POLITICS

Stampeding to recovery: Calgary rodeo to go ahead 'come hell or high water'

06/24/2013 12:36 EDT | Updated 08/24/2013 05:12 EDT
CALGARY - The president of the Calgary Stampede says the world-famous event will go ahead next week "come hell or high water."

Bob Thompson says crews have been pumping millions of litres of water from the rodeo grounds, which were swamped last week by extensive flooding that hit much of southern Alberta.

"Throughout our entire history, we have never cancelled a show, despite two wars and a Great Depression — 2013 will be no exception," he said at a news conference Monday. "We will be hosting the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, come hell or high water."

Progress in the cleanup was clearly visible Monday as backhoes dumped wet loads of mud and silt into dump trucks. The track around the rodeo infield was a lake on Saturday, but appeared to be about half restored with sections cleared off and already beginning to dry.

Professional crews were scraping mud away and sanitizing buildings.

Organizers are also promising to hold the traditional parade July 5 to open the Stampede, though adjustments may need to be made to the route through a downtown that was swamped.

Stampede CEO Vern Kimball said he understands that many people's homes have been damaged. His own home was flooded.

But he said he believes the Stampede will be a welcome distraction and will provide the city an opportunity to show the world its resiliency.

"We want all of those affected by flooding in southern Alberta to have the opportunity to take a break from these difficult circumstances," Kimball said. "We are going to do whatever it takes to be ready for July 5."

The 101-year-old Stampede features a rodeo, chuckwagon races and a large midway.

Kimball said Stampede setup normally takes three weeks and the flood has cost crews 10 days.

He said they will be working around the clock instead of the usual 16 hours a day.

"The same amount of effort in a much shorter period of time."

No thought has been given to what all that extra work will cost, he said.

The Scotiabank Saddledome, home to and managed by the NHL's Calgary Flames, also suffered major flood damage with water reaching up to the eighth row. The building was to hold a number of major concerts during the Stampede.

"We know they're working their tails off to get the building ready for us and to date we haven't heard anything to suggest they won't be ready for Stampede," said Kimball.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city's priority is to return people to their homes and to repair infrastructure. But he added word about the Stampede is encouraging.

"We are excited that the Stampede is ready to move forward using their volunteers and resources," said Nenshi.

"We'll be there if and when they need our assistance to make that happen."