It’s culture shock when I return from sushi, salmon and ocean in Vancouver, to yeehaw hijinks of the Calgary Stampede. The Stampede is Canada’s annual and biggest bash on bucking rodeo sports, country western music and cowboy culture.
Let’s face it, in the 21st century, there aren’t a lot of true cowboys and cowgirls in Calgary. More likely, there are just more Calgarians compared to other big Canadian cities, who own, ride horses or have keener interest in the equestrian world. Otherwise, it’s locals and tourists who like prancing around with their cowboy hats and butt-kicking leather cowboy boots for 10 days during the Stampede.
Cowboy Reality, Marketing and Myth
There is no other Canadian big city that flashes and struts a cowboy image to entice you to visit or buy a local product. It’s a myth that is nearly irresistibly ripe for fun, sexual inneundo and bravado in the marketing of Calgary.
At times, you end up with some intriguing or well, head-turning efforts to integrate a piece of cowboy culture –year round. The Calgary Police all wear black Stetson cowboy hats –year round as part of their patrol uniform. Or a local
marching band play their instruments with their cowboy hats, and boots in parades and elsewhere, on their tours as the city’s music ambassadors.
Meanwhile there’s a popular group of young adults, playing a different strain of toe-tapping music, the Calgary Fiddlers who combine cowboy attire and Cape Breton Island, Eastern Canadian Maritime fiddle tunes.
Bikes for Windows, But Not Much for Cowboy Wandering
Window dressing during the Stampede or ways just to kick up shoppers out of doldrums, means creative attempts for cowboy celebration. What is possible, but not frequent, is the marriage of bicycles and cowboy/cowgirl. While some cowboy culture dressing does happen on a local fun bike ride during Cyclepalooza, one still doesn’t
see many Stampede celebrants hop on and off bikes at pancake, rodeo or pub events. Guess cycling is for wussies in the eyes of many locals. Dilutes the image of tough swaggering cowboy or sexy cowgirl. We’ll see in a few years.
There are some cowboy-themed and equestrian accessory shops in town. These are just fun places for the horse-cowboy initiated or just observers who have never sat on a horse. There’s loads of crazy, fun paraphernalia to try on or amuse for an hour or so.
However you look backward in time, there are also honorable people and artifacts that do grace the whole historic trajectory of cowboy riding or just plain horse riding as work and people living a horse-dependent lifestyle.
I think of John Ware, one of the rare black men in Calgary in the 1800’s who gained respect for his cattle roping and eventually owned his own farm. Or the nomadic Plains Indians who have an even longer tradition of horse husbandry and transportation. There is much to celebrate for real cowboy horsemanship , (or dressage for a less rough ‘n tumble exercise), hard work and even risky rodeo sports, despite our urban myth-making of cowboy culture.
So hold onto your horses because you ain’t seen nothing yet, when it comes to cowboy culture.
Note: This post embeds some alternative cowboy culture, local scenes and unusual marketing ploys –some with non-white people which is not featured much at all in marketing of Calgary cowboy prairie culture. Calgary’s population has become diverse over the past decade since it is Canada’s fastest growing city at this time. But you wouldn’t know it from the cowboy tourism imagery.