This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede’s most iconic food staple, the pancake breakfast.
Most Calgarians will know the story of rancher and chuckwagon racer Jack Morton well. Historical records regard him as the first official flapjack flipper during Stampede season in 1923. After parking on Stephen Avenue, Mr. Morton would serve an abundance of pancakes from his large wood-fired portable stove to his cowboy kin and eager passersby.
With a tradition now formed, the late 1920s saw a plethora of chuckwagons setting up on the downtown strip. As the Stampede headed into the mid-twentieth century, ham, bacon and eggs were served as well.
Even a national order for chuckwagons to donate 25 pounds of iron from their cooktops for war efforts during the Second World War could not slow down the continually-growing phenomenon that was pancake breakfasts.
From pancake breakfasts expanding to local churches and community centres in the 1950s to Calgary’s former mayor Harry Hays hosting the first political promotion breakfast in 1959, pancake breakfasts had gone citywide. The Chinook Centre has been putting on their annual parking lot pancake breakfast for 63 years now. These days, Chinook’s event sees tens of thousands of attendees.
It was pretty rare to see any sort of cultural diversity in the organizing bodies of the breakfasts until the 1980s, a decade where Calgary’s population was also becoming more diverse. Even some of the first queer spaces in Calgary such as Trax Nightclub were hosting a yearly pancake breakfast for its regulars.
Local restaurants and bars began hopping on the pancake bandwagon as well in the 90s. The former Thai restaurant King & I in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood hosted a wildly successful annual Thai-inspired pancake breakfast well into the 2000s.
By the time the Calgary Stampede centennial rolled around in 2012, one was hard-pressed to find a business not doing a pancake breakfast. Or a pancake cook-off such as 4th Street BIA’s famous annual (friendly) competition which is happening on July 6 this year.
“I think we see these very long standing traditions of specific breakfasts, but they are also always changing and adapting,” said the Calgary Stampede’s historian Cassandra Cummings. “They’re really the embodiment of community spirit. And there’s no expectations except to show up and enjoy the hospitality of sharing food.”
There are hundreds of options for a free pancake breakfast between July 6 to 16.
While the downtown oil and gas companies and mall parking lot offerings continue to draw crowds, the spectrum of choices is wide this year, from the Bon A-Pet-Treat! Per Store’s puppy and pancakes event or Western Muslim Initiative Stampede Breakfast to Omo Teppan and Kitchen’s 6th annual Stampede Breakfast event on July 8.
Omo Teppan owner Eric Sit explained that they decided to launch the breakfast in 2018 as a way to say thank you to Calgarians for helping make their Japanese restaurant a success. With Indigenous dancers, teppanyaki chefs, an appearance by Stampede princesses and unique Japan-fusion dishes such as green tea pancakes, the Omo event is unique.
Last year, Mr. Sit said the breakfast drew 800 attendees and this year they’re expecting a substantial increase in that number come next weekend.
“It holds a very special place in our hearts because we have hosted it every year since the beginning of Omo, even throughout COVID. Our pancake breakfast brings everyone together, from staff to volunteers to guests.”
Ms. Cummings echoes the sentiment, “It’s about pancakes, but it’s also not really about pancakes. It’s giving communities – whatever that means – the chance to get together and just experience something fun and joyful together.”