Phil Doan is holding a clear plastic Budweiser cup the way all cowboys hold clear plastic Budweiser cups: at hip level, hand and cup close to his Wranglers, elbow sticking out. He is standing on the patio at Ranchman's, a place where the rowdiest worship during the Calgary Stampede. He's drinking something orange. There's live music.
Ranchman's is his church.
No. Really. His church. Mr. Doan is a pastor and he is preaching at Ranchman's. He puts his cup aside when the service starts. Mr. Doan, a retired bull rider, bull dogger and bareback rider, speaks into the mic.
"I found out that Jesus was here at the Ranchman's before I was here," he tells the congregation of about 25 on the first Sunday of Stampede. He giggles. "So I just followed Him." More giggles. Mr. Doan is standing between a red and black Budweiser banner and a red and white flag that reads "Fellowship of Christian Cowboys." An Israeli flag flies further to the right.
" 'Oh, no,' we think: 'Oh, whoa, Jesus wouldn't come to a bar.' Oh yeah? I'm here. You're here. You have Jesus in your heart? He's at the bar. Right? Isn't that good?"
This is Cowboy Church, part of the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys. Ranchman's relinquishes its patio for Cowboy Church on both the first and last Sundays of Stampede. The bar has done so for three years, although believers met here every Sunday for 25 years before the weekly services fizzled out.
Cowboy Church looks wrong here, but so much of Stampede looks wrong: Rachel Notley flipping pancakes at the annual Premier's Stampede breakfast, because a New Democrat is Alberta's Premier; downtowners wearing brand-new Wranglers and drinking Bud Light Lime; and politicians shoehorning in campaign rhetoric while speaking to more than 5,500 people at an evening breakfast hosted by Calgary's Ismaili Muslim community. Stampede is known for its breakfasts, and this one comes at sunset to mark the breaking of the fast during Ramadan.
This iftar – pancakes, eggs, and bharazi (an east African dish with pigeon peas and coconut milk) – fits just fine with Stampede. Indeed, the event was the Ismaili Muslim community's 19th annual Stampede breakfast (and the second one at sunset to break the fast).
Instead, the politicians seemed out of place. An NDP member of the legislature criticized the Progressive Conservatives, despite having crushed them in an election two months ago. A federal Tory talked up his achievements as Canada heads toward a federal election in October.
Irfan Sabir, Alberta's Minister of Human Services, took the mic first.
"For too long we have heard about the 'Alberta Advantage,' that being big tax give-aways to selected industries and big corporations and at the same time, neglecting many others who work and are in need of government support," he said. "While I understand and appreciate the role and importance of … industry, we must find a balance between the need of businesses and the need of communities."
Many Albertans, he said, struggle with physical and psychological disabilities, are hurting financially, need help caring for their children and "most often they are in situations by no fault of their own." The gap between Alberta's rich and poor is widening, homelessness is climbing, infrastructure is crumbling and the school system is lagging, he said.
"On behalf of, and as part of the new government, I can say that your new government is determined to change the past practices and govern for all."
Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Human Rights, spoke on behalf of the federal Conservative Party. He reminded the crowd he is from east Africa and has thrice met His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. They last met in Ottawa, Mr. Obhrai said.
"On behalf of the government, I was working toward a free-trade agreement between Canada and the east African countries," he said. "So I asked His Highness for his support, which he was very happy to give in building the trade relations between Canada and east Africa."
Back at Ranchman's, Mr. Doan acknowledges the irony of singing gospels at a bar that makes sinning efficient during Stampede's unholy hours. He is 73 and says he found God in 1971. But it took a few tries. At first, he promised himself he would follow the rules that so many people break at Ranchman's.
"I'll quit smokin', I'll quit drinkin', I'll quit carousin'. I'll do it," he says, recounting his first go-round. "But I could not do it. I could not. I lasted about a week."
One night, after hours of partying, he decided there was nothing left to do but pray. But he didn't know how. He gave it his best shot. He kneeled down. Two words came to his head: "Ask Jesus."
Then three words: "Ask him what?"
Then Mr. Doan told Jesus he was giving him his life. "A sense of peace came into my heart," the cowboy says. "That old condemnation that was always on me because I knew I wasn't living right – it just left. And I was amazed. I thought: 'Wow, God is real.' "
Stampede ends Sunday.