Stampede president flooded with community pride
Okotoks: Bob Thompson thrilled with 2013 Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 14, 2013 10:03 am
The president of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth knew a historic flood wouldn’t stop the Calgary Stampede the second he saw some children walk through the gates holding mom and dad’s hands.
“After the effort it took to clear that park, the most important point of attendance for me was when I saw that first family go through our turnstiles,” said Calgary Stampede president Bob Thompson said.
That family was one of the first of what turned out to be 1.1-million people attending the Calgary Stampede July 5-14.
Thompson, who lives west of Okotoks, didn’t have visions of a million people attending the Calgary Stampede after viewing the flood damage at the grounds shortly after the June 20 flood, which ravage southern Alberta.
“When I looked down from Scotsman’s Hill and saw the grounds and the infield it was rather jaw-dropping,” Thompson said. “We knew pretty well all the facilities were underwater… but right from the start it was always looking forward, never looking back.” It was a marathon effort to get the job done, but like any long run, the Stampede and its volunteers got the job done one step at a time.
“Parts of the puzzle that had to be solved were solved so we could take an additional step forward,” Thompson said. “For example an electrical substation located on the park was kept from flooding due the heroic efforts of a couple echo were there for 30 hours straight to keep the water out (of the station).
“That became ground zero for us and after that we began to analyze the facilities one by one and look at the whole scope.
“We set a goal if we could accomplish an incredible number of solutions we could get this thing going.”
Thompson didn’t do the job of flood cleanup, a good president knows how to delegate.
“This was clearly a job that was for the professionals,” Thompson said. “I had the job of sort of encouraging and helping to move the troops forward to the finish line.”
The work was done with the Stampede’s money — Thompson said it wouldn’t have been right to ask for assistance when other communities, such as High River and nearby Calgary residents, were losing homes due to massive flooding throughout southern Alberta.
The show did go on.
“I always said the finish line was July 5 which was the starting date of the Stampede,” Thompson said. “All our eyes were on July 5 and we began to gather great steam as we got the water of f the park.
The Stampede grew with momentum. The final day’s attendance was higher than the final day of 2012, which was the centennial celebration of the Calgary exhibition.
“Momentum did pick up because I think there were so many people who needed to take a breath from what they had been caught in,” Thompson said. “There was a tremendous amount of resilience in the community. I have always said this wasn’t the Calgary Stampede, but Calgary’s Stampede…. I have told people we (the Stampede) has survived two world wars and a depression. Now we have survived two wars a depression and a flood.” He said that community includes the surrounding area such as Okotoks, the foothills and High River.
Thompson, whose mom and dad lived in High River, admitted it was a thrill to present a $100,000 cheque to High River’s Jason Glass for winning the Rangeland Derby chuckwagon race.
“I was happy to stand on that stage and present him with that cheque,” Thompson said. “To see the tear in his eyes, with his family there and knowing the state of High River, I couldn’t have been happier.”
Thompson is putting his boots up to rest for awhile. He estimates it was a 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. job during the 10 days of the Calgary Stampede.
He needs the rest.
Thompson is president again next year. He is looking forward to it and knows the show will go on come hell or high water.
“This is a province and community that has the tenacity to get things done,” Thompson said. “This (the 2013 Stampede) just underscores exactly who we are as the community of southern Alberta.”