I didn't grow up in Calgary, but I grew up hearing about the Calgary Stampede. We'd gone once or twice as a family, but just to the midway, not the rodeo. In university, a lot of my friends would go to Calgary for Stampede, but it wasn't something I ever really wanted to do. As far as I was concerned, there wasn't much difference between the Calgary Stampede, Edmonton's Klondike Days (as it was then known) and the Saskatoon Ex. Really, that's what I thought. (Related: I can admit when I'm wrong).
So I was a bit surprised when I realized that people in Calgary take their Stampede SERIOUSLY. And now I know why. Because it's about so much more than just an exhibition or a rodeo. It's about community. People waking up at 4:30am to make pancakes for their neighbours (I may have stolen that line from someone I work for *cough*) and gathering in parks and public spaces across the city to celebrate who we are and where we came from.
This year was the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede and I wanted the kids to experience as much of it as they could, without any of us going crazy or having a meltdown.
As most of these things do, it started with a parade. We've gone to the parade every year that we've been in Calgary, and as the kids have gotten older it's been more and more fun. I don't mind getting up early and traipsing downtown with our gear. I don't mind waiting around for the floats and the marching bands. I don't mind any of this because the parade is responsible for putting this look on my son's face:
As long as they look forward to it with this kind of anticipation, then I'll get up as early as I have to so that we get a good spot to watch the action. They didn't even mind that there wasn't any candy.
For the Stampede Centennial, instead of just having fireworks at the Grandstand down in Stampede Park they had fireworks at four other locations across the City at 11pm each weekend of Stampede. One of these locations was close enough to our house that I could see it from the back deck, but not that well. After much discussion, Murray and I decided to get the kids out of bed that first Saturday night to drive somewhere to get a better view. We settled into the car in a parking lot a few blocks away. Gavin sat on my lap, Mia on Murray's and we ate popcorn and watched the best fireworks any of us had ever seen. The best part, of course, was that the kids went to bed again really easily when we got home. Thank. God.
Later in the week, we took the kids down to the grounds to check out the action. I was working, but my parents had come to town and they and Murray showed the kids around the Agricultural barns where they saw the cows and horses. When I was finished work I met them over there and we checked out a Leopard tank that the Canadian Forces had on site. The kids thought it was the best thing ever.
We followed that up with a few rides, like this one where Gavin was so excited: "I'm just like Kyle Busch!"
But the best experience of them all was the final Saturday night. We had tickets to go see the fireworks at Heritage Park. Normally the park isn't open in the evenings, but that night they opened the gates at 8:30pm and were even operating the rides on the old-fashioned Midway. The weather had taken a turn for the worse over the course of the day and we knew the rain could start falling at any time, but the atmosphere was still magical. The gas lamps lighting the streets and families wandering around, stopping for ice cream and candy and popcorn.
And the Midway:
The lights and the music and the mood was just so perfect. It wasn't like your average day at Heritage Park where there's at least one family out of every five where the parents are at the end of their rope and some kid is having a meltdown and everyone is just trying to make it out of there without killing anyone or losing their temper or both. That night everyone wanted to be there.
The kids rode the "little" Ferris wheel and the carousel before getting on the big Ferris wheel with their Aunty Julie. This is not a normal Ferris wheel. There is just one bar across the front of the car and it goes FAST. I was quite nervous about Mia in particular, because I was sure she could fall through under the bar if she wasn't paying attention. When it started up they were laughing, oblivious to me standing on the ground with my hands over my eyes. At one point their car stopped a few metres off the ground. Gavin saw us and yelled,"This is so much fun!"
We were fortunate enough to have space set aside down on the dock where we could watch the fireworks (Thank you Alida and Franca and everyone responsible for that). It had started raining a bit and everyone was getting wet. The good folks at Heritage Park had set aside popcorn for us that was slowly getting soggy, but no one cared. I was just thankful that the kids were still behaving even though it was well past their bedtime.
Just before 11, I sat down with Mia on my lap and watched her watch the fireworks with her eyes open wide with wonder. It was quite loud, but she didn't flinch. When it was over she started clapping and had as big a smile on her face as I've ever seen.
Stampede 2013, you have a lot to live up to.