About Bill Gray, president & chairman of the board

Bill Gray is president & chairman of the board of the Calgary Stampede. Bill is a corporate and commercial lawyer with more than 35 years' experience, and is a partner with the Miles Davison LLP firm. Bill has a strong background in management, issue resolution and strategic thinking. He has extensive experience in planning for and resolving a wide range of operational and legal issues. The Province of Alberta recognized Bill’s contribution to the legal profession and the community with a Queen’s Counsel designation in 2010. Bill has been a Stampede volunteer since 1986 and was elected to the board in 2006.

My farewell from the past two great years as stampede president

This is a bittersweet moment for me as this will be my final blog as Stampede president. It’s impossible to express just how much it has meant to me to lead this organization for two years after being a volunteer for 31 years.

When you are a part of something for that long, it becomes a part of you.cs-posters-1986-01

The 1986 Calgary Stampede poster – the year I began volunteering

One of the greatest gifts from being involved with the Stampede is working with the incredible Stampede team— including 2,300 volunteers and 1,200 year-round employees. The partnership between volunteers and employees is unique and invaluable and it is only because of that partnership that the Stampede is truly able to deliver on its promise to the community.

I am proud to be part of the team that conceived and launched our 2016-2018 Strategic Plan. This plan expands on the Stampede’s aspirations to Align with our Community, Connect through our Brand Promise, Support Youth Achievement in our Community, Build our Vision and Build our Team.

Strategic Plan.JPGRead the 2016-2018 Strategic Plan here!

The Stampede Team continues to work day in and day out to bring to our community exceptional experiences, expanded urban and rural programming, sought-after learning experiences and a world-class, year-round gathering place.

Over the past two years, we’ve seen Stampede grow and evolve and certainly we managed to have had a little fun along the way!

One highlight for me has been choosing the parade marshals and the poster artists.

2016 Stampede Poster

The 2016 Stampede Poster

In 2015, native Calgarian and two-time gold medalist bobsledder Kaillie Humphreys led the Parade. Kaillie is an international role model, and in addition to her sports prowess, she’s an ambassador for the I’ve been bullied campaign and Right to Play.

We were fortunate to have renowned artist Oleg Stravrowsky create the 2015 poster artwork, which accurately depicts the thundering and thrilling chuckwagon races.

2015 was a hard act to follow – so I was delighted when Jann Arden and Paul Brandt came on board as our 2016 parade marshals in honour of the Year of Music in Calgary.  Both have done an excellent job representing Calgary and Canada on a national and international stage with their talent and exemplary citizenship.

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Jann Adren and Paul Brandt: 2016 Parade Marshals

Award-winning local artist Michelle Grant created our beautiful 2016 poster, Born to Buck, highlighting our Stampede Ranch, home to 600 head of some of the finest rough stock in the country.

The past two years have not been without challenges:  we’ve faced a struggling economy and a very volatile Mother Nature. But in the face of these challenges, I’ve watched the Stampede team step up with ingenuity, enthusiasm and unflagging optimism. By being flexible and innovative, we managed to turn those challenges into opportunities to learn, evolve and succeed. I am incredibly proud of each and every member of our Team.

I thank everyone for their support on this journey—it’s been my great honor to serve as Stampede president & chairman of the board and I look forward to continued involvement with the Calgary Stampede and to providing my full support to incoming president Dave Sibbald as he very ably takes over the reins of this fantastic organization.

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Warren Connell, Stampede chief executive officer, Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, his daughter Ella-Grace, and me in the Agricultural Discovery Zone during Stampede 2016

Christmas Thoughts from Stampede President, Bill Gray

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS

During Christmas and holiday time our thoughts tend to turn to family. Family means different things to different people. At the Stampede, we often think of our great group of employees and volunteers as our “Stampede Family.” When one thinks deeper about it, however, the Stampede Family is significantly bigger than that group. We have our customers, fans and supporters who live in Calgary, southern Alberta, Canada, the USA and indeed all around the world, and who come year after year to enjoy the 10 days of Stampede. Certainly, they should all be considered part of our extended Stampede Family as we rely on their annual support, which was clearly evident in the bad weather we faced during the 2016 Stampede.

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A Wet and Great Stampede!

Yes, it was the wettest ten days I can remember in my 30+ years of volunteering (and in fact I now hear it was the rainiest 10 days since 1927), but definitely a lot of bright spots and great memories from the 2016 Stampede:

1. Pre-Stampede, on Wednesday, July 6 and Thursday, July 7, I was very busy with large and in some cases record crowds at the CBC Breakfast, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Parade, Tourism Calgary First Flip, the Field Law and Miles Davison LLP parties and Parade committee kick off BBQ. No question from those events that the city was very much looking forward to celebrating Stampede this year.

David Gray, host of the Eyeopener on CBC Radio (L) interviewing Codey McCurrach, chuckwagon driver (R) at the CBC Breakfast

David Gray, host of the Eyeopener on CBC Radio (L) interviewing Codey McCurrach, chuckwagon driver, (R) at the CBC Breakfast

Pancakes being flipped at the First Flip breakfast hosted by Tourism Calgary

Pancakes being flipped at the First Flip breakfast hosted by Tourism Calgary

2. Parade Day is always special and I never take for granted the thrill of being on horseback riding along the downtown parade route in front of hundreds of thousands of cheering spectators. Parade Marshals PB&J (Paul Brandt and Jann Arden) were great ambassadors for Calgary and the walking entry of about 100 representatives from the various Fort McMurray agencies involved with the emergency first response, re-location and re-settlement of that city received a huge and well deserved show of appreciation.

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Waving hello atop of Pa – the horse I rode this year from the Stampede Ranch

3. The Stampede Rodeo was great all week (even during the downpour on Finals Sunday, which I would argue just made it that much more challenging and exciting). Barrel Racer Mary Burger became an instant Stampede hit during the first go around and then continued to win over hearts and fans by pulling in the big prize on Sunday. Getting to award announcer Ron MacLean his own bronze for his 25 years of involvement with the Stampede Rodeo was also a very special moment for me.

Ron and Bill

Ron with his bronze and me

4. More often than not, the GMC Rangeland Derby and Evening Show faced the wettest moments of each day. The track held up magnificently and kudos to all the drivers for night after night of exciting and safe racing. The TransAlta Grandstand Show was one of the best I can recall and was designed in such a manner that “the show could go on” each night notwithstanding the weather. Great job by Dave Pierce, the Grandstand committee and all others involved in producing and putting on this show.

Exciting finish to one of the chuckwagon races

Exciting finish to one of the chuckwagon races

The Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede performing in the Grandstand Show incorporating water in the show

The Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede performing in the 2016 Grandstand Show incorporating water in the show

5. The Stampede is a great place to see, meet and host people and that includes politicians from all levels of Government. His Worship Mayor Nenshi rode in the Parade and then to his credit attended every community event in the city, or so it seemed. Premier Notley also rode in the Parade and she and many of her cabinet and MLAs attended many Stampede events on Stampede Park. We even had Justin Trudeau and his daughter Ella-Grace on Stampede Park for a few hours on Friday, July 15 (though as you can see from the attached below, even our Prime Minister was not spared the rain). PM visit 6. Beautiful Enmax Park and the new home of Indian Village was a hit with our guests and one can only imagine how popular that area of Stampede Park will become in future years with better weather. Photo Credit: Bill Marsh / Calgary Stampede 7. The main Midway attractions (Dog Bowl, Peking Acrobats and Bell Adrenaline Ranch) all received deservedly rave reviews. The Agriculture programming was also outstanding and saw big crowds for Cowboy Up, Stock Dogs, Heavy Horse Pull, Steer Classic and all the exhibits in Agrium Western Event Centre, such as the Cattle Trail and many others.

The Canine Stars at the Dog Bowl

The Canine Stars performed incredible tricks at the Dog Bowl

Heavy Horse Show in the Scotiabank Saddledome

Big crowds came out to watch the Heavy Horse Show in the Scotiabank Saddledome

8. By far the most enjoyable moments for me throughout the ten days was hand out the President’s Certificate of Appreciation to surprised long term Stampede volunteers all over Stampede Park. Such a privilege to honour so many deserving people who have given so much to Stampede and to their respective committees. Many thanks to Jennifer Jenson and Shane Ellis for taking care of all the logistics and making this work with my crazy busy Stampede schedule.

One of the recipients of the awards - Jill Cross.

One of the recipients of the awards – Jill Cross.

Thanks to all of you for what you do for Stampede. Hope all the employees and volunteers of the Calgary Stampede have a great and relaxing (and warm and dry) rest of the summer. You all deserve that. Bill

Time Flies

The Stampede AGM in March was the halfway point of my two year term as President & Chairman of the Board. It doesn’t seem possible to me that a year has gone by already but it has been a busy and very rewarding year.

I started my role the same time as Warren did in his new role as CEO and it has been a great pleasure to work with him. Mainly because we were both new to our jobs we decided to try some new things and I am pleased about many of our changes and in particular our goal to operate openly and transparently and share more information with not only the Board but with the entire organization and I feel we have had some real success in that area.

Speaking of the AGM I note that we had both record personal attendance and a record number of votes cast in the Board elections. Great to see such strong attendance from our shareholders and congratulations to all those who were re-elected to the Board that evening.

A few days after the AGM we had the GMC Rangeland Derby Canvas Auction thanks to all of the hard work put forth by our Chuckwagon committee, Paul Rosenberg, Robert Wise and all of our Agriculture employees, the auction came in at $2.2 mm, a far larger total than many had been forecasting. I think that total clearly shows both the resiliency of the people of Calgary and southern Alberta and the general support out there for the sport of chuckwagon racing.

Codey McCurrach competing in the GMC Rangeland Derby

Codey McCurrach competing in the GMC Rangeland Derby

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Looking Forward to a Great 2016 for Calgary Stampede

Happy New Year to all and I wish all of the employees and volunteers a safe and prosperous 2016. It was a busy end to 2015, with a number of events taking place on Stampede Park. The Stampede was also represented at the National Rodeo Finals (NFR) in Las Vegas, which I was fortunate to attend and see the CS bucking stock in action.

Grey Cup

I was very pleased to see our Sponsorship department activate the Calgary Stampede cabin at the Cowboy Christmas trade show in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Thanks to all our volunteers, including the Calgary Stampede Royalty, for taking the time to help host visitors at the CS display.

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Fall reflections

Because the run up to and the 10 days (actually now more like two weeks) of Stampede are so busy it is no real surprise that August is a relatively quiet month around Stampede Park as many of our employees and volunteers take holiday time. One of the biggest stories of the summer was the Calgary Flames’ announcement of their proposed Calgary Next project in West Village. I think it is clear that the public consultation process for this project will be measured in years and not weeks or months and even if the project goes ahead the Flames are likely to be playing in the Saddledome for the next five years and possibly longer so we look forward to working with the Flames for at least that period.

Once September started, it was clear that everyone involved with the Stampede was back and working hard.  Lots has happened already this fall, including the following:

 

1. I attended the crowning ceremony for our new Calgary Stampede Queen and Princesses on September 28 in the Agrium Western Event Centre.  It was a great event and congratulations to our new Royal Trio, Calgary Stampede Queen Maggie Shortt and Calgary Stampede Princesses Chelsey Jacobson and Bailee Billington. I want to commend the outgoing Royal Trio, Mick, Kimberly and Haley, for being such great ambassadors for the Stampede and a fun bunch to work with.

206 Calgary Stampede Queen, Maggie Shorrt (middle), and Princesses, Chelsey Jacobson (left) and Bailee Billington (right) immediately following the crowning ceremony.

2016 Calgary Stampede Queen, Maggie Shorrt (middle), and Princesses, Chelsey Jacobson (left) and Bailee Billington (right) immediately following the crowning ceremony in the Agrium Western Event Centre.

 

2. I also had the pleasure of attending the Indian Princess crowning ceremony on Sunday, October 4.  It was an excellent and well-attended event and it was great to see five talented ladies vying for the position.  Congratulations to Vanessa Stiffarm who I know will be a great addition to our Royalty and a terrific representative of Indian Village.

2016 Calgary Stampede Indian Princess, Vanessa Stiffarm receiving her crown.

2016 Calgary Stampede Indian Princess, Vanessa Stiffarm receiving her crown.

 

3. On Monday, October 5 I was proud to unveil the original artwork for the 2016 Stampede Poster at an event at the Calgary Public Library.  The painting is titled “Born to Buck” and it represents and honours a stock breeding program carried on under the same name at the Stampede Ranch in Hanna, Alberta, as well as our successful rodeo stock contracting business, which services rodeos all across North America.  The artist, Michelle Grant, did a fantastic job of capturing the concept and she created a beautiful piece of art by any standard and the painting translates into an excellent poster.

Bill Gray, president and chairman on the board, artist Michelle Grant and the Calgary Stampede Queen & Princesses with the 2016 Calgary Stampede poster artwork. Visit a Calgary Public Library between October 6 and 11 to take a selfie with the 2016 Calgary Stampede poster and you could be entered to win a pair of tickets to the Rodeo or Evening Show and #Stampede2016. Visit www.calgarystampede.com/win2016poster for more details.

Artist Michelle Grant, the Calgary Stampede Queen & Princesses and me with the 2016 Calgary Stampede poster artwork. Visit a Calgary Public Library between October 6 and 11, 2015 to take a selfie with the 2016 Calgary Stampede poster and you could be entered to win a pair of tickets to the Rodeo or Evening Show and #Stampede2016. Visit www.calgarystampede.com/win2016poster for more details.

 

4. On a serious note, there is no question that many businesses and individuals in Calgary are facing tough economic times, as evidenced by the now almost daily announcements of job cuts.  Certainly the Stampede is not immune to the economic climate and you may be aware that we are revising our volunteer committee budgeting process accordingly. For the first time that I am aware of, a member of our Audit and Finance Committee Budget Group will be meeting directly with the Committee Chairs and staff liaisons to discuss and review the Committee budgets prior to their finalization.  The goal is to hopefully find some opportunities for savings but most importantly we wanted to involve the Committee Chairs in the decision-making process as I believe the Committees themselves know how their programs work and they are the best equipped to determine where cuts might be made and where they should not be made. I hope all the Committee Chairs will take the opportunity to provide their valuable input into this process.

Bill

Stampede 2015 memories from the CS President

Well its taken me a couple of weeks to catch up with sleep, work and house stuff but finally have some time to reflect back on what was a great 2015 Calgary Stampede. This was my first Stampede as president & chairman of the board and my schedule was even more hectic than I had guessed it would be but had great experiences. Lots of memories but those that stick out for me are as follows:

1. Getting to ride in the Demo Chuckwagon 101 ride on Friday, July 10. What a thrill and man do those horses love to run. Thanks to Chuckwagon committee for making that happen and driver Barry Hodgson for the ride.

Bill and the Chuckwagon

Chuckwagon ride along with driver Barry Hodgson

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Here comes Stampede 2015

It’s the end of June and Stampede is around the corner!  Besides the calendar here are five other reasons why it’s easy for me to feel Stampede is in the air:

1. CS Headquarters has been buzzing the last 10-days. Whether it’s our hard-working volunteers having one last committee meeting, the employees running to and fro finalizing last minute details, the phones ringing off the hook constantly and best of all, a constant hum around the ticketing office, HQ is an incredibly busy place these days.

2. Whether you are reading a newspaper, listening to the radio, watching TV or participating through social media, Stampede is being talked about everywhere. Our marketing people are doing a great job.

3. Setup on park is, if anything, ahead of schedule. Check out these photos I took yesterday on a quick tour around the park:

Pictured: The Great FUNtier set up four days before The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth

Park 2

Pictured: Midway set up four days before Stampede time

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Stampede update from president Bill

So lots of things have happened or are currently going on since my last blog:

  1. The Election: the outcome was a surprise to most including me. However I am very optimistic that the Stampede can have a great relationship with the new government. We have a great story to communicate as our organization touches the works of many government departments or ministries – Education, Tourism and Culture, Agriculture, Aboriginal and  Environment to name just a few – and our Youth Campus development is a project that members of every political party can get behind and support. So we will be inviting and hoping to see the new Premier and other members of the government here during Stampede this year.
  2. Calgary Flames: it was fabulous to see the City but in particular Stampede Park and 17th Avenue come alive again during this year’s exciting Flames playoff run.  Congratulations to that organization for a great year and hopefully we can now make Flames’ playoff games an annual event to look forward to for a number of years in a row.

    Calgary Flames 2015 Playoff Run

    Scotiabank Saddledome during the Calgary Flames 2015 playoff run

  3.  Stampede is Coming: time is going by fast and at time of writing this less than 50 days until Stampede. New announcements coming out almost daily it seems. Stevie Wonder now added to concert line up for final Sunday, love the concept of outdoor patio and Stoli Lounge for Nashville North along with great music line up, an expanded Bud Zone at south end of park will be very popular and though not allowed to share any details yet, there is  a great new show performing in the Corral during Stampede which will be a big hit and unbelievable that it is being provided as part of the free entertainment on Park.

    Calgary Stampede Midway

    Calgary Stampede Midway

  4. Parade Marshal: I am very excited about this year’s parade marshal – expect an announcement in early June.
  5. People: apparently April 12 to 18 was National Volunteer Week and for some reason it looks like we missed sending out any messaging to our volunteers. Sorry about that as in my view the Calgary Stampede is blessed to have the most passionate and hard-working volunteers of any organization in Canada and in my position I think about and am thankful for that every day on the job.

    Promotion committee volunteer at 2014 Door Open YYC on Stampede Park

    Promotion committee volunteer at 2014 Door Open YYC on Stampede Park

  6. People 2: don’t want to forget about and also thank our hard working employees who are now literally burning the midnight oil to ensure that Stampede 2015 will be one of the best ever. Special congrats to our newly appointed Vice-President and CFO Shelley Flint who is doing a great job on the numbers side and Sarah Hayes Vice-President, Foundation who was so very instrumental in the success of the Calgary Stampede Foundation’s Capital Campaign.

    CEO Warren Connell and COO Paul Rosenberg helping out CS employees at the recent Riverbank Clean-up event

    CEO Warren Connell and COO Paul Rosenberg helping out CS employees at the recent Riverbank Clean-up event

  7. Being President: We are a large organization with many moving parts and a few thousand brand ambassadors in the form of volunteers and employees. As President, I receive many compliments and the occasional criticism (but happy to say the compliments far outweigh the complaints) about something we have done or are doing either on Park or in the community. I certainly don’t know all the details of every CS decision and program so I’m just getting more comfortable with saying “thank you” on behalf of our entire organization of volunteers and employees. (The complaints I just send down the hall to Warren – only partially kidding about that.)

My First Month as President

When I started as a volunteer with the Stampede in 1986 I had no idea I would one day end up being the President of this great organization. Even when I was first elected to the Board 9 years ago, the idea of eventually Chairing the Board was not something on my radar. As a result, moving into the role on March 17, 2015 still seems a little surreal to me though I must say thus far it feels great.

Highlights to date:

  1. Receiving so many messages of congratulations and support from friends, family, and professional and Stampede colleagues.
  2. My first official event as President – the Canvas Auction on Thursday, March 19 - the Chuckwagon Committee and Ag employees did a fantastic job getting the bidders out and the buzz and excitement in the room all night was terrific. The end result was better than I expected based on the current economic situation.Bill Gray
  3. Picking up my new GMC Stampede vehicle which I will be proud to be driving for the next year as a representative of our organization;
  4. Getting to work on a regular basis with our new CEO, Warren Connell, who is a class act and already doing a great job in his new role.
  5. Attending and getting a tour around the Dairy Classic a few weeks back with Committee Chair Debbie Lee. Pleased to hear that entries are significantly up this year in advance of the big Dairy Show scheduled for April next year.BillGrayDairyClassic 2015
  6. Attending the first day of Aggie Days on Wednesday, April 8 and reading to the school kids. What a treat that was and what a great event for families.  Bill reading at Aggie Days
  7. Attending and helping to lead our Strategic Stampede Board Retreat this past weekend. We have a very hard working and talented Board and collectively we are coming out of the Retreat in an excited state as we have lots to do and many interesting potential opportunities.

The only negative so far was receiving the news from the Provincial Government that our annual grant was being reduced by approximately $2 million this year. That was a significant cut and certainly larger than expected. However, thanks to the prudent financial planning of our management team and the consistently positive and “can do” attitude of our staff and volunteers, we are moving forward and plan to have a great 2015 Stampede.

I will try to keep you up to date throughout the year with monthly blogs and you can also follow me on twitter at @stampede_pres. Bill.