CALGARY - It began as the brainchild of a performer from New York state with a vision of a cowboy championship like no other — an Easterner who loved the Old West and its culture.

Guy Weadick was a well-known Wild West entertainer across North America and Europe.

The Rochester, N.Y., native performed rope tricks during a 15-minute western act. His wife was a famous trick rope rider and together they toured the vaudeville halls and circuses of Europe before coming to Western Canada.

In 1912 Weadick hooked up with a livestock agent for the Canadian Pacific Railway, H.C. McMullen, in Calgary. Cowtown had a booming population of 47,000 at the time — it had only officially been a city for 18 years.

Together the two executed Weadick's dream and compiled a program for a frontier show and rodeo. They gained financing from four prominent Calgarians to build a prize pool that dwarfed others. Competitors came from far and wide, dollar signs in their eye.

With that the Calgary Stampede was born.

Now billed as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, the Stampede turns 100 when it kicks off Friday.

"If you think of 100 years ago — what really happened is no different than what's going to happen this year and that is a gathering of people to celebrate, to share a good time, to honour the western values and our heritage of the West," says Bob Johnson, the event's vice-chairman.

"Although we're now in a city of over a million people, we're celebrating the same thing we celebrated 100 years ago."

That's not to say things haven't changed.

The first Calgary Stampede was held in September so as not to interfere with harvest. And it didn't go annual right away. The First World War delayed the second Stampede until 1919. It's only been held every year since 1923.

There was much fanfare at the first Stampede. An estimated 80,000 people attended the first parade — nearly double the population of the city. Still, the event lost money, largely because of the $20,000 prize pool.

Today, the prize pool is more than $2 million and the Stampede is a 10-day, knock-down, drag-'em-out summer party.

There's a massive midway and a frantic nightlife. Pancake breakfasts are a daily occurrence in neighbourhoods around the city. Everyone casts aside ties and suits in favour of cowboy hats, boots and jeans.

And it's not just a local thing.

The visit last year of Prince William and his wife Kate only added to the international hype.

The event is No. 5 on CNN's top places to visit in 2012 and on the American network's list of "15 places to party sort of like a rock star." It describes the Stampede as a place to drink, dance, get dirty and to "yell yee-haw and soak up the Wild West lifestyle."

The Stampede has also become an important symbol representing the city, says University of Calgary professor Aritha van Herk, author of "Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta."

"In truth, the Stampede brand, the western hospitality, the cowboy icon is a brand that most cities would pay $3 billion for. It's recognizable. It's unique and we don't have to agree with it," van Herk says.

"It's a great leveller. All of a sudden everybody's the same. You can't tell the bank manager from the bus driver."

The event isn't without its critics.

Animal rights groups have been focusing on the Stampede rodeo for years — decrying the death and injury of animals, primarily in the popular chuckwagon event, where teams of horses pull a covered cart around a track.

The Vancouver Humane Society has used letter-writing campaigns to try to get sponsors to back away from rodeo events. Telecommunications company Bell didn't sponsor the rodeo this year, but still sponsors other Stampede events.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals intends to protest outside events beginning this weekend along with Calgary animal rights activists. Lindsay Rajt calls it a "cruel spectacle" and an "embarrassment to Canada."

"There's a reason that we religiously target the Stampede year after year and that's because it's one of the worst events out there. People have been protesting this for years and years and years and sometimes we sound like a broken record," said Rajt.

"The bottom line is when people are using animals for entertainment and for profit you're going to see animal welfare suffering."

The continued popularity of the Stampede comes from nostalgia for a time that is long past, says van Herk.

"It's over. It was over when Guy Weadick launched the first one," she says.

"The 1912 Stampede was because the Old West was over. But that doesn't mean you have to stop celebrating."

Last Year At The Stampede:

Loading Slideshow...
  • The Royals Leave Canada

    Will and Kate wave goodbye to Calgary as they conclude their royal Canadian tour.

  • The Royals Sign The Guest Book

    William and Kate sign the guest book at the ENMAX Conservatory in Calgary with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, left, and Lt. Gov. Donald S. Ethell.

  • Kate Meets Frances Miller

    The Duchess of Cambridge meets with Frances Miller as she prepares to leave Calgary with her husband to head to Los Angeles.

  • The Portraits Of Honour

    Prince William and Catherine view the Portraits of Honour on display at their official departure ceremony in Calgary.

  • The Royals In The Conservatory

    William and Catherine tour the ENMAX Conservatory at the Calgary Zoo.

  • Kate Arrives At The Zoo

    The Duchess of Cambridge visits the ENMAX Conservatory at the Calgary Zoo.

  • The Royals And Stelmach

    Will and Kate speak with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach at the ENMAX Conservatory in Calgary.

  • Will And Kate In Matching Hats

    The Royals at the Calgary Stampede Parade.

  • Royal Greeting

    Will and Kate wave to the crowd while at the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Royals Watch The RCMP

    Will and Kate watch the RCMP march in the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Royals Watch The Parade

    The Duke and Duchess watch the beginning of the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Duke Arrives

    Prince William arrives in cowboy gear to the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Royals Push The Button

    Will and Kate push a button to start the Calgary Stampede parade.

  • The Rodeo Shocks Kate

    The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge watch a rodeo demonstration at the Calgary Stampede.

  • Kate And A Calgarian

    The Duchess of Cambridge speaks with a little girl while at the Stampede.

  • The Duchess Receives Flowers

    Catherine meets well-wishes and receives flowers at a Government Reception in Calgary.

  • The Government Reception

    A view of the Government Reception at the BMO Centre in Calgary.

  • Kate Checks Her Hat

    Will and Kate watch Stampede activities in Calgary at the BMO Centre.

  • Will Tips His Hat

    Prince William during a speech at the Calgary Stampede.

  • The Royals At The BMO Centre

    Will and Kate watch traditional Calgary Stampede activities.

  • Will Gets Down To Work

    Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, throws a barrel into the back of a chuckwagon during his visit to the Calgary Stampede on Thursday, July 7, 2011, in Calgary, Alberta.

  • Royal Tour Canada

    Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, arrive via stage coach for a reception at the BMO Centre in Calgary, Canada as they continue their Royal Tour of Canada Thursday, July 7, 2011.

  • The Royals And Harper

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper, second from right, Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Laureen Harper, left, watch a child sheep ride event at the Stampede in Calgary, Alberta on Thursday, July 7, 2011.

  • Stampede Dancer

    Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper watch dancers while attending a reception at the Calgary Stampede on Thursday, July 7, 2011 in Calgary, Alberta.

  • The Royals Go Western

    Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, wear their new Smithbilt cowboy hats as they watch a rodeo demonstration in Calgary, Alberta, July 7, 2011.

  • The Royals Wave To Admirers

    Prince William and Kate after a tour of the 21st Century Research and Innovation Centre in Calgary.

  • Will Waves From The Car

    Prince William waves from his car with Kate on the eighth day of their Canadian tour.

  • The Duke And Duchess Are Greeted

    Prince William and Kate are greeted when arriving at 21st Century Research and Innovation Centre Calgary.

  • Kate Inspects A Mannequin

    Kate follows her husbands lead and saves the life of a medical test mannequin at the University of Calgary.

  • Will And Kate Tour U of C

    Prince William and Kate are shown how to save a life with a medical test mannequin at the University of Calgary's Ward of the 21st Century.

  • The Royals And RCMP In Calgary

    Prince William and Catherine look at a RCMP officer after arriving in Calgary.

  • A Calgary Chinook?

    Kate's hair doesn't agree with the wind as the Royals land in Calgary for the final stretch of their Canadian tour.

  • Will Meets Shy Calgarian

    Prince William meets -- or tries to meet -- shy 6-year-old Diamond Marshall in Calgary.

  • Catherine Gets A Hug

    Kate hugs 6-year-old Diamond Marshall in Calgary after arriving.

  • Kate Is Greeted

    The Duchess meets with shy 6-year-old Diamond Marshall in Calgary.

  • Will, Kate And Flight Crew

    The Royals get their photo taken with flight crew members as they arrive in Calgary.

  • Will Gets A White Hat

    Prince William is presented with a white cowboy hat from Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

  • The Royals Land In Calgary

    The Royals land in Calgary for the last Canadian city on their tour of the country.

  • Royal Tour

    Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, pose for a photo with members of the Canadian Forces flight crew upon their arrival in Calgary, Alberta on Thursday, July 7, 2011.