CALGARY — As the Calgary Stampede kicked off with a parade under a bright blue sky Friday, Mayor Naheed Neshi said the mood is brightening in a city beleaguered by a prolonged downturn in oil prices.
"This year is special. We had a rough couple of years in Calgary," Nenshi said as he prepared to ride on horseback through downtown.
"Today really is a day for us to all celebrate and to really celebrate community."
Nenshi said he's seeing a lot more optimism, noting Alberta added 41,000 jobs over the past year and the provincial government this week committed $1.53 billion to a major light rail transit expansion in Calgary.
"I wouldn't say it's unbridled optimism. Certainly we're uncertain about the future, but things are better than they've been and I think most people feel that right now."
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley agreed things are looking better.
"I'm not suggesting that the mood is completely that we are at the perfect spot," she said. "What I'm saying is it is changing and people are finding things to be optimistic about because we are slowly turning the corner.
"People are looking forward to giving themselves permission to relax a bit this summer and so this celebration is a great way to kick this off."
The parade marshals this year are the seven chiefs of the Treaty 7 First Nations in southern Alberta. They include three chiefs from the Blackfoot Confederacy, three from the Stoney Nakoda Nations and the chief of the Tsuut'ina Nation.
Some 1,800 Indigenous people took part in the first Calgary Stampede 105 years ago and have played a big role in the festivities ever since.
Chief Joe Weasel Child of the Siksika First Nation remembers riding in parades with his father when he was young. He said being one of the marshals is a dream come true.
"It's one of the greatest honours I ever had," he said.
The Tsuut'ina Nation's chief, Lee Crowchild, has also loved the Stampede since he was young and was excited to ride at the front of the parade.
"It's really hot today, so I dressed as light as I could," he said. "I have a full beaded buckskin, but today it was just too hot to wear it, so I wore my summer outfit."
Stan Grier, chief of the Piikani First Nation, said it's a historic event.
"It's a recognition of bringing the past to the future," he said. "It's a recognition of the past and how our forefathers, our ancestors and the newcomers to this region had interacted with one another and it's sort of a celebration of that history."
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