In 1912 when vaudeville performer and trick-roper Guy Weadick arrived in Calgary to stage an outdoor rodeo competition that was also designed to preserve the values and romance of the ‘old-west’, I doubt he had any idea how big and amazing the event would become.
Today, billed as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, the Calgary Exhibition & Stampede (or The Stampede as it’s called by most Calgarians) attracts over a million visitors every year and along with some healthy purses for the winners of the various events, it provides volunteer opportunities for over 5,000 people a year.
When my brother-in-law, JT, retired several years ago, he was looking for something to fill his time and his desire to give back to community. He signed up to become a volunteer with the Stampede.
Today, he and his fellow posse in The Happy Trails Gang, visit locations all over the city, and environs, celebrating the spirit of the west while providing onlookers an opportunity to clap their hands, sing-a-long and maybe even do a two-step or more. From September to May, they turn up with their “Happy Trails” show every last Tuesday of the month at various seniors’ lodges around the city.
Last night, JT and his gang rode into the lodge where my mother lives to turn up the music and get down to some good ‘ole country twang.
My sister Jackie and I trailed along, as did my beloved, C.C., and while I had a great time listening and clapping along, what struck me most was the pure joy and passion of JT and the other members of the gang.
They take their Stampede spirit seriously and share it generously.
The Stampede Queen and Princesses were also there, as was Indian Princess, Maya Many Grey Horses in her stunningly beautiful beaded traditional dress and moccasins. The young women, whose role it is to act as ambassadors for the Stampede, and for Maya, the Indian Village, circulated amongst the crowd, sitting to chat with the seniors, to dance and to sing along. They even lead a couple of line dances and took the mic to sing a couple of tunes together!
Harry the Horse, the 30-year-old mascot for the Stampede also turned up and flirted with the women, got up to some of his playful antics and lead the crowd in boisterous Yah Hoo!s that bowled him over with their fervour, garnering a big cheer from everyone in the room.
When we stopped to grab a bite to eat afterwards, both C.C. and I reflected on how joyful an evening it was and how everyone felt wrapped up in the warmth and energy of the Happy Trails Gang.
Which brings me back to the spirit of giving. There were over 15 members of the Happy Trails Gang there last night along with at least 4 people accompanying the Stampede Royalty and Indian Princess and Harry the Horse. All of them volunteers.
Giving back makes a difference.
To the receiver and the giver.
At the end of the evening, JT introduced us to the man on the committee he calls, ‘my mentor’.
“We’re best buds,” his mentor exclaimed as he bent down to kiss my mother’s cheek and give her a gentle hug.
As we left, one of the residents of the lodge called out a joyful, “Good night” to anyone within hearing distance as she pushed her walker towards the elevator. I’ve never heard that happen after any other event at the lodge.
And that’s the spirit of Stampede.
It allows people to connect, on a deep, whole-hearted level to values we all hold true, but values that sometimes get forgotten or stepped on in the busy-ness of every day living.
Community. Loyalty. Sharing and having fun.
I spent a couple of hours last night surrounded by people committed to giving back to community. Their willingness to share smiles, laughter, good spirits and joy was contagious.
I’m richer today because of their giving back.
Thanks JT and everyone with the Happy Trails Gang! You make a difference.