100 Years of the Calgary Stampede – Calgary, Canada

They call the Calgary Stampede the richest rodeo in the world because it awards a million dollars in prize money. 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the annual event which is held every July. This got us reminiscing about our visit to the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” when we traveled to the Calgary Stampede in Canada early in our Trans-Americas Journey.

Calgary Stampede - Carnival Ride 100th anniversary

The Calgary Stampede isn’t just the world’s richest rodeo. It’s also a full-on fair with the rides and food to prove it.

Inside the Calgary Stampede

In addition to the rodeo events, the Calgary Stampede also features a whole concourse of carnival rides and all manner of fair food including the usual suspects (hello, corn dogs!) plus a local cult favorite called Mini Donuts—basically tiny, tiny donuts that everyone buys and eats straight from the bag right before they get on a big, fast, spinning carnival ride. What could go wrong?

There’s also a beer garden, big-name concerts, ag displays, and more.

Cowboys - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Cowboys commute to work at the Calgary Stampede.

Classic rodeo at the Calgary Stampede

The main attractions, for us, were the classic rodeo events during which we watched dozens of the best cowboys in the world compete for some of that famous Calgary Stampede prize money. We were amazed by the athletes both human and non human. Here are some photographic highlights from each event.

Bareback bronc riding

Bareback Riding - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

This amazing athlete leapt about four feet straight up into the air the moment the gate was opened. The cowboy was no slouch either.

Bareback Riding - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Good form…

Bareback Riding fall - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

…and bad form.

Bull riding

Bullriding - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

The bulls, mostly bred on the official Calgary Stampede farm, were huge and smart. In other words, very, very dangerous.

Bullriding Fall - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

We have no idea how this cowboy ended up in this position. We can tell you he got up and walked away.

Bullriding chase- Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Some of the bulls were just plain mean, too.

Saddle bronc riding

Saddle Bronc - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Bet you didn’t think horses could fly.

Saddle Bronc - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

That’s one way to dismount…

Saddle Bronc - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Everyone in the stands held their breath, wondering if this horse was going to fall over backward after this dramatic exit from the gates. It did not fall over and it’s moves just got more athletic and unbelievable as the ride continued.

Tie-down calf roping

Tie down calf roping - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

In this event you need a racehorse with anti-lock brakes.

The goal is to catch, rope, and tie down a calf as quickly (under 10 seconds) and precisely as possible. These experts make it look easy as you can see in our animated gif, below.

Tie down calf roping motion gif - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Barrel racing

Barrel Racing - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Barrel racing is the only event at the Calgary Stampede in which women compete. Champion June Holeman, above, was 63 when we watched her win the event with this ride.

Barrel Racing competition - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

This barrel racer was narrowly beaten by veteran champion June Holeman during the Calgary Stampede.

Steer wrestling

Steer Wrestling competition - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

First, leap off a galloping horse then, literally, grab a steer by the horns.

Steer Wrestling - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Cowboys dig their heels into the ground and use them like brakes in order to stop and flip the steer.

Chuckwagon races

The biggest adrenaline rush of the entire Calgary Stampede came from a competition which isn’t, technically, a rodeo event. We’d never even heard of chuckwagon races but we were soon hooked.

Meant to recreate the important duties of traditional chuckwagons—the mobile kitchens which fed the pioneers heading west by covered wagon train—each modern-day chuckwagon racing team includes a smaller, lighter replica of a chuckwagon, plus a chuckwagon driver, a team of four thoroughbreds to pull the chuckwagon, a team of four outriders on four additional thoroughbreds, and a bunch of bits and pieces that represent the gear used in these mobile kitchens.

Chuckwagon Racing - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

We’d never even heard of chuckwagon races before we attended the Calgary Stampede. Now we’re huge fans of the history and controlled chaos of this event.

At the beginning of each race all four outriders from each chuckwagon team must dismount. One of them throws a barrel into the back of his team’s chuckwagon and another tosses in poles, a tarp and other gear. Then the chuckwagon speeds off as the four outriders re-mount on the gallop so the whole team of five men and 32 horses can fly through a figure eight course before thundering (the ground literally shakes) around an oval racetrack in a frantic bid to beat three other teams doing exactly the same things at exactly the same time.

Chuckwagon racing is (barely) controlled chaos as 15 men and 96 horses race around the track at the same time. Get a taste of what it looks like in our animated gif, below.

Chuckwagon Racing action - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

If you ask us, chuckwagon racing is the new extreme sport. But you can judge for yourself since we have plenty more action-packed Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon Race Photos.

Chuckwagon Racing Rangeland Derby - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

The ground shakes as teams push to the finish line in the chuckwagon racing event at the Calgary Stampede.

We were so inspired by the whole Calgary Stampede experience that Karen finally gave in to her decades-old desire for a pair of true cowboy boots. Since this is no faddish whim, we headed straight for the Alberta Boot Company. Listen, if they’re good enough to supply boots to the Canadian Mounties, they’re good enough for us. Karen is still wearing her Alberta Boot Company boots, by the way, and she gets compliments on them all the time.

Cowboy Boots - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Good luck picking a favorite from the hundreds of handmade styles at the Alberta Boot Company in Calgary.

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Sooke Harbour House – Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada :: Hotel Review

Easy French bohemian chic and the rugged sea-sprayed shores of Vancouver Island are strange bedfellows, but they get along just fine at Sooke Harbour House. Owners Frederique and Sinclair Philip may also seem like strange bedfellows, but talk to the stylish and welcoming couple for more than 15 seconds and it’s clear that their views about food, life and hospitality are perfectly in synch. Over the past 28 years they’ve put their ideals into practice and their passionate and innovative personalities are reflected in their award-winning inn and restaurant.

It all started in 1979 when the Philips’ bought a clapboard house, built in 1928, on the west coast of Vancouver Island overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and began working their magic. For the next 16 years they lived in the basement of the house with their family while converting the upstairs floors into the inn of their dreams.

The addition of 16 new rooms in 1997 brought the total to 28 and while many small hotels and inns claim that every room is different, at Sooke Harbour House the rooms aren’t just different, they’re individual masterpieces—each decorated and perfected as if it were the only room in the house.

Names like The Underwater Orchard and The Edible Blossom hint at the themed (but never silly) whimsy behind each door—for example, elegant and comfortable furniture handcrafted from driftwood in the Driftwood Room and a vintage colander used as a light shade in the duplex Chef’s Room (the only room at the inn that does not have a view of the Pacific Ocean). Given the charming variety, I was delighted to be asked to divide my stay between the Thunderbird Room, which features gorgeous first nations art depicting the mythic thunderbird and a jetted tub on a private deck, and the Artist’s Study with its sleeping nook and chandelier over the indoor soaker tub.

Every room has a wood burning fireplace which someone magically re-builds every day, leaving behind tightly twisted newspaper wands for you to light and hold up inside the flue to reverse the air draft before starting the fire. There’s also an elegant port decanter  that’s re-filled daily to encourage lounging in front of the fire or in the jetted or soaker tub found in every room.

All bathrooms are stocked with toiletries from Outer Coast Seaweeds part of Sooke Harbour House’s commitment to using locally sourced and organic products whenever possible, and while a phone and wi-fi access are provided you will not find a TV (though staff will deliver one upon request). The one weak spot was the in-room coffee maker which was the type I’d expect from Howard Johnson not from an inn of this caliber.

For maximum relaxation and minimum effort, all of the inn’s indulgent spa treatments except one are performed in-room, allowing guests to simply stumble from the portable massage or facial table to bed for a nap or the tub for a nice long soak.

Art is displayed everywhere at Sooke Harbour House in a wonderful, rambling mish-mash that seems randomly curated and placed by a precocious child but has actually been hand-selected by Frederique. Pieces in the guest rooms are not for sale, but art found in the common areas is, so shop away—just save some room on the credit card for the eclectic (and totally giftable) offerings in the small but well-stocked shop at the inn.

Over the years the award-winning restaurant at Sooke Harbour House has become a dining destination for guests and locals alike. Using locally grown and organic ingredients whenever possible, chef Edward Tuson crafts an ever-changing inventive, gorgeous and delicious menu that makes the most of the freshest ingredients from the inn’s own kitchen garden and from local farmers and fishermen. The cellar at  Sooke Harbour House has earned the Wine Spectator Grand Award every year since 2000 and the magazine named its wine list as one of the top 77 wine lists in the world.

Recently officially certified as organic, the inn’s two acre kitchen garden is the most obvious manifestation of the restaurant’s commitment to sustainable, local and organic ingredients. Don’t miss the informative 30 minute tour of the garden lead every morning by head gardener Byron Cook who’s clearly in love with the more than 350 species of edible (and gorgeous) plants that he’s tended in raised planters, trellised arches and pots and planters for more than 20 years.

But you don’t have to book a table in the gorgeous dining room to get a taste of the place. My in-room breakfast included fresh-baked carrot, pear and fennel bread along with a pot of  homemade yogurt and an accompanying fresh fruit compote that I can still taste. Staff also leave a plate of  irresistible homemade cookies by the elevator, which is called Underwater Safari because its interior has been painted to give riders a glimpse of the bounty a scuba diver would see in the waters surrounding Vancouver Island.

Speaking of water, boots, rain jackets and umbrellas in all shapes and sizes are also provided for guests to use to combat the island’s notoriously dramatic weather. Me? I was praying for a storm so I could grab a cookie, head upstairs and curl up in front of my fireplace with a glass of port.

Rates: $259CAD-$599CAD (children under five-years-old stay free)

Sooke Harbour House 
1528 Wiffen Spit Road 
Sooke, British Columbia, Canada VOS 1N0 
Phone: (800) 889-9688


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The Listel – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada :: Hotel Review

Looking for a way to put more “art” in the Art of Travel? Check out Vancouver’s 129 room Listel Hotel which spends more on the art it displays on just one or two floors than most hotels invest for an entire property—and I’m not talking about art that makes you say (or at least think) “My three-year-old could do that.” 
By partnering with Canadian art world heavy hitters, the hotel has amassed a noteworthy  collection of both modern art and traditional British Columbian art. To make the most of its collection, worth more than half a million dollars, the hotel is divided into different floor categories, each with its own artistic focus.

Rooms on the two Museum Floors are a tribute to all things British Columbian. Curated in partnership with the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, these floors feature handcrafted traditional hemlock and cedar furniture as well pieces of contemporary Northwest coast art in rooms painted to reflect the subtle natural colors of the region.  

The two Gallery Floors were curated by the Buschlen Mowatt Gallery and each room features original and limited edition works by international and Canadian artists including Graciela Boulanger, Amanda Watt, Z.Z. Wei and Bernard Cathelin.

Larger Artist Series Suites on these floors feature a separate living room for a substantial amount of extra space. My suite was decked out with the “spiritual landscapes” of Otto Rogers but, at The Listel, a member of the Luxe Worldwide Hotels group, the art isn’t just hanging on the walls. My suite also featured an elaborate laser-cut metal headboard and (dare I say it?) an artful mix of antiques—including a jaw-dropping wet bar hutch—deco pieces and modern furniture. The built-in window seat was the perfect place to enjoy the French press of coffee that was delivered to my room every morning along with a newspaper.

The weak spot in these otherwise unique and exciting rooms is the bathroom which felt more motel than hotel, but I’ve been assured that The Listel is preparing to completely renovate every bathrooms in the place.

Despite the name—which makes it sound like a dank Irish pub—the hotel’s restaurant, O’Doul’s, creates its own art with a wide-ranging wine list and mouthwatering dishes (the fried oysters were delectable) that have earned it a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 1997. The restaurant also celebrates a great American art form and morphs into a classy and popular jazz club at night. The hotel has even released a compilation CD featuring 14 Vancouver-based jazz greats.

If your personal muse is more about shopping not sculpture, The Listel has you covered with a location smack in the midst of Robson Street which features one of Vancouver’s highest concentration of retailers including BCBG Max Azria, The Body Shop, Esprit, A/X Armani Exchange, Zara, Bebe and Canada’s own Club Monaco. Feeling inspired to buy some art? Nearly every piece on display in The Listel Hotel is for sale.

Click here for the hotel’s Vancouver recommendations.

Rates: summer CDN$260 to CDN$600; winter CDN$180 to CDN$500

The Listel Hotel 
1300 Robson Street 
Vancouver, BC 
Canada V6E 1C5 
Phone: (800) 663.5491


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Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel – Banff, Alberta, Canada :: Hotel Review

The irony hits me midway through my dreamy soak in a Hungarian Mineral Pool: the Fairmont Banff Springs  is located in the midst of some of the most beautiful outdoor scenery in the world,  yet the resort is doing it’s level best to keep me inside. And it’s working. The most irresistible tool in the hotel’s arsenal is the Willow Stream Spa. After a 2.3 million dollar facelift in the Fall of 2003, the spa was named 2004 “Best Spa in Canada” by the readers of  Luxury SpaFinder Magazine. Today the 38,000 square foot, completely refurbished facility is a watery wonderland complete with that addictive Hungarian Mineral Pool, which is kept at 98.6 degrees and is full of minerals that are said to naturally rejuvenate everything from skin to joints.

The water rooms also offer a series of three waterfall-fed plunge treatment pools that range from cool to warm to hot. Jacuzzis, steam rooms and saunas are also available including one Jacuzzi on a spacious patio just beyond the Hungarian Mineral Pool for those of us craving a mountain view that doesn’t mean interrupting our  indulgence. Add on a full menu of body, skin, hair and nail treatments as well as a well-stocked gym and range of instructor-lead fitness classes and you’ve got days of indoor bliss.

The dramatic architecture of the resort itself, which was modelled on an actual Scottish castle (as you drive up you almost expect to hear bag pipers herald your arrival), is also stiff competition for the natural scenery. Opened in 1888 as a 250 room property, the hotel has undergone numerous additions over the years and, today, it rambles eclectically. Even the hotel staff refers to the hotel as “labyrinth-like” and those of you not equipped with an internal GPS may have trouble finding your room for the few first days.

With a current total of 770 rooms, the Fairmont Banff Springs offers a mind-boggling array of accommodation types. Some standard rooms can be on the small side—as little at 160 square feet. But the hotel also offers two-bedroom suites that deliver over 600 square feet of space and some of those suites (including the Nicholas de Grandmaison Suite) even come equipped with Bushnell telescopes for the ultimate in indoor nature watching.

My room in the Tudor Wing was larger than many, but offered only a partial view and came with a fireplace that consisted of a light bulb positioned behind  a jumble of translucent plastic logs. The thing contributed neither heat nor charm, but I have been assured that this feature will likely be removed as part of a planned renovation of rooms in this wing. If you have your heart set on a room that has all the architectural beauty and comfort the Fairmont Banff Springs has to offer and postcard perfect views, call the hotel to make your reservation and be sure you have been booked into a room in the Original Building with a River View. 

When you do finally manage to venture out of the hotel, nearby Banff National Park, which is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers access to the dramatic and seemingly endless Canadian Rockies where the views, animals and hiking options never disappoint. Even closer to the hotel are the Banff Upper Hot Springs, but if you’ve already had your share of soaking in the hotel spa head for the Banff Gondola which will whisk you up a vertiginous incline in your own glass bubble for panoramic views of the peaks and valleys below—and amazing aerial view of the Fairmont Banff Springs.

Winter rates start at $219 CDN (approximately $187 USD) 

Fairmont Banff Springs 
405 Spray Avenue 
Banff, Alberta, Canada T1L 1J4 
Phone: (403) 762-2211


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Opus Hotel – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada :: Hotel Review

“I love her as a singer, but she was so cheesy as the MC,” says the glam Amazon-woman to her friend in the elevator at Opus Hotel.  “She wasn’t MC-ing!” he shrieks, hiking up his $500 jeans as the doors opened on their floor. It’s the kind of conversation hip people have in a hip hotel and the 97 room Opus Hotel is the hippest roost in town. How hip, you ask. Well, Pam Anderson, who was born near Vancouver, was in the city during my stay and I expected to bump into her around every corner.

Just in case the paparazzi aren’t following you around, Opus Hotel has created five different fictional hipsters with their own customized Lifestyle Concierge profile of restaurants, shops, activities and attractions. Each hipster also has his or her own décor, color scheme and room type stocked with books and CDs that he or she would, theoretically, like.

I stayed in one of hotel’s Blue rooms which, in Opus speak, corresponds to “Susan” a fashion analyst from Toronto who’s a pop culture junkie.  The gimmick was fun at first—like a sophisticated version of charades. But then I realized that Susan was way more anxious to spot Pam Anderson than I was. Still, many return guests have gotten so attached to “their” Opus personality that they request the same color room for each visit.

Regardless of the color scheme, every room comes with an Oxia Oxygen Personal Canister in the bathroom to combat the side-effects of  rock star caliber partying (use of this amenity spikes on weekends) and all mini-bar baskets contain Intimacy Kits. Bathrooms are stocked with L’Occitane bath products. Some rooms have iHome radios with iPod connections and all rooms will have flat screen TVs in 2007. Even the business center is chic (when was the last time that happened?), thanks to clear acrylic Mira chairs and mirrored desks.

Yes, it all feels very W Hotel (right down to the hotel’s prominent use of a single “O” initial), but back before The W lost the boutique hotel plot a bit and started to act more and more like what it is: the offspring of giant hotel parent company.

The see and be seen vibe of Opus Hotel is carried through to its elegant and bustling French bistro, Elixir, most noticeably in the bathrooms where nothing more than a faintly frosted pane of glass separates the women’s room from the men’s room and surveillance screens above the wash basins allow you to spy on people sitting at the restaurant’s bar. Order from the Petit Plats section of the restaurant’s menu, by the way. That’s where the most inventive dishes on an already inventive menu can be found.

It should come as no surprise that, for the past three years, a stay at The Opus has been part of gift bags given to presenters at the Academy Awards (last year’s goodie bag also included a Frette cashmere travel blanket and a gift certificate to the Cornelia Day Spa). And, speaking of awards, the hotel has been presented with a few of its own. The 65 seat stark and modern Opus Bar, pictured left, was named Most Popular Nightspot by Zagat in 2006 and the hotel itself was named one of the world’s top 100 properties and #2 in Canada in Conde Nast Travelermagazine’s 2006 Readers’ Choice Awards. Opus Hotel also made it onto the list of the best 500 hotels in the world as compiled in Travel & Leisure magazine’s 2006 Readers’ Choice Awards. 

Unlike most hotels, The Opus’ web site is entertaining and informative with a dishy, fun to read blog written by the energetic (and plenty hip) General Manager plus handy tools like floor plans of all room types and a shopping area called Oshop where you can pick up some Thomas Haas handmade truffles ($15) or a bottle of  Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc ($50) without  ever leaving your room—though the Yaletown neighborhood where the hotel is located offers plenty in the way of local boutiques  within walking distance to help you exercise your credit card the old fashioned way.

The first new hotel to open in Vancouver since The Opus debuted in 2002 is scheduled to be completed in 2007, ending Opus Hotel’s long run as the newest property in town. But I doubt it will end the hotel’s run as the hippest.

Rates start at CDN $199 

Opus Hotel 
322 Davie Street 
Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, V6B 5Z6 
Phone: (604) 642-6787 


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The Fairmont Palliser – Calgary, Alberta , Canada :: Hotel Review

It takes quite a bit for a hotel to wipe the frown off your face after you check into your room at 11am, but your luggage doesn’t join you until 10pm. The sincerest of apologies and a genuine sense that this was an honest mistake took the initial sting out of my lagging luggage. The comfortable, convenient hospitality of the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary, Canada, did the rest.

Like you, I don’t consider toaster waffles and watered-down orange juice to be an actual meal, let alone a hotel amenity (though many chains disagree with me on both points these days). So I was glad to see that the Fairmont Palliser defines breakfast the way I do with a well-stocked buffet or ala carte menu offering fine lox, fresh fruit, baked goods and eggs any way. And, yes, they’ll make you a waffle from scratch. It’s all served in a subdued room with private tables and discreet booths that seem made to foster productive business conversations.

I also appreciated the fact that the Palliser’s staff was wearing full cowboy regalia to support and celebrate the city’s annual Calgary Exhibition & Stampede which was happening during my visit. Never mind that some of them looked as if this was the only  time all year that they put on cowboy boots.

Another smile-inducing feature of the hotel is the Fairmont Gold concierge floor. Guests with Gold reservations enjoy a separate check in and check out desk on the third floor of the hotel in addition to complimentary deluxe continental breakfast, complimentary evening hors d’oeuvres and a fully stocked honor bar in the private lounge on the floor plus access to a fax machine and other business services. Even if you’re not there on business, these extras get you out the door fast and happy in the morning and create a wonderful, relaxing sanctuary to return to after a long day of sight seeing or shopping.

No matter what floor your room is located on, your plushly appointed bed will inspire sweet dreams—and perhaps an upgrade at home. And the sandstone building was designed in what’s called the Edwardian Commercial styles that employs an E-shape to ensure that all rooms get natural light. My room had one full wall of large unobstructed windows (which actually opened on the bottom!). They let in lots of sunshine and even allowed me to watch the nightly Stampede fireworks display over the nearby fairgrounds right from my bed.

Speaking of nearby, the downtown location of the Fairmont Palliser could not be more convenient. I walked to and from the Stampede each day, avoiding the traffic and parking nightmare at the fairgrounds and the crowded commuter bus service. And the heart of Calgary’s relaxed and varied downtown shopping districts—including the pedestrians-only Stephen Area Walk and the strip referred to as “Uptown 17” are both just a stroll away.

The Bay, a department store operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company, recently celebrated the Grand Opening of what they call the “Designer Depot.” Located on 8th Street SW (one block away from the hotel), the Depot offers 30,000 square feet of designer clothing for men, women and children as well as home goods at reduced prices.

In addition, the downtown shopping area boasts plenty of places to pick up some cowboy or cowgirl gear at classics retailers like Lamle’s and Riley & McCormick.  A few blocks further away (but still within walking distance) you’ll find the Alberta Boot Company, the official supplier of boots to Canada’s famous Mounties and THE place to invest in a pair of cowboy boots for yourself. Trust me on this.

A $20 million renovation of the entire Fairmont Palliser is planned to begin in the fall of 2007 and is expected to be completed by 2010. I was relieved to learn that the renovation will include the bathrooms which, during my stay, were more reminiscent of a motel than a hotel, with visibly beat up and tacky fixtures, toilets, towels, tubs and showers—though the pedestal sinks remain elegant.

It must be said that when it came time to check out of the Fairmont Palliser, I waited for almost an hour before the valet retrieved my Chevy Silverado, but I was in such a good mood from the rest of my stay that I figured this was simply a sign that they didn’t want me to leave. And at least I had my luggage!
Rates: $149-$2,200

The Fairmont Palliser 
133 9th Avenue SW 
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 2M3
Phone: (800) 257-7544

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