We were 8. Family. Friends. Old friends and new. An impromptu gathering pulled together late in the afternoon. My favourite kind. There was steak and lobster. Vegan and vegetarian, celiac and anything goes, all to ensure every dietary need could be met. Under the canopy of the CrabApple tree we sat out as evening turned to dusk to a sky-scattered sky high above. We shared a meal, friendship, wine. We laughed and teased one another, we swapped stories, told on each other and simply did what comes so naturally when people get together around a table. We connected.
The night before, C.C., his son Taylor, Vicky his girlfriend, my youngest daughter, and 11 others stood out under the stars and watched The Greatest Show on Earth unfold on the Grandstand Stage at the Calgary Stampede.
It was spectacular.
We arrived in time for the Chuckwagon Races. Placed our Toonies on each heat. Won some. Lost some. And through it all had great fun. We laughed amongst ourselves and made new friends with the people standing around us. One couple were from Tokyo. Their attendance at the Stampede was by accident. A wedding in Edmonton, 3 hours to the north, a late departure for Calgary Airport and then a missed return flight to Tokyo earlier that afternoon and they found themselves with a night in Calgary. “Go to the Chuckwagon Races and Grandstand Show,” the concierge at their hotel had advised. And they did.
Like us, they bought ‘Standing Room Only” tickets because in their case, that’s really all that was available. In our case, it was because it’s our favourite way to partake of the festivities. Gather up a large group of people. Go en masse. Stake out your turf as close to the stage as you can get and have fun!
And fun we had. From 20 somethings to the over 50 crowd, we laughed and joke and placed our bets and laughed some more. We met the couple from Tokyo because conversation with strangers is completely acceptable, and advisable, when at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. As a Calgarian, I want to show off my city. I want to ensure everyone is having fun. And the first question anyone asks is, “Where are you from?” Learning that the couple from Tokyo had never been to the Stampede before, nor did they know about how to bet on the Chucks, we had to bring them into our group and teach ’em the ways. Imagine our surprise when the man in the couple picked, “the Rainbow Wagon” and won!
This year, ensuring everyone was engaged, and having fun and feeling part of the spirit of this city was more important than ever.
It was only 3 weeks ago that the entire Stampede Grounds, which included the rodeo corral and race course which is also where the Grandstand Show takes place, was under 15 feet of water. Except for the concerts that had to be cancelled in the Saddledome, which remains closed to the public, signs of the flood were not be found anywhere on the grounds, or at the Stampede. (link to photo of before and after)
The art exhibit, which is my favourite part of the entire 10 day festivities, was as inspiring and captivating as ever. Though in talking to the artists, many of whom came from places far-flung across North America, they had a lot of doubt before arriving that the show would actually go on. As one artist from Colorado said, “When I saw the pictures I couldn’t imagine you’d have it cleaned up in time. But I’d forgotten. This is Calgary and you guys got spirit.”
And we do. When Mayor Naheed Nenshi walked onto the stage before the Chuckwagon Races the Calgarians in the crowd went wild, hootin’ and hollerin’ for the man who was an inspiration to everyone throughout the crisis. I have never heard a public figure, especially a politician, receive such an ovation and such a noise from his peeps. It was incredible.
Later, the final number of the Grandstand Show was a tribute to the first responders who worked so tirelessly to ensure everyone was safe, and that the city was able to recover. Again, the crowd went wild.
It was a weekend to remember filled with special people, special sights and connections to hold close in our memories. The only missing ingredient was my eldest daughter. For years, I stood at the edge of the stage and watched her perform as part of The Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede. Since leaving the troupe at age 21, (members of TYC are aged 8 to 21), we have watched the show together every year, standing on the tarmac, oohing and ahhing and reliving the fun and excitement of her days in the troupe. This year, she didn’t make it back. She has a wedding in August to return for and coming twice this summer just wasn’t on the agenda. And I missed her.
And while I missed her, and I know she too felt the pangs of regret of not being there, she was in my heart, as she always is. Her spirit is part of what Stampede means to me. Energy. Fun. Talent. Commitment. And, the capacity to dream, because, the Grandstand Show would never happen without big dreams.
Big dreams were evident Saturday night as we watched with eyes and hearts wide open. It was spectacular. Amazing. Stunningly beautiful and magical. From the opening number where two twins flew out over the crowd performing acrobatic feats I never imagined possible while hanging suspended from a rope, to Alberta Ballet performing Benny and the Jets from their Elton John show, to a troupe of ballet dancers/acrobats from China who awed us with their grace and balance, to the colour and spectacle of a troupe of First Nations dancers spinning around world champion hoop dancer, Dallas Arcand, performing the night left me breathless and in awe of Bill Avery, the producer of the show, and his capacity to dream big and make the dream come true.
it was a special weekend. A weekend filled with dreams and fun and laughter and shared moments and above all, the wonder of our human connection lighting up the night.