There’s more to Calgary than the old stereotype of cowboys and oil barons. But if your tastes run to cowboys, you’ll find plenty of those, too. In fact, the classic gay film Brokeback Mountain was filmed here. Still, Cowtown is a thoroughly modern and cosmopolitan city with lots for visitors to enjoy.
You won’t have any trouble finding country-western bars in Calgary, but if you want to freshen up your wardrobe with some authentic cowboy gear (or heck, if you want to spice up your love life with some authentic cowboy gear), you’ll find plenty of shops selling cowboy boots, jeans, Stetsons, leather gloves, spurs and everything else you’ll need to rope a cowpoke in the shops on the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall. You’ll also find the usual shopping mall stores, a good mix of bars and restaurants, and some cheap food trucks. The mall ends at Olympic Plaza, where medal ceremonies for the 1988 Winter Olympics took place.
For more fine dining, interesting independent retail options and the bulk of the city’s nightlife, take a stroll along 17th Avenue SW. A more bohemian experience focused on cafés rather than bars can be found in the Kensington neighbourhood north of the Bow River.
The Calgary Zoo is a world-class institution that also houses a botanical garden. The Glenbow Museum is the largest in Western Canada, and it focuses on local history with regularly changing art exhibits. But the best museum experience in the region is a 90-minute drive west, near Drumheller: the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which houses a magnificent collection of more than 100,000 dinosaur fossil specimens that were found in the Alberta Badlands.
If you’re visiting in the winter, it’s worth making a trip to Canada Olympic Park. The facility is open year-round for training and recreation in various sports, but on certain days in the winter, the bobsled and luge track is open for visitors. It’s one of only two bobsled tracks in Canada. Sign a waiver and hit the ice — if you dare! It’s also fun to watch athletes train on the ski-jump and half-pipe courses.
Calgary’s gay nightlife scene is currently in flux. After a few years when several new gay bars and clubs opened, only the old stalwart Twisted Element remains. Twisted hosts drag performances, amateur strip nights and popular dance parties on the weekends. There’s also the Texas Lounge, a small basement bar that’s really more like the lobby of a bathhouse, which you enter through a rear parking lot off 17th Avenue. The local scene magazine is the monthly GayCalgary and Edmonton magazine, which has up-to-date event listings.
But if you’re looking for your Jack Twist, your best bet is at Calgary’s premier gay summer event, the Canadian Rockies International Rodeo — better known as the gay rodeo. The five-day event takes place in nearby Strathmore and features all the ridin’, ropin’ and racin’ you could wish for.
Sure, it’s somewhat overshadowed by the annual Calgary Stampede, which is the city’s premier event and one of the biggest rodeos in the world. But it’s nowhere near as fabulous.
Pride 2013 celebrations in Calgary will run Aug 23 through Sept 2. The parade kicks off at noon on Sunday, Sept 1 at Centre Street and 8th Avenue South (aka Stephen Ave). It will proceed west toward Shaw Millennium Park, the site of the Pride street festival.
For more information on Calgary Pride, visit pridecalgary.ca.