A Newcomer’s Guide to Stampede City
A booming oil industry. The world’s biggest annual rodeo. World-class beef farming. Cowboy hats and boots everywhere. We’ve got to be talking about Texas, right?
Wrong! Howdy, and welcome to Calgary, Alberta’s largest city and the beating heart of the Canadian prairies.
A Brief History of Calgary
The native peoples of Canada (referred to as First Nations or Indigenous people) have lived in the Calgary area for the past 10,000 years. By 1876 it was firmly on the beaver fur trade route and was established as a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post called Fort Calgary (after Calgary Bay in Scotland).
In 1883 a railways station was built near the Fort, and the small settlement started to expand quickly. It officially became a city in 1894 and had a population of 4000 people. The Calgary Stampede was inaugurated in 1912, and oil was discovered there in 1914. Modern Calgary grew from these humble beginnings, and the world soon learned of this agricultural and oil town in a big way during the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Today, the sprawling city of Calgary is home to 1.5 million residents (as of 2016) spread across four quadrants. It is a very multicultural and tolerant place, and one of the most diverse cities in Canada.
As an immigrant to Canada, you will certainly not be alone in Calgary! Approximately 25% of local residents belong to a visible minority group, and more than 200 different nationalities are represented. In fact, a whopping 78% all immigrants who have come to Calgary in the years since 2000 are members of a visible minority group.
- White: 67.3%
- Visible minority group: 30.1%
- Aboriginal population: 2.7%
Some of the most common visible minority groups are:
- South Asian: 7.5%
- Chinese: 6.8%
- Filipino: 4.4%
- Black: 2.9%
- Southeast Asian: 1.9%
- Latin American: 1.8%
- Arab: 1.5%
- West Asian: 0.8%
- Korean: 0.8%
- Japanese: 0.5%
- Multiple visible minorities: 0.8%
Wondering about the religious makeup of Calgary? Approximately 55% are broadly Christian, and 35% follow no religion. After these figures you have: Islam (5.2%), Sikh (2.6%), Buddhist (2.1%), Hindu (1.6%), and Jewish (0.6%).
English is the most commonly spoken language, as roughly 70% of locals speak only English. Just 1% speak French, and up to 25% speak their native languages at home and in social situations. That said, most immigrants do start to learn English as soon as they arrive and can communicate effectively within a short period of time.
You might want to pay close attention to this topic! Even within Canada, Calgary’s weather is notable for its extremes. Within one day you can have a perfectly sunny morning with temperatures in the teens (C), but by the afternoon a snowstorm could roll in. As a result, Calgarians love to talk about the weather. Locals often compare notes about how weather-hardy they are, and it is not unheard of for a family to fire up the BBQ when it is -30C outside!
If you’re hoping to fit into the local culture, make sure you have a thick, warm parka for the winter and a swimsuit for floating down the Bow River in the summer. Remember, it is Canadian custom (and law) to shovel the snow from the walkway in front of your home. Failure to do so could result in fines from the city – and very grumpy neighbours.
- Winter – Lows of -30C, highs of 5C. The winter in Calgary is not for the faint of heart, but the beloved Chinook (read more below) makes it much more bearable.
- Spring – Lows of -8C, highs of 17C. While the weather is warming up and the snow is melting by mid Spring, don’t be surprised if snow falls as late as May!
- Summer – Lows of 15C, highs of 35C. The sun can really beat down on Calgary, but it is a dry heat.
- Fall – Lows of -10C, highs of 30C. It’s no lie to say that fall is a season of extremes!
The Chinook is a local First Nations word that means "the wind that makes the snow disappear," and it provides a blast of dry, warm air from the Rockies that forces the cold air out of the atmosphere. It can warm the weather by as much as 30C in one day!
Calgary has an efficient public transportation system that can get you to the four corners of the city. Services include buses, light rail (LRT), and the C-Train (two train lines that head north and south from downtown). Accurate and current fare information can be found on this website. As of January 2019, an adult fare is $3.40, a student’s rate (6-17) is $2.35, and children under the age of 5 can ride for free.
The tickets are valid across the entire network for 90 minutes, and monthly passes are also available.
Top 5 Things to Do in Calgary
- Party on Down at the Stampede – Every July, people travel from all over the world to attend the Calgary Stampede, and it’s not just about watching the rodeo. Many people come for the legendary parties, carnival atmosphere, and the sense of camaraderie that the Stampede brings out in Calgarians and visitors alike.
- The Calgary Tower – Located in the heart of historic downtown, the Calgary Tower is home to an observation deck that boasts stunning 360-degree views of the prairies and Rocky Mountains. While it costs $18 per adult, children get in for only $9, and discounts are regularly offered in local newspapers.
- Play Around at the Olympic Park – The 1988 Winter Olympics were held in Calgary, and the park is still one of the city’s most beloved attractions. Not only can you explore Olympic history, you can partake in many Winter sports, such as bobsledding, skiing, and snowshoeing.
- The Calgary Zoo – The award-winning Calgary Zoo is one of the city’s top attractions for a reason. Home to more than 1,000 animals across 100 species, it is a wonderful place for a family day out. Tickets are a rather steep $29.95, but discounts can be found online.
- Heritage Park Historical Site – If you want to step back in time to the old Fort days, Heritage Park is one fantastic place to bring the whole family. Featuring lovely heritage buildings, midway rides, and a steam engine, the site allows you to learn about history while having a good time with the kids.
Calgary has many free services designed specifically for newcomers to Canada.
- Immigrant Services Calgary – This non-profit organization has been going strong for 30 years, offering help and assistance to newcomers to Canada. Their services include language classes, translation, family counseling, job training, help to find employment, children’s lessons, and a lot more. Address: 910 7 Ave SW #1200, Calgary, AB T2P 3N8, Canada
- Calgary Immigrant Women’s Centre – CIWA is a valuable resource for any female immigrant arriving to Canada. According to their website, they offer “40 programs and projects… literacy and language training, employment support and bridging programs, family violence, parenting, individual counselling, in-home support, civic engagement, health, housing and community development.” Address: #200, 138 - 4th Avenue SE, Calgary, Alberta T2G 4Z6
- Calgary Immigrant Educational Society – CIES offers free English classes, local culture lessons, job bank information, and other settlement skills to low-income immigrant families. Address: 1723 – 40th Street, S.E., Calgary, AB, T2A 7Y3 (+ two other locations)
- The Centre for Newcomers – Providing help, support, and a sense of community for refugees and immigrants, the Centre for Newcomers offers a whole host of services. These include language classes, job training, internship opportunities, family activities, youth programs, mentorship opportunities, and indigenous education for newcomers. Address: 1010, 999 - 36 Street NE, Calgary, AB T2A 7X6
The Calgary Public Library
Joining a local library can be a great step for any newcomer to Canada. Not only do libraries loan out books and DVDs, but the Calgary Public Library also has a lot of services designed with immigrants in mind. From children’s story time, language classes, and the ability to surf the web for free, the CPL is a valuable resource for everyone. For more information about how to get a CPL membership, read our article about public libraries in Canada.
There are many branches across the city, but the main branch is the New Central Library, located at 800 3 Street SE, Calgary, T2G 2E7.
Getting to and from Calgary
You’re in luck! Calgary is the hub (main airport) for the Canadian budget airline Westjet. As a result, you can fly directly from all major (and many medium and small) cities in Canada, as well as many cities in Mexico, the Caribbean, the U.S., and even a few in Europe (including London, Paris, and Barcelona).
Canadians think nothing of driving for long distances to visit family or friends – it’s common to travel for more than an hour or two in the car to have dinner with loved ones. As there are relatively few big cities in Canada, it is common to drive up to 15 hours in one day to get to Vancouver! Edmonton, the provincial capital, is just 3 hours away. Passenger rail travel is uncommon and very expensive, so Greyhound buses are a far more common method of long distance travel.