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Guest Column
Michelle Rempel

Note from Calgary: Why we Stampede

Any visitor to south Alberta during the summer months will be treated to the sight of rolling green vistas. Set among these are the ranches that form an integral part of the backbone of Alberta's culture, identity and economy.

Every summer across southern Alberta, small and large towns alike celebrate this with rodeos. Some of the world's top competitors in bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle and bareback riding, team roping, saddle bronc, tie down roping and barrel racing descend on Alberta to test their mettle against some of the world's toughest stock. Cowboy hat and boot-clad spectators sit back and enjoy the brief summer weather and a beer while cheering them on.

Then there's the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth; the Calgary Stampede.

Founded in 1912 by American trick roper and promoter Guy Weadick, the Calgary Stampede has become more than just a rich purse event for rodeo champions. It's arguably core to Calgary's identity, and is world renowned tourist "must see" event.

Every July, this 10-day rodeo spectacular and neon midway is an opportunity for Calgary, a city of over a million residents, to tip its hat to its Western heritage and pioneer spirit. Guests get up close and personal with the cowboys and cowgirls who demonstrate their competitive skills, their love and protective nature for the safety of their animals and their commitment to putting on an amazing show for the thousands of spectators. There really is nothing else like it in the entire world.

For many visitors to the Stampede, their experience is confined to the Stampede grounds corralled in a corner of downtown Calgary. Apart from the occasional mid-week trip to one of the mountain parks or a parking lot adorned with the red tents of a Caravan pancake breakfast, few venture away from the excitement of the rodeo, the thunder of the chuckwagon races, or the cold beer flowing at Nashville North, Cowboys, or one of the other beer gardens and tents. But for Calgary's citizens, Stampede season has come to represent more than the official festivities themselves.

For 10 days Calgarians set aside their usual hustling and bustling schedules and instead slow down to focus on the community and the people who share it with them. In every corner of the city, on every day of the week, you can find community associations, faith groups, shopping centres, banks and individuals hosting breakfasts and BBQ's for strangers. But if you stop by one of these various gatherings it won't appear as if these people are strangers to one another at all.

Young and old alike are adorned in western regalia, dancing to the country music as they take in the sights and sounds of the event. They greet, and sometimes for the first time, meet their neighbours. They take a photo with Stampede royalty or local politicians who cycle from event to event. Or they experience an Indigenous cultural performance by members of Treaty 7 nations. They thank the various volunteers flipping pancakes, painting children’s faces, and cleaning up syrup-soaked tables. To the casual observer, it appears that everyone knows everyone and there are few, if any, cares in the world.

Since my election to the House of Commons in 2011, my role has taken me to many communities for a variety of celebrations and events in Canada and around the world. Those experiences have reinforced my belief that there truly is nothing quite like the Calgary Stampede anywhere else on the planet. It is a celebration that simultaneously pays tribute to our Western roots while strengthening the bonds of community today. Whether it's experiencing the Stampede for the first time as a new Canadian or seeing it through the eyes of your children or grandchildren for the first time, the celebration continues to bring people together.

When I think about the Stampede and what it means, I find that it marks the time of year when I can connect, in a special way, with the people I represent. After the House rises for the summer months I return to Alberta and immediately have the chance to spend time speaking one-on-one with hundreds of people in the community about issues that are important to them. There is no better way for me to immediately connect with so many different people, from so many different walks of life, than at these Stampede events.

They attract young and old; professionals and students; fifth, fourth, third and second-generation Albertans and people who’ve recently come to Canada from places where community celebrations are unthinkable amid war and other hardships; families and individuals — all types of people who make up our communities. They share with me their thoughts on current affairs, concerns about our country, and personal stories that make me proud to be their voice. It has quickly become my favourite time of year.

For most Calgarians, these 10 days highlight a part of our identity as Western Canadians that is precious and worthy of celebration each year. For me, I will put on my (well-used) boots and hat and head off to numerous events to meet and greet Calgarians and visitors alike. The Calgary Stampede, and all that goes with it, is a celebration of tradition and heritage that has been passed down for over 100 years and I believe it is an event that lives up to its reputation as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

Michelle Rempel is the MP for Calgary Nose Hill. michelle.rempel@parl.gc.ca