There was no lack of questions leading up to the 2021 Calgary Stampede. In 2020, the Stampede was cancelled for the first time in almost a century due to COVID restrictions. Many feared this year’s festivities would encounter the same fate, but thankfully and with a few restrictions and safety measures in place, the Stampede kicked off on schedule.
There were many conversations, questions and even doubts surrounding the decision to proceed with the event as well as some of the questionable protocols implemented so that the event may proceed, but these trepidations were few and far between among those we spoke to on the Stampede grounds. People were simply overjoyed to be back to some semblance of normalcy, to be among other people, to be seeing faces without masks on them.
Throughout the hot and smoky day people were immersed in First Nations culture at the Elbow Park Camp, where the dancers and guides were once again thrilled to be sharing their traditions. We also spoke with vendors and artists, many of whom count on earnings from the Stampede to get through the year, and were thrilled to once again be presenting their wares to the Stampede crowds. Cowboys were back on their horses. Collective screams of joy and exhilaration from nearby carnival rides served as a stark contrast to the isolation, sadness and dullness that many have been living through for over a year.
As the sun set, the mood became even more festive. Carnival lights and fireworks dazzled the senses. At numerous venues, vast swaths of people pulsed as one to the rhythm of blaring music. What one year ago would have been an impossibility was now unfolding with a joy and passion clearly born of the long-steeped desire of people hungry for human interaction of which they have been utterly deprived. The world of COVID restrictions felt like a distant memory, if only for a little while.
Absence begets perspective. Many Calgarians, myself included, are often indifferent towards the Stampede, but seeing smiles on the faces of nearly everyone we encountered has put an end to my apathy. After over a year of isolation and economic hardship, the Calgary Stampede was an essential catharsis. Stampede felt as it did when I was a kid. I could not help but smile.