calgary spotlight: what’s happening in canada’s wild west

This month’s Calgary Stampede has been a resounding display from Albertans eager to show that the province, which has gone through some rough times lately (with fluctuating oil prices and the Fort McMurray fires) can not only rebound, but thrive. How can you not love a festival whose theme is ‘We’re Greatest Together’?

The Calgary Stampede, held annually in the 130 years since the Calgary and District Agricultural Society’s first fair, welcomed visitors in July from around the world to its annual celebration of the people of Alberta, the land and livestock they depend on, and the traditions and values that are both universal and unique to the Western spirit.

calgary canada west update

The Calgary Stampede brings millions of visitors to the city each year for the 10-day festival and year-round conferences and events that take place on the grounds and in Stampede facilities. These visitors spend an estimated $345 million yearly, which benefits the province and local service providers and businesses.

Billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’, the Stampede is not-for-profit, volunteer driven and run. Events include free neighborhood pancake breakfasts, celebrities, entertainment, rodeo events, the World Stock Dog Championships, agricultural programs and First Nations culture, exhibits and traditions. The event’s core values of western hospitality, integrity, pride of place and commitment to community are espoused. We only need look as far as Fort McMurray and how Albertans responded to the crisis to see all these values in action.

The province has been in slow recovery since those dramatic fires forced the displacement of more than 80,000 people, destroyed over 2,400 homes and businesses, and created an 18 year low of prices for Canadian natural gas. An estimated one million barrels of crude were taken offline, per day, due to the fires.

Albertans would be forgiven if they weren’t in a mood to party. But then they wouldn’t be Albertans. They put fear, anxiety and frustration on the back burner and celebrated like it was 2016. First responders to the Fort McMurray fires were honoured in the Stampede Parade, applauded by more than 250,000 people who lined the streets to let them know they were welcomed and their contributions valued.

The rest of Canada has rallied behind the community in Canadian style. The federal government has pledged to match all individual donations to the Canadian Red Cross relief efforts for Fort McMurray. Companies across Canada are raising funds, making corporate donations of money, products and services, and providing volunteers and employment opportunities for those whose jobs were closely tied to the oil industry or businesses affected by the fires.

Even with assistance, recovery will be a long, difficult process. While jobs are expected to return to the province when the price of oil stabilizes, employment numbers will be modest at best and will be based on different criteria than past recoveries, as employers look to cut costs. Inflated salaries will likely be capped and employers will be selective and strategic about the workers they hire, what skills they need and the speed at which they make hires. The province as a whole will need to be creative and innovative in its recovery. It’s anticipated that rebuilding itself will create jobs and is estimated to contribute around $1.4 billion in GDP to Alberta’s economy in 2017.

Alberta has much to be proud of and grateful for. The foothills of the Rocky Mountains rise up to the west of Calgary; the prairies sit to the east, with the Dinosaur Valley of Drumheller to the north-east of the city. Calgary was ranked 33rd in a field of 141 cities in the Quality of Life Index Rate ahead of Toronto, while Canada ranked #1 Best Country for Quality of Life and second only to Germany in Best Countries ranking. If the fact that Calgary’s a clean, livable city doesn’t make you want to wear cowboy boots and a big belt buckle, the climate might. Glorious springs, manageable winters, and dry, sunny, windy summers without the crushing humidity Torontonians and other easterners experience. Ergo, one can assume Calgarians probably have much better hair than Torontonians.

Alberta is where the bulk of Canada’s oil industry is situated, with reserves in the form of oil-sands – estimated to be second in volume only to Saudi Arabia. The province’s tax system attracts a variety of businesses which create a varied and versatile job market. Calgary is ethnically diverse, drawing immigrants to its communities where the cost of living, although high in recent years, was still lower than that of Vancouver or Toronto. And everyone, regardless of their country or city of origin, dons a cowboy hat and jeans and becomes a cowpoke for ten days a year.

We love the spirit of the Canadian west. It evokes a sense of freedom and independence far from the typical cool, polite Canadian ethos but yet intrinsically Canadian. It says that, regardless of the wide-open spaces, one is not alone in desolation. In spite of its travails, Calgary and Alberta remain a place where young people can make their fortune, build their future, and participate in the province’s evolutionary rebuilding.

What’s most lovable about Western Canada is its people – strong, resilient, talented, creative, welcoming, accepting – they epitomize what’s best about living and working in this country.

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