The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be taking on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the 107th Grey Cup championship as Calgary becomes the centre of Canadian football for a week of traditions and celebrations before the big game Sunday.
Around 500,000 visitors and locals are expected to participate in the many celebrations leading up to the championship game. As he received a white Smithbilt cowboy hat and was sworn in as an honorary Calgarian at Lammle’s Western Wear downtown Monday, Canadian Football League (CFL) Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said he’s confident Calgary’s world-class hospitality will make for a great Grey Cup.
“I won my Grey Cup here (as an Edmonton Eskimo) in Calgary in 1993 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers,” said Ambrosie, sporting a new pair of Lammle’s boots. “For me, personally, this is where my career started (first entering the CFL as a Stampeder) . . . and this city will forever have a special place in my heart.”
Ambrosie hopes to see Blue Bomber and Tiger-Cat fans pour in to watch their teams play to end long droughts. The Bombers last hoisted the cup in 1990 and the Tiger-Cats in 1999. But he knows football fans from across the country are expected to visit Calgary to watch the fifth Grey Cup game in the southern Alberta city, even if their team isn’t in the game.
Although the Calgary Stampeders aren’t one of the teams battling for the cup, 2019 Grey Cup Festival chair Mike Franco said the events will be bustling with energy. There’s a Grey Cup rodeo Saturday, a business summit Thursday, a free fan zone at Stampede Park and the Shaw Awards gala and concert.
“We wanted to put a Calgary spin on these events to experience the energy and tell Calgary’s story,” said Franco. “The Grey Cup has really been for all football fans; you always dream that the host team will be playing in the game but it’s quite rare so we know football fans and Calgarians will show up.”
Shortly before a traditional white hat ceremony, a group of local youth were rewarded with tickets to the game and game-day swag in an effort by the provincial government, Calgary Stampeders and the CFL to ensure young people get to experience the magic of their first Grey Cup game. Alberta’s minister of culture, multiculturalism and women, Leela Sharon Aheer, said the festival and game will build community in the province.
“We wanted to make sure we had the opportunity to bring out some kids, some who are new to Canada or have never ever seen a football game before,” said Aheer, standing on the McMahon Stadium field.
The Grey Cup itself will be welcomed with a parade and ceremony Tuesday just before noon along Stephen Avenue from 3 Street S.W. to Olympic Plaza. Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city was asked to put $500,000 towards the Grey Cup Festival, which was taken from the special events and Tourism Calgary budget, but it’s estimated the event will pump $80 million into Calgary’s economy.
“There’s going to be four or five days of great fun leading up to the game. I’m not sure who I’m supporting in the game as I’m not very pleased with my choices,” said Nenshi at City Hall.
Continuing with Grey Cup tradition, Tuffy, the infamous Calgary Grey Cup Committee horse, will be checking in to one of the city’s hotels Thursday. The hotel where the 12-year-old mare will be kicking up her hooves is being kept as a surprise, but fans are invited to guess the location on social media.
It wouldn’t be a festival in Calgary without at least one pancake breakfast occurring, would it? The Calgary Grey Cup Committee and Stampede Caravan Committee are hosting free pancake breakfasts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings at the Nissan Titan Street Festival on Lot 3 at Stampede Park, to showcase the city’s western hospitality.
To promote safe travel for those experiencing the Grey Cup festivities, the C-Train free fare zone will be extended from downtown to Victoria Park Stampede Station from 6 p.m. on Nov. 20 to the end of Nov. 23; as well, the Red Line hours of operation will be extended to 2:30 a.m. Calgary Transit will also accept Grey Cup game tickets as a free ticket to ride all buses and C-Trains from 11 a.m. to end of service on Nov. 24, since there will be no parking at McMahon Stadium on game day.
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