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Calgary Stampede: Come hell or high water


By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of Calgary Stampede

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The Calgary Stampede entered into its second century only weeks after a flood that devastated the entire city. 

Shortly after the Bow and Elbow - Calgary's two major rivers - overflowed their banks on June 20-21, 2013, Global News reported that costs to repair the flood-damaged infrastructure could be as high (or even higher) than the following estimates:  $12 m for major parks, $50 m for the Calgary Zoo, $10 m for three pedestrian bridges, $34 m for riverbank repairs, $18 m for water treatment plants, 26.5 m for buildings...  The list goes on and on for a potential grand total of $256.6 million.

Nevertheless, only a few days after the flood, Calgary Stampede officials announced that  the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" will go on - "come hell or high water."  Global News explained that the "StaPhoto By Calgary Stampedempede's economic impact is around $340 million" - and that it has never once been cancelled, not even during "two wars and a Great Depression."

Despite this enormous amount of dedication, the task ahead remained daunting.  Stampede CEO Vern Kimball reported:  "Everything is covered with water, everything is covered with silt.  There is a tremendous amount of cleanup to be done."

Besides focusing upon their own incredible workload, Stampede officials also managed to prioritize the needs of the community.  Stampede President Bob Thompson stated, "We are sensitive to the extreme grief and difficulties that the citizens are facing."

This sensitivity resulted in an ingenious "Hell or High Water" fundraising campaign.  T-shirts bearing that slogan were being sold for $19.95 apiece - the proceeds of which are earmarked for the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Floods Fund."  By July 15th, Global News reported that this effort had "already raised over $2.1 million..."

Calgary CBC News explained that Nashville-based (and Montreal-born) musician Marc Martel then turned this catchphrase into a heartfelt song about the never-say-die spirit of Albertans.  The lyrics commiserate with those who were "left holding the bucket and singing the blues" - and then praise those who "know how to build a fortune out of blood, sweat and tears, with the faith of modern day pioneers."  This song can be downloaded from the Stampede website  free.

Calgary Stampede Publicity Manager Jennifer Booth reported, "We basically worked double duty between recovering from the flood and setting up for Stampede."  She added that this year's Stampede attendance (which totaled 1,133,050) was down from last year's - not only because of the flood, but also because last year was a big centennial year.  However, when comparing this year's total with 2011's (which was 1,174,697), Booth felt that attendance has remained "fairly consistent."

Admission costs also remained stable.  General admission was $16 in 2013 (same as in 2012) for ages 13 to 64.  The website explains that this fee allowed you to "enjoy hundreds of exhibits, activities and entertainment options, including the Superdogs, ENMAX Corral Show and free concerts at the Coca-Cola Stage."

This year's ENMAX Corral Show was something really special:  Family Feud Live.  Booth explained that this was not "part of the TV broadcast," but instead "similar to how they do The Price is Right in Vegas."  She added that Canadian stand-up comedian and actress Carolyn Rhea was "a great funny host to have" for this popular event.

SuperDogs has been billed as "The Most Fun on Four Legs."  The website states that this "show consists of the family pets of over 150 experienced trainers."  These canine stars perform athletic and humorous feats that consistently delight and amaze their audiences. Perhaps best of all, more than 30% of them "have been rescued or adopted from shelters."

The Science of Superdogs was repeatedly offered during the 2013 Stampede.  This Coca-Cola Stage offering not only featured "incredible tricks and skills," but also interactively taught the science behind these seemingly-supernatural canine abilities (which include "ghost-sensitive hearing" and "crime-busting sniffing").

Aside from fantastic admission packages, there was plenty of promotional outreach.  Booth emphasized the "unique ads on YouTube that are really engaging."  These include one called "Our Second Century Begins" that gives viewers a real sense of the intense activity that was needed in order to salvage this year's Stampede from the floodwaters. 

Another video titled "2013 Roving Reporter - Indian Village" shows glimpses of the First Nations' key involvement with the Stampede.  Booth stated, "The First Nations have always been an integral part of the Stampede since 1912.  The Stampede's founder was very passionate about having them involved during an era when they weren't really allowed to be a part of anything."

This Indian Village consisted of 26 teepees, which temporarily housed members of First Nations' five tribes of the Treaty 7: "the Siksika, T'suu Tina, Nakoda (Stoney), Piikani (Peigan) and Kainai (Blood)."  Booth explained, "They do a number of opening and closing ceremonies in colorful regalia that showcase their cultures."

Facets of military life have also been routinely featured at the Stampede.  Booth explained, "The community armed forces come every year with their displays of military memorabilia.  Military personnel also come and talk with people about the displays."

Booth was also eager to speak about the Stampede's "iconic events."  These include "the world's richest tournament-style rodeo" (prize money exceeding $2 million), the "world's premier chuckwagon event" (prize money exceeding $1.15 million), and "five genres of music" at the TransAlta Grandstand (including Spirit Eagle Dancers, Calgary Opera, Raghav, The Young Canadians, and Marc Martel).

When asked about plans for 2014, Booth enthusiastically discussed the Agrium Western Event Centre.  This huge facility (which includes "31,250 sq. ft. of clear-span space" and a "20,000 sq. ft. multipurpose hall") is scheduled for completion before next year's Stampede.  According to the website, it will "provide a new focal point" for what the Stampede has always been about: agriculture.

All in all, Booth was understandably proud of this year's accomplishments.  She concluded:  "We were extremely happy to be able to pull off the 2013 Calgary Stampede, and we will continue to invite the world to the greatest outdoor show on earth!"

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