Hidy and Howdy, two loveable white bears that were Calgary's mascots for the 1988 Winter Olympics, have received a goodbye wave from city council as councillors aim to modernize the city's image by removing the sister-brother pair from "Welcome to Calgary" highway signs.
"When you look at the entrance signage into Calgary right now, it certainly is not in keeping with a city of a million," Dave Bronconnier, mayor of Calgary, said as council voted Tuesday to take down the old signs to put up new ones.
The plan to remove images of Hidy and Howdy waving hello to drivers entering Calgary has been booed by many people ever since it was raised by a city council committee in late April, though there has been no widespread outrage.
The bears were tremendously popular: One local headline that appeared after the city committee recommended the demise of Hidy and Howdy, read: "Surely symbols of '88 deserve better than this."
Alderman Druh Farrell joked at the committee meeting that it is time to give the bears a proper burial. Some people didn't find that funny at all.
"I received a lot of hate mail over that one, boy," Ms. Farrell, in an April interview with The Globe and Mail, said with a laugh.
"But we do have an Olympic legacy in Calgary that's visible throughout the city - the Saddledome, Olympic Plaza, Canada Olympic Park, a number of arches remain. So, nothing against Hidy and Howdy, this isn't personal. I think Calgary is more than just a pair of little bears on a sign. And I would say most people wouldn't know what those little bears represent."
In 1988, Calgary's population was about 650,000; it has since surged by 350,000, to one million. It was a simpler time then, as Calgary staged what ended up being one of the most successful Olympics in history. The city was reeling from an extended oil and natural gas bust but civic spirits were high that dry February, with the town's famous volunteer spirit underpinning the Olympics.
Hidy and Howdy personified the city's nature, welcoming and happy even in tough times. The irresistibly cuddly white bears generated good cheer in Calgary and around the world. They wore cowboy hats and Howdy wore a blue vest, though he didn't have pants-and Hidy's skirt was provocatively short.
They also were the first pair of mascots for an Olympic games; their success spawned imitators, most recently last year in Torino, Italy with Neve and Gliz.
To mark the Olympic legacy, new "Welcome to Calgary" blue signs at city limits were erected - though during the nearly two decades since, the city's boundaries have actually moved out beyond the signs. The bears are on three of four signs and the city wants to spend $75,000 on five new temporary signs sporting the city's economic development slogan, "Heart of the New West," along with a stylized image of a cowboy hat. They will be up in time for a June meeting in Calgary of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
New permanent entrance signs are in the works. Mr. Bronconnier said there will be a reference to the Olympics.
The bears were a hit because they were well used, according to their manufacturer, Edmonton-based International Mascot Corp., which is the largest maker of mascots in the world.
First appearing in 1984, the bears travelled widely to market the Calgary Olympics, including a Rose Bowl parade appearance. The "welcome bears" were designed by a Calgary artist for $35,000 and were named in a contest that drew 7,000 entries.
"They hit an emotional chord, I think, worldwide," Joe Leveille, a co-owner of International Mascot, told The Globe in April. "A lot of people today would be sad to see any recognition of them going away-there's a strong attachment."
However, Mr. Leveille agreed that that the signs are overdue for a facelift, suggesting that the images of the bears be reduced in size perhaps-though he said removing reference to the successful Olympics would be a "big mistake."
The idea of losing the bears has sparked dismay from the civic leaders of the era. Frank King, who was chairman of the Olympic organizing committee, told a Calgary newspaper that he likened the possible removal of Hidy and Howdy to taking down a Stampede sign, and called the bears a "very appealing welcoming image."
The signs with the bears are set to be moved to Canada Olympic Park on the city's western edge as a fitting memorial.
"You wouldn't think something so warm and fuzzy could cause so much controversy, which speaks to this particular type of promotional product," Mr. Leveille said. "Who doesn't like an attractive cartoon character? Everybody does - of all ages."