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Calgary Stampede more than a parade and pancakes

Columnist will miss the rodeo

For the first time since it became an annual event in 1923, there will be no Calgary Stampede this year, ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’ becoming yet another victim of COVID-19, a threat even greater than the devastating 2013 floods that Stampede crews were able to overcome with a marathon of effort.

Strangely enough, it’s not the rodeo or chuckwagons that people interviewed on TV this past week say they will miss about the cancelled event; it was the parade, the pancake breakfasts, midway food and mini doughnuts. Really? Most of those are things you could have at any small town fair, if the pandemic hadn’t shut those down too.

And now I hear there will be a Stampede Parade – a parade of two entries, including the man who rode out of the 2012 Stampede with the goal of riding a horse to the tip of South America and back, and now, with 25,000 km of trail and road behind him, he will complete his trek with a ride through city streets with the Stampede Board chairman. And we thought Elk Point’s impromptu Canada Day parade was short!

Pancake breakfasts have also been a standby of Stampede Week, at varied locations around the city, from shopping malls to downtown streets. During our years on the chuckwagon circuit, I was part of the pancake crew for our outfit, cooking pancakes on a griddle on a camp stove in the stove rack of the wagon on 8th Avenue one year, and in the parking lot of CBC Radio another. Not necessarily fun, but it was an adventure. This year, they’re having drive-by pancake pick-ups at the otherwise empty Stampede grounds, by reservation, along with what has been described as a ‘food truck frenzy’ and another drive-by pick-up stop for mini doughnuts. Would I, if I were in Calgary, drive down to the Stampede grounds for a bag of mini doughnuts? Probably, but they were just a minor factor in my Stampede history. As a kid, it was always corn on the cob that was my favourite midway food.

There will even be two nights of fireworks, but not for people to view from the grandstand, which I always thought was a terrible place to watch them anyway, as it echoed as loud as being in a bombing raid. When we were there with the wagons, we watched them from outside the wagon barns, which was plenty close enough and loud enough for someone who grew up watching them from our back porch 15 miles away and as a young mom, from our lawn on a suburban hill overlooking the city.

I agree that the parade, which I watched almost every year from the time I was four or five until we moved north in 1977, is a major attraction for the event, and pancake breakfasts there are as much a part of Calgary Stampede as they are of Canada Day in Elk Point. Midway food and mini doughnuts are standard, but not a major attraction in my mind.

We’re talking Calgary Stampede here, and to me, that means the rodeo and chuckwagon races that bring competitors from far and wide to ride, rope, wrestle and race for a total of $2 million in prize money, before grandstands and bleachers packed with spectators.  Those are what brought my family to the Stampede each year from long before I joined them, at age four or five. Back in those days, and until I was a young adult, there were also horse races in between the rodeo events, which made for a whole day of action… a really long day, if you stayed after the chuckwagons for the stage show and fireworks.

Nobody said they would miss the stage show, and I’d thought it was maybe only me that wasn’t excited about that. As a kid, I was probably tired and cranky by then, and I certainly never had time to watch it in the years we were there with the wagons, because I was walking horses after the races and feeding the crew supper.

It’s the rodeo and chuckwagons that make it the Greatest Show on Earth that I’m going to miss.

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