CALGARY – The cleanup carries on but now that the water has receded and the state of emergency cancelled, Calgarians are going to turn their attention to what they do best — throw one heck of a party.
The Calgary Stampede kicks off today with its annual parade, a noisy, colourful procession winding through downtown streets that just two weeks ago were submerged beneath muddy floodwaters.
Gumboots will give way to cowboy boots as huge crowds gather for the raucous event.
It will be led by parade marshall Chris Hadfield, Canada’s celebrity astronaut, and will pay special tribute to the first responders who kept citizens safe in the early days of the disaster.
Some 75,000 Calgarians were evacuated from their homes in the flood that began June 20, along with residents of many communities throughout southern Alberta.
High River was hit especially hard, with most of its 13,000 residents only being allowed back into their homes in the last few days.
Life there is a long way from being back to normal. The Alberta government issued a news release Thursday outlining options for interim housing for residents whose homes have been classified as unsafe to live in.
Some could end up in trailers, some in hotels, and others at university dormitories in Lethbridge and Calgary.
“Be prepared to see your house in a pretty shocking state,” Shane Schreiber, head of the High River recovery task force, warned returning evacuees on Thursday.
Many Calgarians also have a long road to hoe ahead, and some wondered if their annual rodeo, exhibition and music festival could be put together in just two weeks.
But though some events had to be relocated and some headlining music concerts at the badly damaged Saddledome had to be scrubbed, organizers took on the mantra of the Stampede’s president, who vowed the event would proceed “come hell or high water.”
That’s now the motto emblazoned across black T-shirts seen everywhere in in the city, even on the back of popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
On Thursday, the city’s cheerleader-in-chief declared the official state of emergency over and called Calgary a community “that’s stronger than it’s ever been.”
“Symbolically … us saying we’re no longer in an emergency is a really big thing,” said Nenshi. “For people to say, ‘Alright, I can take a breath. It’s not wrong for me to take a day off and enjoy the Stampede.’
“While we’re working hard with our neighbours, we can take a day off to celebrate what makes the city great.”