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Actor Kevin Costner leads the Stampede parade as the parade marshal during the first day of the annual Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Ab. on July 8.TODD KOROL/Reuters

The Calgary Stampede is back and has kicked off with its trademark parade led by Hollywood actor Kevin Costner on horseback – the first full event since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Stampede was cancelled in 2020 – the first time in its 100-plus-year history.

A scaled down event was held last year with many pandemic precautions in place, including COVID-19 rapid testing at its main tents. There was also a shortened parade without spectators.

That changed this year, with an array of parade floats, bands, horses and dignitaries welcomed back by large crowds lining the streets of downtown.

“This is a special one,” Premier Jason Kenney said in an interview before the parade started. “Last year, the parade was ... not a full-on parade. This is the full-meal deal, we’ve got fantastic weather, we’ve emerged from COVID-19, the economy is rocking and this community is ready for a party.

“I think this is going to be the best Stampede in memory.”

Mr. Costner said he was humbled to be asked to be the honorary parade marshal this year. He said his career has been good to him.

“I’m an imaginary cowboy. I realize how lucky I’ve been in my life. Not many people get to save the girl, get to save the day, get to go after the bad guy.”

Mr. Costner said he has filmed two movies in the Calgary area and the cowboy way of life never gets old.

“No one’s ever going to tire of running horses and rivers that don’t stop flowing and mountains that don’t feel the need to move and are snow capped. I think something’s romantic about the West,” he said.

“We know how hard the West is, but there’s something interesting about a man on a horse and all he needs is what that horse can carry.”

Mr. Costner patiently signed autographs while sitting on a horse before the parade began. He said people are relishing a return to normalcy with an end to pandemic restrictions.

“COVID-19 reminded us that things can be taken from us in the wink of an eye and to understand we can come back out and celebrate this parade, this yearly thing that’s been happening over a hundred years.”

The actor was given his marshal badge before the parade and immediately declared: “You’re all under arrest.”

Brazilian long rider Filipe Masetti Leite, who was named marshal when Stampede was cancelled in 2020, was invited back again this year.

He said a real celebration is long overdue.

“It’s good to be back. I think people were waiting for this. They were hungry for this to get back together. You see so many smiles from people on the street.”

Among the horse-drawn wagons, there was an entry highlighting the city’s Ukrainian community. Canada has welcomed several thousand people from the eastern European country since Russia invaded in February.

“We’re a very unique entry. We have a horse-drawn wagon, vocalists, 30 dancers on the street, 100 members of the community dressed in blue and yellow,” said John Stadnyk, chair of the Tryzub Ukrainian Dance Society. “We’re super excited about it.”

He said it’s the first year the Ukrainian community has participated directly in the parade.

“With everything going on in Ukraine, we thought it was super important to get everybody involved and have a really big Ukrainian entry.”

The Stampede, which also includes a midway, a fair and a daily rodeo, runs through July 17.

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