It was back in 2005 that Marion Barrett came up with the idea for Happy Trails, a fun-filled evening of singing, dancing and visiting residents in seniors’ homes.
At the time, Barrett was in the early years of her volunteerism with the Calgary Stampede. She’d grown up with a deep appreciation for the western hospitality the Stampede exudes and wanted to share that experience throughout the entire year.
“We wanted to bring the Calgary Stampede back to the seniors — the people who gave it to us,” said Barrett, who now has 17 years of volunteering with the Stampede’s promotion committee under her oversized belt buckle.
“Stampede represents what Calgary is all about and it’s just an honour to be part of it.”
Entirely run by volunteers like Barrett, the promotion committee is out in the community every month of the year, bringing line dancing, country-western singing and special performances via the Happy Trails program.
“We try to give them a little taste of Stampede, whether it’s a branding or line dancing or a small band or whatever it is, it’s a little taste, all 52 weeks,” said Bev Blue, who has been a Stampede volunteer on various committees for over 30 years.
“The more you get involved, the more fun you see. And the more inside you get, the more you understand how big Stampede is for the city and everything else that happens here,” added Blue. “Not just the 10 days.”
Over 2,300 volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life help power the Stampede all year long.
“Many of our committees are year-round so we are active – maybe not 365 – let’s say 360 days a year,” promotion committee chair Jordanna Stangeland said.
“The Stampede simply can’t run without the volunteer base that we have,” she said.
The promotion committee, in particular, is active outside those 10 days of Stampede — heading out to senior residences, schools and other community events.
“We have a large stage that we take out that supports arts venues and performers and so we’re there all year-round,” Stangeland said. “Not just in Calgary, but also the important surrounding communities that are a part of who we are.”
Community members appear more than happy to welcome the Stampede any time of year.
“Born and raised Albertan,” said Debbie Chambers-Wilton, who was taking in the Happy Trails event at the Journey Club in Westman Village. “Lived in Alberta or Calgary almost my whole life, so this (Happy Trails) is a big deal.”
“I love it,” she continued. “I think it shows Calgary’s personality. And we’re a large family, if you want to call it that, and I think it’s great for our community.”
Stangeland, who has maybe celebrated as many birthdays as her fellow committee member Blue has spent in years of volunteering, says a common love of the Stampede and their city is what drives most to willingly devote so much of their free time to promoting the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
“Most importantly, I think we’re family,” Stangeland said. “I know for a lot of us, our closest, our nearest and dearest outside of our actual families, are those that we volunteer with all the time because we spend hundreds of hours together a year doing something that we love.”