Five things you have to do while in Calgary other than the Stampede (Alberta, Canada)

The city of Calgary in Alberta is a bustling and vibrant place, no more so than during the 10 days of the Calgary Stampede; the iconic event which is happening right now, through to July 17th. But with the city a short drive away from the Rocky Mountains, and full of amazing activities to enjoy in itself, there’s more than just the Stampede to keep you entertained – and perhaps keep you in the Western Province for a little longer. Here are just five things you’ve got to do outside of the Stampede grounds while you’re there.

Spend an afternoon in Kensington

Kensington is one of nine areas in Calgary which operates under the city’s “Business Revitalization Zone”, an initiative set up in 1983 that has resulted in the area becoming one of the best places in the city for shopping, dining and drinking. There’s a bit of a “trendy Melbourne” feel to the area, which couldn’t make it more removed from the Texas-like atmosphere of the Stampede. Adding measure to the claim, Kensington is home to Calgary’s AFL team, the Calgary Kookaburras.

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It’s also home to the Container Bar, inspired in part by Section 8 Bar in Melbourne. Here you can enjoy some amazing cocktails like the “Donkey Kick” (lime, ginger, agave de cortes mezcal and ginger liqueur) or an impressive selection of gin and tonics, like a eau clair gin with porters cardamom, served with fruits, herbs and spices. And you can line your stomach with bar snacks like spiced buttered popcorn, bread with foie gras butter (with a dash of bourbon and maple syrup), and cups of lollies! The bar is part of something of a complex, where you’ll find a wine bar upstairs (Called “Winebar Kensington“), an incredible Brasserie downstairs (Called “Brasserie Kensington“), with the Container Bar in the laneway alongside it. All owned by Cam Dobranski and Matt Leslie, their trifecta of dining and drinking experiences is a must visit destination on any trip to the area.

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After you finish up there, head to Sunnyside Art Supplies (132 10 St NW, Official Website) and learn how to paint (or just grab yourself some much needed supplies)! Then  grab a smoothie from Wild & Raw (1119 Kensington Rd NW, Official Website)! But probably most importantly: Get yourself some of the best chocolates in Calgary! Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut by Cococo Chocolatiers (1123 Kensington Road NW, Official Website) is going to be the place for just that, with a stunning range, including Canadian Icewine Truffles, oregano and rosemary fusion bars, and even white Calgary Stampede cowboy hats made out of… you guessed it, white chocolate!

This is but a literal taste of all the amazing things you can do in the area. Learn more about Kensington at their official tourism website.

Have a picnic in Prince’s Island Park

Kensington also has some fantastic boutique accommodation, like the Kensington Riverside Inn. We stayed there during our visit and you can read more about it HERE. While we were there we rented a bike in order to enjoy the area’s great bike trails.

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As you ride along the Bow River, which separates Kensington from the main centre of the city, you’ll eventually come across Prince’s Island Park, which sits in the river. It’s the perfect place to have a most enjoyable afternoon picnic… that is, if you’ve opted to bring your own lunch (the bike above made that quite easy). Or maybe some of those chocolates I mentioned earlier. And given the Stampede happens in the dead of Summer, there’s no better time to sit in the park and enjoy the outdoors.

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Have a meal at the River Cafe

If you didn’t bring a picnic, Prince’s Island Park is also home to one of Calgary’s most celebrated restaurants, the River Cafe. Set in the park’s old concession building, the restaurant focuses on locally sourced ingredients (some even grown in their own garden), with a mix of seafood and meat dishes that are mouthwatering as they are creative. Their menu is ever changing, but here’s a small taste of what we enjoyed. We had two dishes to start: hog wild boar and chicken pate with beans, and a second dish featuring three perfectly cooked scallops, presented as below with dill, fiddleheads, roe, lemon aioli and radishes.

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The Halibut was served with chilli, peas and Fire Morel Mushrooms that only grow in ground that has been devastated by fire. Sadly, fire is common place in the region, but this means these mushrooms are in decent supply. And they are delicious.

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And then there was a stunning slice of Bison, with elder-flower gel over vegetables and gnocchi.

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Your meal will likely be quite different to mine, but you get an idea of the sorts of ingredients that they try to offer. There was not a bad bite in the lot, and inclusions like the elder-flower gel or the Morel Mushrooms were unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. To find out more about the River Cafe, head to their official website.

Head to Canmore for some Glacier Fed beer

After your time at the Stampede has come to an end, head into the nearby Rocky Mountains – but instead of running to Banff like everyone else does, stay a little closer to town and stay in the Canmore-Kananaskis region. It only takes an hour to get out to Canmore, which is a bustling area of the mountains, with 12,000 residents (including plenty of Australians) and a myriad of activities to do in the Summer or the Wintertime. And you’ll find some of the best beer in Canada here, too, at the only brewing company in the Canadian Rockies. The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company. And what makes it taste so damn good? The fact they’re using glacier fed water for their brews may be but one of the many reasons the microbrew is worth the trip.

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You have two options for your visit to Grizzly Paw – get there early enough and have a tour of their Brewery, which is about 4 years old, being in full production for about two and a half years now. The brand has been in operation, however, for 20 years, and for the majority of this time they brewed at their nearby restaurant – which remains in operation. Once the only place you’d be able to enjoy a Grizzly Paw, now they supply a limited supply of their microbrew throughout the region. And if a good view helps make a fine ale than you’ve certainly come to the right place here; the Three Sisters mountain range visible from the windows is certainly a nice touch.

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In addition to beers, they also produce sodas, but in spite of being such a small brewery they produce an impressive range of beers. The Beaver Tail Raspberry Ale, which is a wheat ale, was a favourite amongst those who didn’t consider themselves big beer drinkers, while the Big Head Nut Brown, was a classic brown ale that was a favourite of those who drank a lot of beer. My favourite was the Powder Pound Pilsner, with its Canadian-meets-Czech traditions all being churned out into one delicious beer.

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Learn more about The Grizzy Paw at their official website.

Meet Wolfdogs who will tame your wild heart…

On your way back to Calgary from Canmore, especially if you love dogs, make sure to take a detour East and visit the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary (263156 Range Rd 53, Cochrane, AB). I’ll let the Sanctuary tell you a little more about themselves:

As the popularity of wolfdogs as pets became more popular in Canada, Georgina De Caigny and Andi Scheibenstock identified a need for a knowledgeable and experienced rescue organization that would make the rehabilitation and rehoming of displaced wolfdogs a priority. It was in June of 2011 that Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary opened its doors as not only one of the largest sanctuaries within Canada, but one of the only sanctuaries to balance educational programs with a highly successful adoption program too.

You visiting the Sanctuary helps keep it going, and you get to hang out with and feed beautiful Wolfdogs in the process. Yes, this is real life and it is as beautiful as this magnificent creature below.

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Look how adorable I am! Feed me pls?

The Sanctuary is currently home to 15 permanent Wolfdogs, who are classified as having high or mid wolf content in their blood. Basically, a Wolfdog will have different characteristics and behaviours depending on the amount of Wolf they have in them, and will either be low, mid or high. The more wolf in them, the less they showcase dog-like affinity to humans. They’re still friendly to humans and show no aggression whatsoever – they’ll even eat food right out of your hands if you want them to (and they definitely do that here with the mid-range Wolfdogs). But they’ll never be companion animals. And though they may be kind to humans, they’re not particularly kind to each other. The Wolfdogs are separated into different pens, basically so they don’t kill each other; separating Wolfdogs of different wolf variety (lows and highs should never be placed together, for instance), and ensuring no two dominant males end up together.

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Please throw food into my mouth!

A low Wolf content Wolfdog will be available for adoption or fostering, but those will high or a mid Wolf content will most likely spend their lives in the 160 acres of the Sanctuary. And each has their own story as to why they’re there. Often they are abandoned by their owners and brought to the Sanctary to be cared for. Others are transferred here from organisations like the RSPCA. You learn a lot while you’re visiting the Sanctuary, and you get to pet and feed beautiful, lovely, apparently quite murderous Wolfdogs. It’s a fantastic day out, and a great cause.

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I’m told you have food for me?

For more details about the sanctuary, head to their official website. They’re closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Air Canada fly daily to Calgary from Brisbane and Sydney via Vancouver. While in Calgary we stayed at the Hotel Blackfoot and while in Kensington we stayed at the Kensington Riverside Inn. In Canmore we stayed at the Grande Rockies Resort. In Kananaskis we stayed at the Delta Lodge.

Portions of this trip were made possible thanks to Tourism Canmore Kananaskis and Tourism Alberta, with travel to Canada thanks to Destination Canada. Special thanks to the Grizzly Paw Brewery. Photos by the author, unless otherwise mentioned.