I have always considered myself a savvy traveler but found it a bit odd that I have galavanted all over the world without discovering all the beauty Canada has to offer. This summer all of that changed with the opportunity to hit the road again with General Motors and some friends to explore Alberta with the all new GMC Canyon. This trip was a unique dichotomy, where we got to experience working ranch life in Lundbreck and finished our adventure taking in the largest outdoor festival in the world…the Calgary Stampede.
In an effort for our group to both bond with each other and our set of wheels for the trip, we flew from Toronto to Calgary and connected to Lethbridge. There we jumped into a fleet of black GMC Canyon’s to make the trek to Lundbrek, one of the sunniest and flattest places in the country, where we gladly called Sierra West Ranch our temporary home. Probably as remote as you can get in the province, owners Randy and Ginny Donahue affectionately say its “where the pavement ends and the west begins.” The two, who are sweeter than strawberry-rhubarb pie, have a long history in rodeo, riding and of course ranching, which was a the perfect precursor to Stampede. The ranch, nestled among the scenic foothills, was everything I imagined and more. We each were blessed with our own rustic accommodations but us gals decided it would be much more fun to have a slumber party in Sierra West’s loft style log cabin – the largest on the entire property.
Our crew dove head first into our cowboy/cowgirl duties. Learning the ins and outs of ranching, roping cattle and spending tons of time with the beautiful horses. Time spent on social media and our laptops was replaced with cozy bonfires, late night chats and live music played by a real-life cowboy. Although life on the ranch was pretty amazing, I would be lying if I said we didn’t miss being dialled in to what was going on in the “real world” on Instagram and Twitter. Our social media obsessed group was pretty lucky being able to use the 4G LTE wifi from our convoy of pick-up trucks. After a taste of the simple life in Lundbrek, it was time to get behind the wheel of our trucks and continue on with our Prairie adventure. Our first stop on route to Calgary was in Turner Valley, a small town with a rich history in oil and gas in Alberta, to check out Eau Claire Distillery. Alberta is home to the best grain and they harvest for spirits all over the world, so it’s only a matter of time they got into the craft spirits game. Most have heard of “Farm to Table” in the culinary world and Eau Claire is now making “Grain to Glass” something to talk about by producing artisanal, small batched, craft spirits. It seemed as though our tasting began one minute after the legal time to start drinking and over an hour we got schooled on Turner Valley’s checkered history while sipping on single malt & rye whiskey, premium vodkas, London style dry gin, and specialty blends.
We were welcomed to Calgary with a hail storm. Yes…in July. It was the craziest thing I ever seen because the temperature had been above 30 degrees celsius for days. Outside of the Hotel Arts, we sought refuge in our trusted Canyon; using the truck’s wifi to snapchat this freak of nature to our friends back in Toronto. For some reason we decided to put our luggage in the roomy second row of the truck, instead of the bed and that probably was the most intelligent decision we made all day. Funny enough, there’s a well known saying around Alberta, “If you don’t like the weather you need not to worry as it changes every five minutes.”
There was a few things on my wish list while in Calgary. Quintessential things that I was told by my friends I absolutely had to do and see while I was in town. First on the hit list: go to the iconic cowboy hat manufacturer Smithbilt to tour their facility and obtain one of their famous white hats that they have been proudly making since the 1940s. Considered a legendary symbol for the city of Calgary, the white Smithbilt hat has been presented by the city’s Mayor to visiting dignitaries, politicians, and celebs like the Dalai Lamai, Vladimir Putin, Prince William, Kate Middleton and even Oprah over the last 60 years – as the key to the city. After meeting the owners and learning the history, we were each bestowed with our own white Smithbilt before heading to the Alberta Boot Company. The Alberta Boot Company just doesn’t just make any run of the mill boots. They are known for designing and manufacturing the footwear for the Royal Canadian Mountie Police and consumers who are looking for custom cowboy boots. Cowboy boots are as classic as you can get, so it’s design aesthetic will never deviate far from the basic style of boot. Most would assume that Alberta Boot Company’s production technology may have changed to reflect the current times, but we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the way they made their boots 35 years ago, is still the exact same way they are making boots today.
Clad in our western regalia in our pick-up trucks, our crew was finally ready to take on Stampede. Attending a rodeo event in anything other than a pick-up truck would be blasphemy. The 2015 Canyon was tough enough for ranch life, chic enough for the streets of Calgary and still gave us some Aberta credibility. It has substantial power that makes it useful for trailering or hauling, but inside the cabin remains ultra quiet due to advanced interior engineering, while also being roomy enough for my crew and our gear. I am used to driving mid to large sized vehicles but for the others who are less familiar, they were happy to have the assistance of the standard rear camera to help them navigate in and out of parking spots. Truth be told, although categorized as a mid-sized truck, the Canyon handles more like a sedan.
I’ve heard many tales about the 10 day rodeo extravaganza, but was not at all prepared for what we experienced. The grounds, or otherwise known as the “Mainway” is a large version of a State Fair or carnival you may find in the U.S. Think – rides, games, merchandise vendors, and FOOD. Lots and lots and lots of food. If you were following along on snapchat, you were lucky enough to see what we were indulging in first hand. Everything was super sized and fried. Fried cheesecake, fried oreos, snickers, ice cream, pickles. You name it…it was there. Fried and delicious – as you can imagine but could only handle it for a day or so. We indulged in between catching all the action behind the scenes in the chutes. Frighteningly close to the horses, bulls and their ridiculously fit riders, I got a whole new appreciation for the sport. Every day at 1:15 over the near two week event, cowboys and cowgirls face off in a furious display of grit and skill, with each win building towards Showdown Sunday – the Rodeo’s main event.
While in the chutes ducking dirt and manure from the horses as they kicked their way into the ring, I took advantage of this time to ask questions about how elite rodeo cowboys stay in shape. This is something that has always fascinated me. Their time on the horse or bull may be short, approximately 8 seconds, but those few seconds are a lot for the body to take. These athletes are on the road for months at a time, competing in more than 100 rodeos per year, often sleeping in motels with no gyms. They squeeze in push-ups in tiny rooms or against their trucks at rest stops. During my impromptu chat with one rider, he explained that it’s all about strength and core, “Being lean is crucial. You don’t want to get too big. The bigger you are, the harder you fall,”
Photos by Amee Rehal
Click here to learn more about how the GMC Canyon is refining the mid-size pickup truck and head to GM.ca to learn more about the company’s complete brand portfolio. This experience was made possible by the amazing folks at General Motors Canada, and GMC brand team, in conjunction with Gary Sowerby and Lisa Calvi of Odyssey International. The GMC Canyon experience is just one of many amazing adventures I have had with the GM crew. In case you missed it, make sure to catch my Chevrolet Colorado experience in Sqaumish, British Columbia here.