CALGARY – Two weeks after extensive flooding that turned part of downtown Calgary into a lake and forced up to 100,000 southern Albertans from their homes, the city ended a state of emergency just in time for its annual Stampede.
“I think there’s a better feeling for the Stampede this year because people are saying not only are we going to have all the great times that we have every year during a Stampede, but we’re doing it in the context of a community that’s stronger than it’s ever been,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said at a pre-Stampede pancake breakfast Thursday.
“I thought last year’s Stampede with the centennial could never be topped, but I think Stampede 101 is going to be even better.”
Nenshi was given a welcome normally reserved for a rock star as he spoke briefly to hundreds of people who turned out for the event one day before the official Stampede parade kickoff. The trademark cowboy hats, boots and jeans were already in full view.
The latest fad is a black “Hell or High Water” T-shirt that was introduced during the flood after the Stampede’s president used the words to vow the annual celebration of the cowboy way of life would go on.
Brown, muddy water swamped the Stampede grounds and filled the parade route at the height of the flooding. But cleanup and recovery are well underway and things are starting to get back to normal. Lifting the state of emergency less than 24 hours before the Stampede parade was meant to be a sign of that.
“Symbolically … us saying we’re no longer in an emergency is a really big thing,” said Nenshi. “For people to say, ‘All right, I can take a breath. It’s not wrong for me to take a day off and enjoy the Stampede.’
“While we’re working hard with our neighbours, we can take a day off to celebrate what makes the city great.”
Calgary also has launched a national ad campaign that will run over the next three weeks to let travellers know that “Calgary’s Doors are Open.”
Nenshi said the campaign is mainly economically motivated.
“A lot of our neighbours are in a lot of pain. A lot of people have lost wages over the time we’ve been closed, and many of those folks depend on the tourism industry to do well, and of course they make their bread and butter during Stampede,” he said.
“Whether you’re working in a restaurant or in a hotel or a retail business, we need to get those people back up again. They’ve suffered enough. It’s a chance to show the world we’re back.”
The Vancouver Humane Society also stepped up with what has become its annual anti-cruelty campaign during the Stampede.
An ad with the message “Human Kindness” shows a little girl petting a calf. The next frame shows an animal in the calf-roping event being tied up. The message: “Stampede Blindness. C’mon Stampede. Have a heart for animals. Ban calf-roping.”
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, this year’s parade grand marshal, said filling that role at this year’s Stampede is especially touching.
“This is an important annual event for Calgary. It’s a rallying point. It’s a thing that Canadians do. It’s a thing that Albertans do, even though there has been high water and a lot of hell along with it,” he said at a media availability.
He said he was amazed at the progress that has been made since the flooding.
“It’s almost like flowers that are starting to bloom after a really harsh winter.”
Hadfield, who accepted the city’s invitation to be grand marshal while he was still on his five-month mission aboard the International Space Station, said he will be riding a horse in the parade.
He proudly showed off a new pair of boots that were made for him by a Houston company that also makes boots for U.S. presidents. The boots have the mission patch designed for the Canadian Space Agency on the front and a Maple Leaf on the back.
Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was also in Calgary on Thursday for Stampede festivities and to view flood damage.
He said now is not the time for partisan politics.
“It’s quite the sight. I took a very long tour. A lot of devastation. We saw the pictures on TV, but I don’t think everyone understands the extent of the damage and how long it’s going to take to get everything done,” said Mulcair.
“I honestly believe the federal government is doing everything that it can right now and we’ve got to continue doing that. They’ll have our full support. There are times when we will talk partisan politics.
“This isn’t one of them.”
The Stampede runs until July 14.