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Thursday
Jul122012

Cowtown Comes of Age: The Globe & Mail

If you really want to understand a place, look at how it celebrates itself. Here's a feature I wrote for Canada's national newspaper on the centennial of the Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo, midway and cowboy festival that attracts as many visitors as Mardi Gras. It's a story about Calgary and what makes this place so successful, influential and different than most other cities. I grew up here, and some my ancestors negotiated Alberta's major Indian treaties in the late 1800s (which, among other things, cleared the way for Calgary) and other ancestors homesteaded and farmed in different parts of Alberta in the early 1900s. I've learned much yet this place still fascinates me. As I write in the story, Calgary and its annual cowboy festival are "a hybrid – a collision of rural and urban, local and global, past and present."

"Calgary is often stigmatized as having been a very young city for a very long time: a city unable to grow up, fixating on its imaginary cowboy past while tearing down historic landmarks, blowing up inner-city hospitals and hedging its future on non-renewable resources.

But that’s only partly true, because Calgary is also a city that’s long been coming of age – a complex, urban, power centre with an annual carnival whose estimated attendance exceeds both New Orleans’s Mardi Gras and Nevada’s desert gathering Burning Man."

As I write in the feature, perhaps best and perhaps most telling Stampede event is the annual Ismaili breakfast (hundreds of free pancake breakfasts can be found across the city during the Stampede). 

"Out-of-towners might be surprised to learn that one of the best and largest Stampede breakfasts is hosted by the Ismaili community in the parking lot of their Calgary temple – over 5,000 people eating pancakes with east African bharazi (curried pigeon peas), while touring the temple and admiring the fanciful Ismaili parade float. Last year, Mayor Naheed Nenshi officially launched the event from atop the float, just before a posse of black-hatted cowboys offered free line-dancing lessons.

No one bothers calling it multiculturalism any more. Just as they don’t boast about the fact that newer Canadians attend the Stampede at a higher rate than the rest of the population, with 29 per cent of Stampede midway-goers identifying themselves as visible minorities – like their mayor, who also knows his way around a horse."

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