Portfolio: Sample from T+E Magazine: Austin Issue (Oct. 2013)
The Two Sides of
Around the Globe
Photos by Stacey McLeod
In many ways, Alberta, Canada is a lot like texas—so much so that it’s been referred to as the “Texas
of the North.” Alberta’s traditionally known for beef, oil, conservative politics and serious cowboy culture
and like Austin, Alberta’s urban hub, Calgary, is going through a growth spurt: fuelling a crafty culinary
scene, reeling in new residents from across the country and making all of Canada jealous with its current
mayor and social media star, Naheed Nenshi.
Calgary sits where the Canadian prairies meet the massive Rocky Mountains, teasing the city from the horizon.
The clash of landscapes results in big Alberta skies, sparkling clear blue rivers, unpredictable Chinook winds
and all kinds of outdoor adventures. And while the Rockies may seem far away, they can actually be explored
on short day trips from the city. Winter sports fanatics have long flocked to nearby Banff and Lake Louise, but
aside from hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics, Calgary’s mostly been pigeonholed as just another Canadian city.
And, those who do travel here each year have often come for one big reason: the Calgary Stampede.
For two weeks in July, Calgary’s Stampede Park morphs into a sea of white cowboy hats and horse trailers for
the annual rodeo show, with its tagline “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” But when Stampede packs up
and the hats come off (which they always do, as it’s rare to see them outside of Stampede season), Calgary’s
sophisticated urban side reappears, with booming nightlife and arts and culture scenes, and refined restaurants
focused on fresh, local ingredients.
Here’s a look at both sides of Calgary.
For more than a century, the Calgary Stampede has drawn big crowds to Calgary, and
continues to envelop the city in western wear and weekday hangovers. (It’s basically
10 days of partying.) In fact, Stampede spirit is so strong here that when it’s happening,
arriving at business meetings in a suit and tie is a big faux pas. Cowboy hats, boots,
casual jeans and long-sleeved western shirts become the unofficial Calgary uniform, and
people wear their hats everywhere, from corner stores to fine dining restaurants.
You’ll find the real cowboys and cowgirls over at Stampede Park’s daily rodeos and
races, standing proper in crisp button-up shirts, hats and big belt buckles (the real sign
of a rodeo cowboy). And after hot days of Midway excesses, the park’s tents explode into
rowdy parties for long nights of beer drinking and line dancing.
The Food: Buckets of sugarcoated mini donuts are a must-have (more than two million
are consumed each year), along with strange fried food combos (including delicious
deep-fried Oreo cookies). For a more luxe experience, score seats in Ranahan’s or the
Lazy S Lounge for Grandstand dining with high-level views of the rodeo and races. Sip
on Caesars (a real Canadian cocktail) spiked with beef jerky, and if you’re brave, attempt
the massive Outlaw Burger ($60 CAD), a four-pound burger made with AAA Alberta
beef and topped with eight slices of horseradish cheddar, 12 strips of bacon and more
(but intended to feed up to six people). But the bravest of diners can head into town to
Bottlescrew Bill’s and Buzzards’ annual Testicle Festival, where you can try prairie
oysters (otherwise known as bull testicles) battered and fried or sautéed.
Photos by Stacey McLeod
The Main Draw: The rodeo and chuckwagon races are Stampede’s main events. Daily
adrenaline-inducing rodeos feature bull riding, saddle bronc, bareback, tie-down
roping, steer wrestling and ladies barrel racing, as well as the fearless rodeo clowns, all
leading up to the final weekend’s showdown. Every evening, the chuckwagon racers
make their rounds, vying for major prize money (more than $1 million total) with the
Showdown Sunday winner receiving a $100,000 CAD prize. The chuckwagon races
are followed by a must-see 90-minute Grandstand variety show, backed by The Young
Canadians, a troupe of musical kids that gives the cast of Glee a run for their money.
This year’s TransAlta Grandstand Show featured the Atherton Twins (acrobats of
Cirque du Soleil fame), Pole on Globes and the Alberta Ballet. As in Texas, a lot of
things are bigger in Alberta – including the epic fireworks displays that end the night.
The Parties: Sometimes described as “Oktoberfest with cowboys,” there’s no
shortage of beer and rowdy parties under the Nashville North and Cowboys tents, or
inside the jam-packed Cowboys casino and club located on the Stampede grounds
but open year-round. For off-site parties, head to Ranchman’s Bar, but be prepared
to go early or try your luck with the long lines. Many are turned away throughout
the night. Ranchman’s front bar is where the wild drinking (and mechanical bull
riding) happens, but there’s a big dance floor in the back with live country bands,
and every so often, a sea of line dancing and two-stepping. (Everyone in Alberta
seems to know the steps.)
Photos by Stacey McLeod
Calgary’s potential as a travel destination can get overlooked by those heading out
west to Vancouver or east to Toronto, or overshadowed by Stampede. But year-round,
Calgary offers a home base for Rocky Mountain activities (easily accessible in a half-
or full-day trip) and a more sophisticated urban break from Alberta’s big outdoors.
In recent years, a hot job market has brought an influx of young professionals with
money to burn and a taste for the finer things in life. Fittingly, Calgary’s high-end
culinary scene is maturing, fostering a trend toward fine dining and homegrown
talent, including the opening of a downtown culinary campus.
The Food: Traditionally, Calgary has been associated with beef, but in recent years,
restaurants have been looking to fresh and “slow” foods, using native ingredients
like bison, elk, berries and heirloom vegetables. As Karen Anderson from Calgary
Culinary Tours notes, “beef is an exotic import from Scotland that came to Alberta
140 years ago.” Calgary’s “slow food” movement is in full force, which encourages
native Albertan ingredients and local suppliers.
The Players: For a romantic outing, try River Café, a beautiful lodge-like
restaurant tucked in Prince’s Island Park, and one of the city’s top culinary classics.
More standards include award-winning restaurants like classic Rouge and the
more modern Model Milk. Chef Michael Noble, the first Canadian to appear on
the popular food show Iron Chef, has been making headlines with his restaurant
NOtaBLE, where fresh and slow cuisine is cooked over a wood fire in an open
kitchen. A hefty “gluten aware” menu offers alternative takes on dishes.
If you have a sweet-and-savoury tooth, try the signature Stilton cheesecake – you won’t
regret it. Brigg’s Kitchen + Bar is new to the scene, with a menu headed by Chef
Xavier Lecaze of Top Chef Canada fame. The menu’s full of slow-cooked, shareable
and meaty dishes, including a rich lobster mac n’ cheese ($16) and the over-the-top
48-ounce Tomahawk rib-eye steak ($75), best served family-styles (the cut features all
types of doneness, so it still works for groups with conflicting tastes). Or snack on fresh,
sharable plates at Hotel Arts’ Raw Bar, where you can also lounge poolside.
The Parties: Calgarians love to party, and massive downtown bars like Craft Beer
offer serious tap options, while next door at The National there are big communal
tables, games and the recent addition of bowling lanes. Midday cocktails around the
Hotel Arts pool are always hot. (In more ways than one—there’s usually some eye
candy.) For a more casual and local experience, try the low-key Ship & Anchor pub
where locals from all walks congregate for cold pints, or the Hop in Brew Pub,
a downtown hipster bar in an adorable house, with snug little rooms and local