Even before this global pandemic hit, Alberta was struggling economically. An oil-rich province hit hard by falling oil prices, the ensuing domino effect has thrown our economy into a tail spin. My husband, an oil executive, has faced job upheavals for years. People we know have lost their livelihoods, to be sure, not one Albertan has not felt the impact of this oil downturn in some way or another. The Covid-19 crises just adds to the economic chaos here.
When the Calgary Stampede was cancelled last week due to Covid-19, it was “a punch in the gut…” to all Calgarians. The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth brings in millions of tourism dollars each year. The annual celebration, that includes a million dollar rodeo, chuck wagon races, a midway, a world-class grandstand show and a multitude of other spectator events, has survived two world wars, and a devastating flood in 2013, but Covid has finally forced it all to be reined in. With its cancellation, other large festivals and events province-wide have also been cancelled. The domino effect rides again and hurts the entire province and all Albertans!
My parents immigrated to Canada from Denmark in 1952 and settled in Calgary. I was a baby when I went to my first Stampede. Some of my fondest childhood memories is seeing the parades, and being absolutely fascinated by the horses, cowboys and cowgirls, as well as the colourful pageantry of the First Nations peoples in full regalia. I remember my first straw cowboy hat, red in colour, with a little white, plastic whistle tied onto the end of the chin cord. Going to the Calgary Stampede meant we all had to dress western, and I loved my cowboy hat, boots, and the little fringed leather vest I wore on parade days.
When my kids were young, we would try to go to the parade each year, and spend at least one day of the ten day event taking in the Calgary Stampede. Over these past few years, our grandchildren have accompanied us. We are four generations of Stampeders! Stampede 2020 was on our calendar this year, but Covid-19 robbed us of yet another event we were looking forward to attending this summer.
The other day my husband and I decided to go for a long drive just to get out of the house. We’ve been in isolation mode over eight weeks. We’ve followed all the recommended health protocols. We have stayed home, but stayed connected through online means with family and friends. I haven’t hugged on my kids or grandbabies since March 14th, and my arms ache to hold them. Going for drives, especially when there is little else to break up the long days, is a welcome distraction. On our way home, we drove by Stampede Park and I noticed a neon sign flashing, “Keep Your Hats On, Calgary!” It was supposed to encourage those who are disappointed by this year’s cancellation, and to look towards next year’s Stampede to be even bigger and better. I turned to my husband and said, “Everyone in Alberta should keep their hats on! The whole province has been through so much!”
I thought about the dear people in Fort McMurray, whose community is being threatened again with another disaster. Four years ago it was a wild fire, this week a devastating flood. I thought about falling oil prices, pipelines that still need to be built, the ramifications to family and friends when the oil sector collapsed. Floods, fires, and a myriad of economic disasters, Alberta has faced its share of challenges. Finally, this deadly corona virus threatens us all. I wonder if our world will ever be the same again.
When we got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of “keeping hats on”. At a time when there is so much to bring us down, I thought I would go ahead and wear my cowboy hat anyway over those days in July that would have been Stampede “week”. I was sure I could get my family and even some friends to join in the fun too. Then it struck me that perhaps many more people might do the same as a way to encourage one another. The idea blossomed into my imagining every Calgarian might want to wear their cowboy hats on the days that the Calgary Stampede would have been held: July 3rd – July 12th. Then, I thought about the entire province joining in. It would be a way to show our Stampede spirit, province-wide. Yes, I’ve even thought all of Canada could join in the fun!
I went online to see if anyone else had come up with the same idea, but was astonishingly surprised when search results came up empty. So, I prayed, asking God if I should just pose the idea out on social media and see if it catches some interest.
I have had great feedback! So, I invite all my readers, whether Albertan or not, to join my Facebook and Instagram groups and wear a cowboy hat whenever you’re out and about July 3rd – 12th, 2020. Wearing your hat will greatly encourage all of us here in Alberta and unite us all in the Stampede spirit!
Facebook Group: Keep Your Hats On Alberta!
Use the hashtag: #keepyourhatsonalberta