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‘A special one’: Calgary Stampede kicks off with parade as thousands line streets

The Calgary Stampede returned Friday with its trademark parade, led by Hollywood actor Kevin Costner on horseback, in the first full event since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Calgary Stampede returned Friday with its trademark parade, led by Hollywood actor Kevin Costner on horseback, in the first full event since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Stampede was cancelled in 2020 for the first time in its 100-plus-year history.

A scaled down event was held last year with many pandemic precautions in place, including COVID-19 rapid testing at its main tents. There was also a shortened parade without spectators.

That changed this year, with 90 parade floats, marching bands, horses and dignitaries welcomed back by crowds of people — estimated by Stampede officials to be about 300,000 — lining the streets of the city’s downtown.

“This is a special one,” Premier Jason Kenney said in an interview before getting on a horse to ride in the parade. “Last year, the parade was … not a full-on parade. This is the full-meal deal, we’ve got fantastic weather, we’ve emerged from COVID, the economy is rocking and this community is ready for a party.

“I think this is going to be the best Stampede in memory.”

Costner, who was greeted with cheers and applause as he rode down the parade route, said he was humbled to be asked to be the honorary parade marshal this year.

He said his career has been good to him.

“I’m an imaginary cowboy. I realize how lucky I’ve been in my life. Not many people get to save the girl, get to save the day, get to go after the bad guy.”

Costner said he has filmed two movies in the Calgary area and the cowboy way of life never gets old.

“No one’s ever going to tire of running horses and rivers that don’t stop flowing and mountains that don’t feel the need to move and are snow capped. I think something’s romantic about the West,” he said.

“We know how hard the West is, but there’s something interesting about a man on a horse and all he needs is what that horse can carry.”

Costner patiently signed autographs while sitting on a horse before the parade began. He said people are relishing a return to normalcy with an end to pandemic restrictions.

“COVID reminded us that things can be taken from us in the wink of an eye and to understand we can come back out and celebrate this parade, this yearly thing that’s been happening over a 100 years.”

The actor was given his marshal badge before the parade and immediately declared: “You’re all under arrest.”

Brazilian long rider Filipe Masetti Leite, who was named marshal when Stampede was cancelled in 2020, was also invited back again this year.

He said a real celebration is long overdue.

“It’s good to be back. I think people were waiting for this. They were hungry for this to get back together. You see so many smiles from people on the street.”

Among the horse-drawn wagons, there was an entry highlighting the city’s Ukrainian community. Canada has welcomed several thousands of people from the eastern European country since Russia invaded in February.

“We’re a very unique entry,” said John Stadnyk, chair of the Tryzub Ukrainian Dance Society. “We have a horse-drawn wagon, vocalists, 30 dancers on the street, 100 members of the community dressed in blue and yellow.

“We’re super excited about it.”

Those with the group sang Ukrainian songs and danced in traditional costumes as they made their way along the nearly 30-block parade route.

Stadnyk said it’s the first year the Ukrainian community has participated directly in the parade.

“With everything going on in Ukraine, we thought it was super important to get everybody involved and have a really big Ukrainian entry.”

Several other cultural and heritage groups were also represented and dozens of politicians participated either on horseback or on floats.

The Stampede, which also includes a midway, a fair and a nightly rodeo, runs through July 17.