July 4, 2013 / 5:10 PM / 4 years ago

Calgary shakes off flood trauma, gets ready to party

CALGARY, Alberta, July 4 (Reuters) - Canada's bruised oil capital, Calgary, is gearing up to host a defiant version of its annual Stampede festival despite flooding two weeks ago that swamped large parts of the city.

Record-breaking floods across southern Alberta forced more than 100,000 people from their homes, destroyed roads and bridges across the province and left swathes of Calgary without power, including the downtown core.

The damage raised serious doubts about whether the Stampede, a 10-day extravaganza of rodeo, street parties and corporate entertainment that pumps C$340 million ($320 million) a year into Calgary's economy, would go ahead.

But touting a new slogan of "Come Hell or High Water" and aided by specialist contractors from as far away as Texas, organizers have pushed ahead with preparations to host up to a million visitors from the opening day on Friday.

"When we first saw the flooding and the water in Stampede Park it was quite devastating," said Jennifer Booth, publicity manager for the Calgary Stampede.

"But there's a certain spirit to Calgary. The support of people wanting to help and wanting to give is unique."

Receding floodwaters left debris strewn across the 230-acre Stampede Park, while the Saddledome stadium, intended as the venue for some rodeo events, was submerged in dirty water up to the tenth row of seats.

As floodwaters rose, however, officials armed with sandbags mounted guard around the park's electrical substation and managed to save the venue's power supply.

Some events have suffered. The horse cutting, where horse and rider separate and keep a cow from its herd has been cancelled, as has the vintage tractor pull.

Both events were due to be held in the Saddledome, and other events have been rescheduled or moved to different sites.

"It's a real shame," said local cow-horse trainer Kent Williamson. "But I think we will see more locals out at this year's Stampede. They tend to hide from it unless they are involved, with it being very commercialized, but I think the locals will be more proud this year."

With many bars and restaurants closed for nearly a week as a result of mandatory evacuations and power outages during the floods, proprietors are counting on a busy Stampede to help rebuild their businesses.

Booth said ticket sales so far have been better than in 2011, but slightly down on 2012, the festival's centennial year.

Oil companies were preparing pancake breakfasts and rodeo parties throughout next week, when employees traditionally come to work dressed in western gear, cowboy hats and boots. This year, many companies have added flood-relief fund-raising to the usual mix of country music and beer.

"We had a discussion last week about whether we should cancel it," said Rhona DelFrari, a spokeswoman for oil sands developer Cenovus Energy Inc. "But when we found out that the Stampede was going ahead we made the decision that we should be going ahead with our party as well to show solidarity and community spirit."

Cenovus will use the event to raise money for a local shelter and flood-relief charities.

Some traders said this year's Stampede celebrations could be wilder than ever.

"It's an iconic event," said one Calgary-based crude trader. "After all the floods, people are ready for a party."

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