and sheep shearing events. The renowned Chuckwagon Racing involves a wagon and four outriders racing around the arena picking up such obsolete items as a camping stove, sacks of food and billy cans. You can’t help but cheer your heart out for complete strangers.
Back at the hotel, even the staid Hilton has dropped its formalities. The front of the hotel is now decked out as an old-fashioned saloon. Swing doors mark the entrance to the bar, and hitching posts and straw bales complete the look. It only works because the whole of Calgary has gone completely mad, all at the same time!
The best thing of all about the Calgary Stampede is all the smiles and goodwill that reverberate around. Maybe it’s because no-one feels ‘taken for a ride’ if you'll excuse the pun. The welcome from the ambassadors, the willing assistance from the local Calgarians and the electric buzz of fun pervade the whole town, making it a great place to visit for a wonderful holiday. Or a free lunch.