Calgary Stampede

cowboy hatThe annual Calgary Stampede – The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth – kicked off last Friday morning with a three-hour parade through downtown. This year’s parade marshall was Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, but in the past it’s been led by actors such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Christopher Reeve and Jack Palance, politicians, sports stars and other dignitaries such as Chris Hadfield, Prince Charles, Ken Taylor, Rick Hansen and Walt Disney.

The first stampede – although not called that – was organised in 1912 by Guy Weadick, an American cowboy and veteran of travelling Wild West Shows. Back then, Calgary was a relatively young city; the North West Mounted Police had arrived in 1875 and founded a fort by the Bow and Elbow rivers. In 1884, Calgary, with a population of only 500 people, was incorporated as town.



In 1912, with financial backing provided by four very successful cattlemen – Pat Burns, George Lane, AE Cross and AJ MacLean – Guy Weadick produced what was called the Frontier Days and Cowboy Championship. It was supposed to be a one-off and while there was a suggestion it should be repeated in 1913, money wasn’t forthcoming. After World War One, the idea was resurrected and in 1919 The Victory Stampede was held.  Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength.



Beginning on the 1st Friday in July and continuing for ten days until the following Sunday, it’s a time when the city comes alive with the spirit of the Old West.  Down at the Stampede grounds you’ll find an afternoon rodeo, evening chuck wagon races and show, a midway, agricultural and craft exhibition, market, native village and nighttime firework display.

Western ShirtsDuring the ten days of Stampede, the city itself is festooned with banners,  rodeo scenes are painted onto the windows of shops and office buildings, and you can find plenty of pancake breakfasts and stampede parties to suit everyone’s taste. Banks are transformed into Wild West corrals, and young and old deck themselves out in jeans, cowboy shirt, hat and boots.

Come visit us!

London in Calgary, Alberta – Challenge 8

I’m not a religious person, but I love listening to church music. Not hymns or Christmas carols – the chart toppers, as my husband calls them – but more the plainsong and Gregorian chant of the early Christian church or sacred music of Mozart and Bach. That’s what draws me to churches like Notre Dame in Paris or St Martin-in-the Fields and St Paul’s Cathedral in London when I travel. To sit in such beautiful places and have those wondrous voices wash over me…

Would it be possible to find such music in Calgary? At this time of year there are plenty of carol services to be had, but that’s not what I wanted.

And then I discovered that The Cathedral Church of the Redeemer, in Calgary’s downtown, offers Vespers by Candlelight every Thursday evening at 6pm from October to March.

candle church

What is vespers? In monasteries, convents and churches, it’s the sunset evening prayer service which is usually sung.

On entering the church we were offered a candle and service sheet. The choir entered silently and sang –  without accompaniment – for twenty-five minutes before silently exiting. There was no sermon, no joining in from the audience, no need to read along with the service sheet, just the sound of beautiful voices singing in harmony and a wonderful sense of peace at the end of a busy day.

(Oh, and managing not to set fire to a prayer-book with my candle!)

London in Calgary, Alberta – Challenge 6

Having lived in, and visited, London often, I tend to seek out lesser known places to visit when I go there on holiday. One place I was really keen to see this year was The Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields, particularly as in the month of December it is ‘dressed’ for Christmas.

As you can see from the video, it’s not a true historical home, but is there a house in Calgary that might offer something of a similar experience? An individual home ‘dressed’ for a previous time?

Built in 1891, by  Senator James Lougheed, and originally named Beaulieu, The Lougheed House fit the bill.


When The Lougheed House was first built, Calgary’s population was only 4,000, and the house sat on bald prairie in its own 2.8 acres. Now, situated on 14th Ave SW, it is in the heart of downtown.

During its early years, the house played host to the great and the good, with one of the daughters dancing with Edward, Prince of Wales, on his visit to Western Canada in 1919.


After Lougheed died, the house had to be sold. For a while it acted as a school, then housed female personnel of the Canadian Army during the Second World War. Post-war it became the headquarters for the Red Cross in Calgary, the drawing room where Senator Lougheed had worked on his government papers and entertained politicians now becoming the waiting room for blood donors.


Finally, in 2000, it was restored to its former glory and is now a museum and restaurant, open daily from Wednesday through Sunday. I can’t believe I’ve lived in this city for almost 30 years and have never visited it.  It’s truly a wee gem.

London in Calgary, Alberta – Challenge 3

Lesson learned. Today I was going to upload some photos of The Geffreye Museum I’d taken a few years ago.  I’d stored them ‘safely’ onto an external hard-drive on my return from London in 2011, but when I went to retrieve them this afternoon for this blog posting…? Wouldn’t load. Looks like the cable’s wrecked.  Moral of the story – store digital photos on both CDs AND external drive!

So you’ll just have to trust me that The Geffreye Museum is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit if London. A former almshouse built in 1714, it is dedicated to the history of the home, specifically the living rooms of the English middle class, over a four hundred year period. One room follows on from the other, each depicting a different era, and the same is true of the gardens.

The reason I’d wanted to revisit it this trip back to London is because in December the rooms are decorated for Christmas. So could I find a comparison in Calgary?

Heritage Park, which celebrates prairie history from the 1860s to 1913, comes very close.

STREET1STREET2I visit the park every summer, but come Christmastime, like The Geffreye Museum, many of the homes are decorated in a time appropriate fashion.


The first house we visited belonged to Peter Prince, a wealthy lumber merchant from Calgary’s late 19th Century. It’s a beautiful, well appointed home, and its formal decor reflects his affluence.


Then there’s the Thorpe House.  Home to a family of Norwegian immigrants, it is warm, welcoming and cosy. Apparently it’s traditional for Norwegians to drape their tree garlands from top to bottom rather than side to side as we do in North America.


The Ranch House is my favourite home in the whole park.  I worked there many years ago, baking cookies for visitors to enjoy as they toured the house, and trust me, when it’s +30C outside and you have an old wood oven going, it’s hot work. Today, stepping into the warmth and smelling the freshly baked gingerbread was sheer heaven. And although the tree was rather spindly and all its decorations home made, I thought it was the most beautiful of all the trees we saw.


As well as being able to view the decorated homes, there are shops enticing you with holiday goodies, a bakery selling delicious breads and gingerbread men, and carollers singing in the church.  There’s even a special shop just for kids (adults forbidden) where they can buy that special something for their parents.

Heritage Park is open on weekends for the Christmas season until December 22nd.

London in Calgary, Alberta – Challenge 1

This time last year my husband and I were in Berlin visiting the Christmas markets. As I sit here writing this on a bitterly cold Calgary afternoon, we were supposed to be on holiday in London with a side trip to Belgium thrown in.


A few weeks ago, we had to cancel our trip, so my challenge is to replicate 10 days of activities we’d planned in London/Belgium in Alberta. Can it be done?

Challenge #1 – CHRISTMAS MARKET.   There’s something very special about European Christmas markets. For me, it’s do with the fact that most of them are held outdoors, the glittering twinkle lights, warm gluhwein, hot roast chestnuts, Christmas music playing, fire pits to warm yourself up, and, of course, all the goodies for sale. Could I find all that in Calgary?


Over three weekends, Spruce Meadows hosts an International Christmas Market. We visited on Friday afternoon and it provided everything – and more – that you’ll find in a European market. Outdoor (and indoor) vendors? Check. Gluhwein? Check. Hot roast chestnuts? Check. Fire pits to sit by and savour the warmth and scent of burning logs while sipping on a hot chocolate? Check. Christmas music? Check. Plenty of goodies for sale? Check.


In addition, there were 12 of Santa’s reindeer in attendance, as well as a petting zoo for the children. Did you know a reindeer’s nose warms the cold outdoor air before it gets to its lungs, and that both male and female reindeer have antlers?

So did Calgary meet the Day 1 Europe/Alberta challenge?  Absolutely!

(Many thanks to Laura MacU2 for taking pictures when my battery died!)

There’s a feeling… Part Two

It’s absolutely bucketing with rain here in Calgary today, but when the weather is dry, one of my favourite places to visit – and a ‘must’ if you’re visiting the city in summer – is Heritage Park. When we moved to Calgary I worked as a docent in the Park telling schoolchildren tales of the pioneer days. It was a wonderful way to learn and experience the history of this land. I even had the good fortune to meet the daughter of an early pioneer.  She was in her 80s at the time, and she and her family had moved to Alberta in the early part of the century from Chicago.  Her father had gone on ahead to build a house for the family who followed on several weeks later.  When they arrived, she recalled her mother just sat in the wagon for hours and sobbed.  They’d left a house with beautiful furniture and stained glass windows to live in a ‘soddie’, similar to the one in the photo below. Those early pioneers certainly had grit.

SoddieThere is so much to do and see here that you really need to spend the whole day in the park.  And there is something for everyone; original houses filled with history and stories, train and steam boats rides, an old fashioned fairground and lots of shops selling everything from little nick-nacks to gingerbread men and old fashioned candies.

Sweet shop

Another absolute city gem – which most Calgarians aren’t even aware of – is the Cantos Music Foundation. Situated in a red brick downtown office building, it holds a treasure house of keyboard instruments, some dating back almost 400 years.

Cinema organ

The picture above is only part of an old 1920s cinema organ. In the early days of silent films, the organist wasn’t just responsible for providing the musical accompaniment, but also for creating the necessary sound effects, and that’s what you can see lining the wall behind the organ. Absolutely fascinating.


The museum offers everything from harpsichords to the latest electronic keyboards. Sitting amongst all these beauties is the simple white upright piano on which Elton John wrote ‘Your Song’. On his last tour through Calgary he made a special visit to the museum to play on it once more.

As I said, an absolute treasure house for anyone interested in music.

There’s a feeling in the air…

The tradition within the North West Mounted Police on their March West across Canada in 1874 was that the Inspector establishing a fort was given the honour of naming it after himself. Therefore, when Inspector Brisbois arrived at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, he did just that. Unfortunately for him, Colonel James Macleod (his superior officer) suggested the name be changed to Calgary, after Calgary Bay, a place he’d visited on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. But maybe it was just as well. The Brisbois Stampede doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the Calgary Stampede, does it? CalgaryBay CalgaryHouseWhen we first moved to Calgary, the skyline was sparse with the tallest building being the Calgary Tower. Now the tower is dwarfed by a forest of skyscrapers, and one of my favourite things to do is go to the bluff in Crescent Heights and watch the sun set on the city. The combination of city lights, setting sun and image of the mountains in the distance is magical. CalgarySkylineBack in the day, one of the local TV channels ran a great advertising spot which – to me – reflected the energy of this young city.  It looks a bit dated and hokey now, but the video still makes me smile.  Oh… and just recently, Calgary was voted the cleanest city in the world! Not bad for a city only 138 years old.