Story by Jody Robbins
CALGARY, ALBERTA — “In 11 days, we will proudly open the gates to Stampede 101,” proclaimed Bob Thompson, president and chairman of the Calgary Stampede early Monday morning.
Throughout the Stampede’s 100-year history, organizers have never cancelled a show, despite two world wars and the Great Depression, and this year will be no exception. A state of emergency remains in place and the severity of the damage from the past week’s flooding is still being evaluated, but organizers are determined that the Stampede will go on.
“We are looking forward to hosting our guests, and to join with family and friends to celebrate community pride. We want all those affected by the flooding in southern Alberta to have the opportunity to take a break from these difficult circumstances,” says Vern Kimball, Stampede CEO.
Mere days ago southern Alberta, including Calgary and the Stampede grounds, were hit by a devastating flood that has paralyzed the city’s downtown core, including some of its trendiest areas. Though water still lays in pools at Stampede Park and inside the Big Four Building and Scotiabank Saddledome, teams are working around the clock to ensure Canada’s highest-grossing festival will be up and running for the festivities that take place July 5-14, 2013.
Outside the park, the LRT tracks at Erlton Station — one of the two stations that service the Stampede — look like a roller-coaster. Crews can be seen hard at work and, incredibly, city officials estimate the C-train will be running in time for the annual urban cowboy festival.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to be ready for July 5,” avows Kimball.
Crews are draining Stampede Park, removing damaged material, and replacing what they can. Millions of gallons of water have been pumped from the facilities and mud is being scrapped from the tarmac, in order to spiffy up the park and welcome the more than 1 million visitors still expected to attend.
“The job of cleaning and restoring our buildings and facilities, including the race track and infield, is monumental. There’s a ton of work to be done,” Kimball says.
Volunteer Spirit Takes Over Calgary
Many Stampede staff members and volunteers have worked 36 hours straight to prevent damage to key infrastructure. Speciality crews are cleaning and disinfecting buildings to make them safe for volunteers (of which there are more than 2,500 registered), who can anticipate receiving their marching orders in the next couple of days. In the meantime, those eager to help are asked to go to the University of Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, where the city has put out a call for volunteers.
Stampede volunteers have been busy elsewhere, though. Present at city emergency centres and in hard-hit Canmore, they’ve hosted breakfasts for hundreds of military personnel and first responders.
Despite being first overwhelmed by nature, the Stampede is now inundated and humbled by offers of support, and not just by Calgarians. Offers have arrived from Toronto, Edmonton, California, Texas and Missouri. Numerous corporations and government offices have provided expertise, equipment, material and people.
Nothing Can Rain on the Stampede Parade
Despite phone lines being down, the Stampede sold more than 1,000 tickets over the weekend. No buildings, facilities or events — including concerts — have been ruled out.
“The Stampede was built on optimism, and right now we haven’t ruled out anything,” says Kimball.
Even the annual kick-off parade is expected to be a go. While there may be some alterations to the route depending on the state of downtown streets, a celebration of some fashion will start the Stampede on its traditional First Friday. Rumours are flying that a second honorary parade marshal will be appointed. No, not Naheed Nenshi, the city’s beloved mayor, but would you believe a sump pump affixed with a 12-inch hose?
“We’re debating whether that makes any sense. That’s the iconic image down at the park right now,” admits Kimball. Retired astronaut Chris Hadfield is the scheduled parade marshal.
Calgarians Working 24/7 as Stampede Nears
Stampede set up has always been challenging, beginning three weeks prior to the event. With the flooding, 10 of those days have been lost. Livestock arriving from across North America will not be able to be moved into Stampede Park this week, nor will the midway rides be allowed into the park until Sunday.
“We’ll be going 24 hours a day instead of 16 hours a day. It’s the same amount of effort, just in a shorter period of time,” says Kimball.
The Stampede’s economic impact on an annual basis is approximately $340 million. All revenue generated from this volunteer-supported, not-for-profit organization is reinvested into Stampede programs and facilities.
“One of the motivating factors for putting on a Stampede is there are a lot of hotels and those in the hospitality industry that count on the Stampede,” Kimball says.
Tourism infrastructure is expected to be ready to support those attending.
Stampede 101 is testament to community and its ability to come together in the face of adversity. Last year’s centennial theme of We’re Greatest Together could not ring more true.
“We will be hosting the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, come hell or high water,” declares Thompson.
Facts About the Alberta Floods
- On Monday, Alberta premier Alison Redford offered sobering words, saying clean-up efforts could take a 10 years and cost $1 billion.
- The Bank of Montreal estimates the total losses from the Calgary floods will be in the range of $3 billion to $5 billion range.
- A record 45 millimetres of rain fell on Calgary on June 20, beating the previous mark for single-day rainfall by 10 mm. The heavy rain is the primary reason why the Bow and Elbow rivers overflowed their banks.
- Calgary Tourism was hoping to build on a successful 2012, when 5.2 million visitors spent an estimated $1.4 billion in the city. Spending was up 6.4 per cent while visits increased by 3.9 per cent; both gains were tops among Canada’s major cities.
More Alberta Flood Coverage on Vacay.ca
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