The Grey Cup Festival

The Grey Cup Festival
The Grey Cup Festival
CFL in Calgary

The Grey Cup Festival

Kick off the Grey Cup celebration with the Grey Cup Festival in Calgary.

There’s no bigger sporting event in Canada than the Grey Cup. The annual CFL championship game matches up the two best football teams in the country and is famous for delivering tension, drama, thunderous hits, and thrilling play on both sides of the football. There’s so much more to the annual Grey Cup celebrations than the big game.

The football itself is the centrepiece, but it’s far from the only reason why fans from across the country flock to the CFL city is hosting the Grey Cup every single year. Only two teams are playing, after all, and you’ll find hundreds of fans donning their squad’s colours every year, regardless of whether they’re competing for the championship.

The Grey Cup Festival is the reason they make the pilgrimage. This year, it’s happening in Calgary at Stampede Park, and it’s well worth the trip to the city for what’s sure to be a celebration-packed getaway.

“Obviously, the CFL and the Grey Cup are established brands, but separate from the football is this whole festival,” said Geordie Macleod, the executive director of the Grey Cup Festival. “There’s a lot of football angles to it, but ultimately you could not have watched a single CFL football game in your life and if you come down to Stampede Park in November of this year and have an amazing time.

“You can just come and enjoy it and it really is being built for that exact purpose.”

This year’s Festival is aiming to be the biggest and best and (among other things) is going to feature the first ever Grey Cup Rodeo, the CFL Awards, massive indoor and outdoor family festival areas and, of course, team parties where each CFL club puts its own unique twist on their end-of-season bashes.

Let’s tackle a few common questions about what the Grey Cup Festival is all about:

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Kick-off the Grey Cup Festival in Calgary.

Kick-off the Grey Cup Festival in Calgary.

What exactly is the Grey Cup Festival and when does it run?

The festival is exactly what it sounds like, a three-day celebration where the organizing committee throws parties, breakfasts, events catered to kids, concerts and, this year, a rodeo.

Thousands of fans travel from across Canada to attend the festival every year, and it’s a tradition dating back to 1948, when hundreds of Calgarians descended on Toronto to party before their team won its first championship.

This year’s festival kicks off on Wednesday, November 20 and runs right through to game time on Sunday, November 24.

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Stampede Park and the BMO Centre host the Grey Cup Festival in Calgary.

Stampede Park and the BMO Centre host the Grey Cup Festival in Calgary.

How can I experience everything at the festival?

This was a major priority for Calgary’s Grey Cup organizing committee. “We thought it was really important to find a location in our city where we could host as much of it – if not all of it – in one place,” Macleod said. “That’s Stampede Park.” If you’re looking for somewhere that’s capable of hosting thousands upon thousands of people in one place, there’s nowhere better than the home of the Calgary Stampede.

Every single team-hosted party will be in the BMO Centre, the Nissan Titan Street Festival will be right outside the venue, and the Family Zone will be inside. The CFL Awards will be at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday evening, with Friday’s Grey Cup Gala going down at the ‘Dome. The Grey Cup Rodeo will be hosted at the Stampede Corral on Saturday night and there’s a big concert planned for the Big Four Roadhouse that night, too. The Grey Cup will be played at McMahon Stadium but Stampede Park will be the place to be throughout the Grey Cup Festival.

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The Grey Cup Festival is a family friendly event.

The Grey Cup Festival is a family friendly event.

Is this a family friendly event?

Of course. In fact, the vast majority of what goes on during the Grey Cup Festival is catered specifically for families. The Nissan Titan Street Festival will feature 140,000 square feet of interactive games and activities for people of all ages, including the Stratosphere Projection Dome, a 65-foot screen where massive images will be displayed.

Inside, the Family Zone is exactly what it sounds like. There’s a toddler area, a mini football field, a military maze and even a 9-hole mini golf course. “It’s going to be great,” Macleod said. “We’ll have enough for a family to easily warrant coming down to spend the day and the vast majority will be free.”

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Each CFL team throws a party for football fans from across the country.

Each CFL team throws a party for football fans from across the country.

What do I need to know about the CFL team parties?

Every year, every CFL team picks a venue and throws a party for its fans. And there ain’t no party like a CFL party. In Calgary, all those parties will be at the BMO Centre – and they’re going to be huge. Stamps House, the Calgary Stampeders’ party, is going to be taking up an entire hall and is set to be the biggest Stamps House ever thrown. Other teams are going big, too. Basically, every team puts its own twist on their team parties and fans of every club are welcome at all the parties.

“It’s truly the only sporting event where all these fanbases come together and there’s just never a problem,” Macleod said. “That’s just the culture that’s developed. “There’s no generic ‘Here’s what you should expect’ because every team party has its own flavour.”


For fans who are planning on indulging in the party scene, it’s worth noting that Stampede Park is located right on the C-Train line, so it’s easy to get home safe and sound.

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What is the Grey Cup Rodeo?

As a city, Calgary is famous for its rodeo. So, this is a little bit of Western tradition, but also something totally new for football fans. It’s about as Calgarian as you get.

The first ever Grey Cup Rodeo is set for Saturday, November 23 at the Stampede Corral and will feature bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding and barrel racing. Each event will have nine competitors, each sporting colours from a specific CFL team to give fans a rooting interest.

There’s also a bull freestyle, where one athlete is alone in the centre of the ring trying to evade a bull. If that sounds wild, it’s because it really, really is.

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Celebrate the CFL season at the CFL Awards and Grey Cup Gala.

Celebrate the CFL season at the CFL Awards and Grey Cup Gala.

What other events should I look out for?

Thursday’s CFL Awards are exactly what they sound like, an opportunity to look back on the season and celebrate the best-of-the best over the last year.

On Friday, November 22, the Grey Cup Gala will go down at the Scotiabank Saddledome, as well. The event is one of the true highlights of the festival, featuring cocktails, gourmet food and live music and entertainment.

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Get tickets to the Grey Cup or take part in free events at the Grey Cup Festival.

Get tickets to the Grey Cup or take part in free events at the Grey Cup Festival.

Anything I should know about tickets?

 The public tickets go on-sale for all Grey Cup Festival Events on September 5, including the rodeo, the gala, the Saturday night concert, and the CFL Awards.

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Book a hotel in downtown Calgary for the Grey Cup Festival (Photo credit: Jordan Dahl).

Book a hotel in downtown Calgary for the Grey Cup Festival (Photo credit: Jordan Dahl).

Where should I book a hotel?

So, there it is. Now that you’re in the know, your countdown to the 2019 Grey Cup Festival can officially start! Get ready for one of the most exciting – and oh-so-Calgarian – weeks in Canadian sports this November.

The Grey Cup Festival comes to Calgary November 20-24, 2019. Learn more about how you can experience Canada’s biggest party.

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By
Danny Austin

Danny is a sports reporter who knows everything there is to know about having a great time at a sports game.