The Calgary Stampede kicked off under a blazing blue sky Friday with a parade through downtown Calgary, which set aside a special place of honour for emergency workers who responded to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
Paramedics, police and firefighters from near where the junior hockey team’s bus and a semi-truck collided in April were invited to march. Sixteen people died and 13 were injured.
Nipawin RCMP Staff Sgt. Darren Wouters said the president of the Stampede reached out with the invitation.
“All we had to do was get on the plane and they’ve really taken care of us,” said Wouters, wearing a #HumboldtStrong T-shirt, as floats and horses got in position to march.
“We certainly appreciate the opportunity to be here today and represent the families and the Humboldt Broncos, as well as all of the protective services workers in Saskatchewan.”
Nipawin fire Chief Brian Starkell said he’s been treated like royalty.
“It’s just been excellent,” he said. “It’s just been tremendous so far and just a huge thank you to everybody.”
The crash happened at a rural intersection as the Broncos were heading to Nipawin for a playoff game. Saskatchewan RCMP were to announce charges later Friday.
Cowboy hats, horses and marching bands were in abundance for the parade, which marks the beginning of the annual 10-day celebration of cowboy culture.
The parade marshal this year was Olympic snowboarder Mark McMorris, who came back from a serious injury to win a bronze medal at the last Winter Olympics.
“It’s pretty messed up that I got to this position by riding a piece of wood down a mountain,” McMorris said before the parade began.
“I’m glad I can inspire the youth. It’s good. There’s a youthful presence here at the Stampede.”
McMorris, who was riding a horse called Texas, was expecting to be a bit sore by the end of the parade.
“I’m excited to see if I’m bowlegged.”
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said there’s a buzz in the air around Calgary as the economy improves.
“We think the turnout’s going to be better than it has been in a long time,” she said.
“Things are looking up. We know we have more to do, but in the meantime I’m really looking forward to taking some time over the next few days to celebrate the summer and Stampede and Calgary with the people of this city.”
The Stampede runs until July 15.