As the saying goes….everyone loves a parade! In Calgary’s case, “everyone” reflects the City’s evolution from being the bastion of Western Canada’s corporate, cowboy conservative culture into Canada’s third most ethnically diverse city. The city boasts four major annual parades, each celebrating an element of the city’s growing heterogeneity – Stampede, Pride, Nagar Kirtan and Parade of Wonders. It’s spectrum of parades exemplifies Calgary’s dramatic cultural transformation over the past 30 years - from a frontier town to a cosmopolitan city.
Calgary is no longer a “one horse town.”
When I moved to Calgary in the early ‘80s, the Calgary Stampede and its parade was the only game in town. The parade is a popular as ever. About 350,000 people come to celebrate Calgary’s rich agricultural, ranching and indigenous cultures each year. It is still Calgary’s premier parade with 116 entries, 32 floats, and 12 marching bands involving 4,000 people and 750 horses travelling along its 4.5 km route through the downtown.
The Stampede Parade is a celebration of Calgary’s pioneer spirit.
Calgary Pride Parade
This year’s Calgary’s Pride Parade took place on the Sunday of the Labour Day weekend, attracting an estimated 80,000 spectators along its 2 km downtown route. The 190 colourful entries included “everyone” from politicians to LBGT groups, from financial institutions to law firms and from kids to dogs. It is no longer an underground protest march, but a celebration of the city’s diversity.
From its humble beginning in 1990 when a about 100 people many wearing paper bags over their heads or Lone Ranger masks (to disguise their identity in case family, friends or employers might recognize them) protested for gay rights, it has become the City’s fastest growing parade. It became mainstream in 2011 when Mayor Naheed Nenshi was parade marshal and corporations like the Calgary Flames started sponsoring floats.
Calgary’s Pride Parade signifies the city’s growing openness to people of all orientations.
Nagar Kirtan Parade
The Nagar Kirtan Parade, organized each May by the Dashmesh Culture Centre happens each May in the northeast community of Martindale. The annual parade is held in celebration of Vaisakhi, one of the most significant holidays in the Sikh calendar. Nagar Kirtan refers to the procession of the Sikh Congregation through the town singing holy hymns. Calgary’s Nagar Kirtan parade featuring lots of singing and floats, invites “everyone” to watch or participate. It attracted of 60,000 spectators in 2018.
Calgary is not only home to the third largest Sikh community in Canada, but is home to people of 240 different ethnic origins.
This parade is a celebration of “equality, freedom and justice for all.”
POW (Parade of Wonders) Parade
POW is part of Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, a cosplay festival that takes place every spring in celebration of pop-culture, fantasy and imagination. The parade, introduced into the Expo’s calendar of events in 2013, attracted over 4,000 participants in 2018. All parade participants – of all ages and backgrounds - must dress up as their favourite character from movies, TV shows, comics, video games or books.
The 2-km parade winds its way through the downtown from Eau Claire Market to Olympic Plaza at noon on the Friday of Calgary Expo. It attracted over 15,000 spectators from infants to grandparents, many of whom also dressed up as their favourite fantasy character. It is a riot of colour and the biggest smiles you will ever see.
POW is a celebration of Calgary as a creative, fun and imaginative city.
Cowtown, as Calgary used to be referred to, is no longer the redneck city that some thought it was (and some still think it is). And though, it still has its roots in the pragmatic, pioneer prairie conservatism, its branches are full of leaves of different shapes, sizes and colours.
Every city has it flaws, but over the past 30+ years, Calgary has evolved from a singular small-town sensibility into a diverse cosmopolitan urban playground that “everyone” can enjoy. Our parades are a testament to that.