The Calgary tradition of merry-making at the Grey Cup is about to collide with the Fairmont Royal York’s tradition of service, luxury and spotless, manure-free lobby floors. Who wins? Who knows?
But it should be an interesting week of cat-and-mouse intrigue, because the Calgary Grey Cup committee is intent on recreating the events of 1948, in which the visitors from the West managed to slip a horse into the lobby of the Royal York hotel – and the hotel is just as eager to prevent it from happening.
“We’ve heard of the rumours surrounding the attempt to bring a horse into the lobby, but we will not be supporting any efforts in doing so,” hotel spokesman Catherine Tschannen said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “Our first priority is always the health and safety of our guests, and the safety of the horse of course!”
Currently, a collection of hard-core Stampeder fans are making their way to Toronto for Sunday’s 100th Grey Cup game against the hometown Argonauts. Some left from Edmonton via train on Monday and are scheduled to arrive at Toronto’s Union Station on Thursday morning. Others are arriving by plane. Most, according to the Grey Cup committee’s Facebook page, seem intent on duplicating the bacchanalian excesses of that infamous 1948 celebration, which established the template for the modern Grey Cup party.
Grey Cup week eventually ends with a football game Sunday, but until then, the subtext of this one seems to be Cowtown meets Toronto the Good, with the yahoos and the buckeroos of the new Canadian West showing the denizens of the Centre of the Universe how to have a good time. It is the gridiron equivalent of 24 Hour Party People and Calgarians being Calgarians, horses tend to be front and centre in these displays.
In 1992, for example, or the last time the Stampeders played a Grey Cup in Toronto, they managed to slip a horse into the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel for a planned photo op. Other times, facing more stringent security, eager riders have slipped their horses in through back doors and up freight elevators. Just because hotels officially discourage these activities doesn’t guarantee that well-served football fans won’t try to breech their doors anyway.
Calgary city councillor Ray Jones is planning to fly to Toronto on Wednesday and says he will learn the final plans that evening. But “we always have horses around because it’s our mascot,” he said.
But the Stampeders’ touchdown horse, Quick Six, will be a no-show for the 100th Grey Cup. Because of logistical reasons relating mainly to the staging of the halftime show, the football team, the CFL and the Rogers Centre have all agreed that the Stampeders cannot have their horse, which celebrates a major score with a gallop down the sidelines, in the stadium.
“To really simplify it, the layout, with all the halftime extravaganzas taking place, there is just not an area where we can safely position the horse,” said Stan Schwartz, Calgary’s executive vice-president.
“Everyone has tried to be as accommodating as can be, but the amount of staging that’s needed for the three entertainers and the amount of equipment they need to pre-position, there’s just no room to have the horse in that area.”
On Tuesday, there was a grassroots push to try to get that changed. Former Calgary Flames player Theo Fleury tweeted out a message: “QuikSix is all about the CFL + tradition. 100th Grey Cup and no horse what ??????? Let’s get QuikSix to the Grey Cup. #RT.”
In 1992, organizers relented at the 11th hour by allowing the horse, Itsy, to run diagonally across the end zone when the building was known as the SkyDome.
But Schwartz said that much has changed since then, making that sort of compromise impossible.
“Safety is paramount,” Schwartz said. “I was born and raised on a ranch. I know how stupid horses can be.
“We have contact with people in the movie industry, who are able to provide a horse that’s familiar with crowds. But you still never know how they’re going to react in an area like that, so you really need a big area to keep the horse.
“Even if we had a Grey Cup in Calgary, if we get bad weather the day before and have snow piled up on the sidelines, the horse wouldn’t be able to run. But I think it’s really important that people know that it’s not the league saying no. Everybody just got together and agreed that for safety reasons, the horse will not be participating in the club’s touchdown run.”
As for its attempts to slip a horse into a Toronto hotel, the Calgary Grey Cup committee is undeterred: “Of course, our signature event of riding a horse into one of these events is always fulfilled,” it says. The goal is to turn “a football game into a national festival” – and nothing says national festival more than horse manure in the air (or on the floor).