The woman sitting roadside in her white plastic patio chair shakes her head. “Sorry, you’re too late for that. It was over at 10.”
“Is there anywhere else in town where I could get some breakfast?”
“Well, maybe the farmer’s market. It’s just up the road. But that’s the muster point for the parade, so it’ll be busy, and they’ll be closing this road pretty soon. Better find a place to park your car and walk the rest of the way.”
I join the lineup of vehicles slowly making its way down highway 13 through Buck Lake, Alberta, where stampede and rodeo weekend is in full swing. Throughout the spring and summer, Alberta hosts close to a hundred small town rodeos, where cowboys tall and small compete to earn enough money to qualify for the Canadian Finals Rodeo, held in Edmonton every November.
Of course, you can always attend the granddaddy of Alberta stampedes in Calgary. But if you want an authentic community experience, you’re better off joining the locals in a hamlet like Buck Lake, usual population 75, as they welcome family, friends, rodeo participants, and tourists like me to their annual yeehaw weekend. You’ll enjoy a pancake breakfast (if you get up early enough), a parade, and rodeo events during the day, followed by a barbecue and dance that night.
My Buck Lake informant was right – the closer I get to the market, the busier it becomes. The campground is overflowing, and all along the parade route, people have staked out choice viewing spots in the shade – not that there’s exactly a bad seat, but who can resist the excitement of getting ready early? I hoof the final two blocks to the community hall and find a vendor who makes me a bacon and egg sandwich. Then I head back outside to claim my own parade viewing spot across from the United Farmers’ of Alberta building, the hub of many rural communities.
At precisely 11 a.m., a gleaming white wagon, pulled by a team of muscled draft horses, makes its way onto the highway. We cheer and applaud. After that, pretty much anybody from Buck Lake or any nearby town who wants to be in the parade, is in the parade. Of course, this is horse country, so there are lots of mounted entries.
But if your horse is too small for you to ride, or your mom says you’re too little to ride one yet, you might have to make other arrangements.
Maybe you’re more interested in mechanized horse power…
Or entertaining the crowd with a few country and western tunes
Maybe your parade prowess is schmoozing with the crowd, either the ones right in front of you….or the ones in the virtual universe.
Of course, you could just be here for the candy. Who says that Hallowe’en only happens in October?
Within twenty minutes, all the entries have disappeared down the highway. People fold up their lawn chairs, gather up their children, and wander back towards their houses, their pickup trucks, or the farmer’s market. I’m on my way too, back to my urban life and responsibilities. But, as so often happens when I join a community, however briefly, for a celebration of who they are, I leave having added another facet to who I am. The people of Buck Lake lead very different lives from mine. But we share a belief that communities are strengthened when they show pride in who they are, and welcome others to understand them. And for this Magpie Learner, that’s some of the most important learning any of us can do.