As a cyclist, you know the annual Calgary Stampede festivities have begun when cycling early morning on the popular Bow River bike-pedestrian path, suddenly there’s horse poop every 30 metres or so.
It’s just one time, when the horses, their trailers and riders are camped out overnight in the empty grassy park behind Fort Calgary by the bike-pedestrian path. They are hunkered down there since it’s a staging area for the horses and their riders in the annual downtown Grand Parade. Probably the municipal officials have learned from the past and eliminated more complaints of errant riders and horses on paths (which are not allowed), by asking them to all clear out of the park the next day after the parade.
This is my first taste of the Calgary Stampede festivities. I didn’t even go to the expensive Grandstand show at the Stampede Grounds. Instead I went the cheaper route: by cycling to 6 different free pancake, or known as flapjack breakfasts in the downtown area over the last 10 days. One of them was provided by my employer to several thousand employees.
Free Flapjack Breakfasts Galore
Usually these flapjack breakfasts were at a church, community centre or in an empty lot, with chairs and tables set up with the calvacade of volunteer flapjack and sausage flippers as well as servers at the front. Different organizations sponsor each breakfast.
At the Calgary Freemason’s breakfast, an all-time Albertan told me of the time when he passed through a town north of Calgary. He missed by 5 minutes, of seeing the country western star singer,
Johnny Cash. In seeing my helmet and cycling clothing, he remarked that he often biked around downtown himself: “It’s just not worth it. The cost of parking and traffic headaches”. Meanwhile others seated around us, grumbled about the hassle of downtown driving. Not sure how many at our table ever lived in Toronto, but truly Calgarians want to bust out on the road in their cars to sail on homeward.
The Freemason’s pancakes were uniform, not greasy, sausages and brown beans were fine. However not all places shoveled a large scoop of brown beans onto your plate.
Country Western Music, Elvis Presley Impressarios and Cowboy Fashion Fantasies
For no political reason at all, except curious to sample a politician sponsored breakfast, I finally found the flapjack headquarters for MLA (Member of the Legislature for Alberta) Hehr Kent, a Liberal critic on energy. He was in a wheelchair and later went on stage to join his father, an Elvis Presley impersonator to croon a couple of
tunes. If it really was his father, then it was touching in a dry, wry way how father and son supported each other for this event. Kent offered to constituents, uniform flapjacks and sausage patties. Their volunteer cooking crew were stuck in a road laneway by the building to do the grilling.
The Stampede offers a great excuse for any local politician to relax and allow participants just to socialize and eat. Speeches and grandstanding was minimal. Who cared about the political affiliation of the host. Since the breakfasts were free, anyone of any social class could join in –unlike the Grandstand Show. The
lineup downtown at Stephen’s Walk area breakfast scratched out any notion that the homeless and marginalized ever left Calgary for balmier Vancouver or Victoria, B.C. They were happily there along with the tourists.
The biggest and fluffiest pancakes were offered by the Carpenter Union’s flapjack and music breakfast. A 4-year old boy at our table had the dinner plate-sized flapjacks along with adult-sized sausage patties and brown beans. He seemed less interested in his breakfast spread compared to bobbing to the music from country and western band on stage. At this breakfast gig, the country ‘n western music band was the better than others I heard (the Elvis crooner was a colourful aberration) since this band kept a few spectators for awhile. Normally country and western music is not my personal choice.
If there wasn’t any music to accompany our meal, there was a sea of cowboy hats where at least one-quarter or more of breakfast crowds sported a cowboy hat. A work colleague told me she knew an enthusiastic woman or two, who had spent over the years, up to $30,000 on cowgirl fashion garb, boots and accessories. Once I passed by such a gal who had splashed on alot of perfume: no barbecue nor bacon grease smells could touch that whiff.
I didn’t see many bikes locked up the big tented venues downtown. Wonder if any venues even offered bike valet. I occasionally had to hunt around for a pole to lock up my bike.
Yes, there was the odd cyclist here and there who donned a cowboy hat and jeans. A tandem cycling couple dressed in jeans, cowboys hats and shirts arrived and left one of the community breakfasts.
One thing for sure, I’m glad the timing of the flapjack meals required I eat early and burn-off the carbohyrdate loads during the day or not even have much of supper at all: a week of the Stampede is just enough for my stomach. Yahooooo!