It would be hard to imagine our annual 10-day festival without the rides, games and food that make up the midway. Fortunately, and maybe surprising to some, the midway has been a part of Calgary Stampede tradition since the very beginning. Midways and fairs have long been a source for technological and food innovations, and ours is no exception!
Agricultural exhibitions have been held at Victoria Park since 1886, and in 1908 the Dominion Exhibition was held in Calgary. This is the one that first saw Guy Weadick come to Calgary, as part of a travelling Wild West show. In photos from these early exhibitions we can already see various midway attractions, and the 1908 souvenir programs promises that “The Midway attractions will be unique in the extreme”.
At least from 1918, if not earlier, this included a Ferris wheel and other rides. Attractions like the Ferris wheel had been a part of exhibitions like this for a long time. The Eiffel tower was constructed for a world’s fair, as was the Crystal Palace in London. The first Ferris wheel was an engineering marvel built to rival these impressive structures, the likes of which had never been seen before. Designed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., it was built for the World Columbia Exhibition held in Chicago in 1893. It featured 36 gondolas that could hold 60 people each- up to 2,160 people. Imagine being the first person to ever ride in a Ferris wheel!
In these early photos you can see other rides as well as attractions like fortune tellers, musical acts, food stalls, games, exhibition buildings and of course, the Grandstand. Foods in the 1920s could have included many of the midway foods we think of today- in 1904 cotton candy was introduced at the St Louis World Fair, along with hamburgers, iced tea and the ice cream cone. In 1908 candy apples were introduced, and the first patent for corn dogs was in 1929.
Since these early years the concept of the midway has stayed the same, but we’ve continue to add new thrills and attractions that go ever higher and faster. By the 1960s and 70s there are rides with some serious G-force, including The Latest Sensation and the Spacewheels.
In 1979, the Skyride was added, making it a bit easier to get across Park, with an amazing view along the way.
In 2012, the Outlaw coaster made its first appearance, built especially for the Stampede’s Centennial, and named after the famous Bull. You could also catch a zipline across Park. These are only a few of the highlights! You might also remember the Zipper, which in 2017 we thought would have to be retired after being a 50-year staple of the midway, but we’re happy to say is returning. Bumper cars and fun houses have long been a staple too.
Stay tuned to find out what exciting midway thrills and interesting foods might be added to the light of the midway this year!
 It is difficult to find references specifically to the midway in early Stampede history. Conklin has written an excellent article about the history of the midway at Stampede. https://conklinshows.com/history/stories/carnivals-calgary-stampede/index.html