July 17th, 2024

‘Saddled up’: Calgarians put water crisis aside for fun at Stampede


By Lisa Johnson, The Canadian Press on July 5, 2024.

Visitors walk through the park on the last day of the Calgary Stampede in Calgary on July 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Calgary residents took a break from their water woes Friday, lining up six-deep downtown to watch the parade launching the annual summer Stampede festival.

“I’m saddled up,” said Rita Freese, with her grandson beside her.

Freese said she hasn’t been curbside to watch the parade since 1989. She watched it on TV last year and decided she needed to see it in person.

“I said, ‘I’m never not going again, come rain or shine.'”

Some savvy parade watchers began preparations Thursday night, roping together camping chairs to ensure a front-row view. Others arrived as the sun rose, hours before the start, to ensure a good spot to watch the 100 entries, including 21 floats, 11 marching bands and 700 horses.

“My mom took one for the team,” said Danielle Oliverio.

“She came around 6:30 this morning to get the spot, then my mother-in-law and I rolled in a couple of hours later just in time for it to start.”

Oliverio said she has been going to the parade for the last two years with her children, continuing a tradition that began when her parents took her when she was young.

The highlights for the young ones, she said, were Calgary Flames mascot Harvey the Hound and “the horses and the vehicles that clean up after the horses.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, donning a navy blue cowboy hat and denim jacket, waved to the crowd from a wagon. Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre was on horseback urging the crowd to “axe the tax,” referring to his party’s campaign against the consumer carbon levy.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, wearing a white hat, also appeared in the parade on a horse.

The parade was held a month to the day after a water main supplying 60 per cent of the drinking water for the city ruptured and flooded streets.

Crews scrambled to repair the line and, in the process, found five more weak spots to fix.

A directive to have Calgarians cut their indoor water use by 25 per cent with fewer showers and toilet flushes was lifted earlier this week.

A ban on outdoor watering remained in place, with the system running at reduced capacity to keep enough water in reserve to fight fires and for the replacement line to undergo tests.

Oliverio said her family took the restrictions in stride.

“We bathed the kids a little less and obviously didn’t water the grass, but it didn’t affect us that majorly,” she said.

The Stampede – a combination midway fair, entertainment festival and rodeo competition – brings thousands of visitors to the city every July.

Earlier this month, there were concerns the population bump from the 10-day event would push the city’s water system to a breaking point.

Gondek has asked Calgarians to continue to go easy on their indoor water use, and contingency plans are in place for the Stampede. The Stampede will, for example, clean the rodeo grandstand less frequently using non-treated water.

The Stampede is also the site of political pancake flipping. Smith is scheduled to toss flapjacks on Monday, while the Opposition NDP, with new leader Naheed Nenshi, is to host three pancake events starting Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2024.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Rita Freese has attended the Stampede parade since 1989.

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