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.

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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

Stampede kitchen shares recipe to keep you energized while you visit Stampede Park

The 2016 Stampede is already at the halfway mark – but there are still tons of events for guests to check out this week, including the many shows that are included with your admission such as the Canine Stars, Bell Adrenaline Ranch and Peking Acrobats – so here are two quick and easy recipes from the Calgary Stampede Kitchen to keep your energy high.

Graham Armstrong, Stampede sous chef, holding the granola bars with his coworkers and fellow chefs holding the honey and granola bits.

Graham Armstrong, Stampede sous chef, holding the granola bars with his coworkers and fellow chefs holding the honey and granola bits.

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Canine Stars share the secrets to their tricks while putting on a spectacular show

The Canine Stars prove it’s possible for any dog to become a confident show dog because most of the dogs featured in the shows have been rescued or adopted.

Ray, one Canine Star, was found on the street when he was only two-years old, with his sister. Any loud or sudden noise would make Ray cower with fear and hide. Now, one of the stars of the Stampede’s new show, the cheers and claps from the audience motivate and encourage him to do the tricks. “We use only positive reinforcement on the dogs,” explained the show’s  host, “encouraging them with toys, treats and praise – including cheering and clapping!” The louder the audience members would cheer, the faster the dogs would run and the higher they’d jump.

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Ray chasing the Frisbee at the Dog Bowl

And he's got it!

And he’s got it!

After hearing Ray’s story, and seeing his confidence catching the Frisbee time and time again, the announcer let the audience in on the secret of training your own pooch at home to catch the Frisbee in long distances and stunts. Continue reading

BMO Farm Family focuses on environment and sustainability

From humble beginnings on a farm in Holland, one BMO Farm Family’s Alberta agriculture involvement has grown substantially over the years. “We moved here in 1954, just one week after our wedding” said Margaret Rommens, who grew up on a farm in Holland. Margaret and her husband Adrian began their Canadian journey by worked for other Albertan farmers, while saving up to one day buy their own land. In 1971, the couple had saved enough to purchase three quarters of land and begin their own operation.

“Irrigation was new to us, but we had to start somewhere and take the opportunity,” Margaret explained. “And good thing we did because we’ve been quite successful.” In less than 30 years, the operation had grown from 30 dairy cattle to 120 – and continued to expand from there, with approximately 200 head today, which are all purebred Holsteins. Along with the number of cattle, the Rommens family grew as well – Margaret and Adrian had six children, and now have several grandchildren, many of whom are in their twenties deciding on career paths (including university graduates with medical doctor and finance degrees).

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Margaret Rommens (fifth from the left) with her family at the 2016 BMO Farm Family Awards

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Giddy-Up Grits saw great attendance and lots of smiles

Monday, July 11, at 7:30 a.m. members of the special needs community in Calgary began arriving to Stampede Park for a morning dedicated just to them. Hosted by the Calgary Stampede Queens’ Alumni committee, presented by Maxim, and with help from Cenovus and the Calgary Stampede Kids’ Day Breakfast committee, the event was a big success due to everyone’s collaboration.

Giddy Up Grits 2016

Eager guests heading inside the Stampede Corral for breakfast and entertainment

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Stampede life hack: the Casper nap pod

Nap pods have become the envy of the corporate world; they have risen in popularity and studies have shown that employee productivity increases when nap pods are an option in the office. Today I lived my corporate fantasy of napping at work – in the Casper nap pod on the Stampede Midway.

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10 behind-the-scenes moments from the Calgary Stampede Parade

Standing between a band marching towards me in one direction, and a golf cart full of paraphernalia driving by in another, Parade committee member Sharon Spooner looked at me, smiled, and said, “This is it! This is the fun part!” There was a lot that went on behind the scenes of the Calgary Stampede Parade and these were just a few of the moments that stood out to me.

1. There was a larger-than-life bull on the sidewalk, who may or may not have been parked illegally.

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In It to Win It – Here Come the Bensmiller Brothers

It could be considered a pretty high-stress situation. But Kurt Bensmiller is keeping his cool about this year’s Calgary Stampede.

“I’ll be going there to win, just like every year,” he says. “Whether the cards are in my favour? We’ll see in mid-July.”

What Bensmiller and many others will be waiting to see, is whether he can capture a third straight championship at the Calgary Stampede’s GMC Rangeland Derby. Only three men have ever managed that in the event’s long and storied history. Rolling in to the first races of the season, Bensmiller is not letting that get to him.

“If there’s any pressure, it will be what I put on myself,” he says, adding he’s feeling good about the strength and depth of his barn with 16 new horses added to his team of veterans this spring.  But in Calgary, 35 other chuckwagon drivers will be looking to turn up the heat, setting their sights on knocking Kurt Bensmiller from that top spot. Among them – his younger brother, Chance.

(L) Chance Bensmiller (R) Kurt Bensmiller

(L) Chance Bensmiller (R) Kurt Bensmiller

“If anyone dethrones him, I hope it’s me.”  For years Chance Bensmiller has worked with Kurt, training  in the spring at his elder brother’s home.  But after getting the call from the Calgary Stampede this past fall, Chance decided to change things up.

“I decided to take a different approach on my own, to focus solely on my own horses. I had some things I had to work out.” Despite making the decision to train separately this season, Bensmiller still maintains a strong connection to all of his family in the sport, including father and former Stampede Champion Buddy Bensmiller.

Chance Bensmiller at the 2013 Calgary Stampede

Chance Bensmiller at the 2013 Calgary Stampede

“A lot of guys don’t have a big family like mine. Having my dad, Kurt and brother-in-law Vern (Nolin), that family support is huge.”  While Kurt is the recipient of much of their father’s assistance, Chance claims another family advantage – brother David, a talented and much sought after outrider.

“David’s my first call,” says the younger Bensmiller. “Words can’t even describe how much pressure is lifted off my shoulders knowing he is holding my lead team when the horn blows.”  For Kurt, family is a big part of what brought him into the sport, and what keeps him racing.

“That’s one of the biggest reasons I got into this,” he says, adding “Not many people can love their job as much as I do and be lucky enough to share it with family like I do.”

(L) Chance Bensmiller (R) Kurt Bensmiller

(L) Chance Bensmiller (R) Kurt Bensmiller

As for sharing the wagon box this summer at the Stampede, like they have in the past, both Bensmiller brothers are hoping it just won’t be possible.

“Hopefully we’re both in late heats, and too close” Kurt says with a smile in his voice. “We’ll be too close to help each other. That’s a good thing.”

Fun Fact:

The Bensmillers are among four sets of brothers set to compete at the Calgary Stampede in 2016. There are also four father-son combinations.