For ten days in July, Stampede Park in downtown Calgary is a whirl of colour and sound, with ferris wheels and fireworks, mini donuts and midway games. But at its heart, as they always have been, are animals and agriculture.

The 10-day festival, which hosts more than one million visitors from across Canada and around the world, is a celebration of community spirit and western traditions. It encourages visitors from all over the globe to put on some boots, and make a connection to Western Canada’s rural roots.

“The Calgary Stampede is one of the few places left in the world that still celebrates agriculture. We make it a commitment to introduce the urban population to the rural population,” says Stampede president & chairman of the board, Dave Sibbald. A local rancher whose family has been part of the Stampede for many generations, Sibbald is passionate about keeping the connection to agriculture alive. “It’s never been more crucial than it is today as the urban population becomes further and further removed.”

David Sibbald (L) with his family
David Sibbald (L) with his family
Sibbald and two of his horses

A few things have changed since the Sibbald family first began attending the Stampede. From their ranch, nestled in the rolling foothills west of Calgary, it was a three-day journey by wagon made longer when animals were brought along to be shown or sold.  Five generations on, it’s a quick commute for Sibbald, but growing up hearing stories and seeing pictures of the Stampede helped to spark his own love of the event. A Calgary Stampede volunteer for 26 years, Sibbald now heads a dedicated force of volunteers nearly 2,400 strong. Together with Stampede employees, those volunteers work to create the memorable experiences visitors to the Stampede have come to love.

The agriculture area at the Stampede continues to be a must-see for most guests, with its popularity remaining extremely strong year-after-year. Visitors are engaged with hands-on learning experiences, personal interactions with animals and among annual favourites, new exhibits representing the changing face of agriculture.

Photo Credit: Shaun Robinson / Calgary Stampede

“For me, in 26 years the thing that’s probably been the most amazing is the evolution of agriculture; where it’s been and where it’s come to. There’s been a lot of change,” Sibbald says, adding, that makes the Stampede’s role in sharing educational animal and agricultural-related experiences even more essential.  “We always have to be respectful of our past, we get to live in the current, but our job is looking to the future and what it may bring, not only to us, but to the globe from an agriculture perspective.”

Just as the Stampede has changed from the time of his ancestors, Sibbald believes it must continue to evolve. “That’s what Stampede’s about; trying to see what’s around the corner.  We are always moving forward,” he says. “Our ability to bring industry partners together in a collaborative effort to showcase agriculture as a whole, rather than in fragmented components, has big impact. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most, the impact Stampede can have on agriculture. There’s a role to play.”

And that role extends beyond the 10-day Stampede. Stampede Park hosts events throughout the year focused on celebrating animals and agriculture, as well as introducing an urban audience to the agricultural world. At their core is an effort to engage youth in learning where their food comes from. Aggie Days brings the farm to the city for school children and the public to experience life with animals each spring. Now in its 32nd year, the free event attracts close to 40,000 people annually.  A newer educational initiative, the Journey 2050 program, invites school classes to Stampede Park to become virtual farmers. Through fun and interactive games, students are challenged to sustainably feed nine billion people, the world’s projected population in 2050.

It is an effort that will continue to grow, as the Stampede looks to the future. Says Sibbald, “Who’s better positioned than the Calgary Stampede to lead agriculture forward.”

*This article appears in the Calgary Stampede International Agriculture and Agri-food committee’s Profile magazine. Now available in print, you can also enjoy it online on the IAC web page. You’re also invited to follow the IAC on Facebook or Twitter.

prime minister Justin Trudeau and his daughter at the Cattle Trail, Stampede 2016
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his daughter at the Cattle Trail, Stampede 2016