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First Flip marks start of Calgary Stampede pancake breakfast season

Although the parade marks the official start of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, First Flip is the undeniable start of the corporate and political side of the Calgary Stampede.

This year was no exception, with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith taking her first turn on the griddle to flip hotcakes alongside veteran flippers Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, and Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

The politicians, and the crowds, reflected a post-pandemic confidence in the direction that this year’s Stampede is taking—especially as tourism numbers from across Canada and internationally have been trending upwards.

“I think it’s amazing that people choose to come to our city, not only for this amazing time of year, but all of the other times they come. Stampede just happens to be a very big draw,” said Mayor Gondek.

“Stampede is important every year, and this year the thing that we will profile is just how much of a draw it is, for all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons. We’re down here on Stephen Avenue right now and this is the diversity that Calgary is known for, and when you go to the Midway you see the same thing.”

Mark Garner, CEO of the Calgary Downtown Association, said that the long lines for this year’s First Flip represented the possibly of new record attendance for the pancake breakfast.

“We changed the layout a bit this year to be more elongated. We were very crunched under the Plus 15 last year, but I think based on the length of what we’re seeing already, and are already going down Center Street… I think we’re going to hit a whole new number this year,” he said.

Festival season begins with First Flip

He said that for the downtown, First Flip really represents the start of a very important summer long festival season that includes other events like Sled Island and ends with the Calgary International Film Festival.

“This is the start of it all, and it’s great to see all of us that have worked together to collaborate in partnership on this event specifically, but all the events we’re trying to bring to fruition in the downtown core,” Garner said.

Take a walk down Stephen Avenue, said Garner, and you’re likely to hear a number of different languages being spoken. That’s a reflection of the work being done to return the city to being a preeminent tourism destination.

“We’ve gotten people in from Quebec, we’ve got people in from Europe. It’s exciting to see that Calgary is back as a world destination,” Garner said.

“I think we’re at that pivotal moment, that we’re doing our best to show what Calgary has to offer and invite everybody back to Calgary.”

Premier Smith said the upswing in tourism interest to the city means that “Alberta is calling in more ways than one.”

“In fact, I just tweeted out a new tourism Alberta ad today. They asked me to launch their new ad today, and so anything I can do to celebrate this beautiful province and everything that Stampede does for not only Calgary but the entire economy, i’m happy to do that,” Premier Smith said.

She said that the province’s messages around tourism are beginning to resonate with visitors, and that there is a hope that will translate into permanent residents.

It wouldn’t be a First Flip without the crowds being lassoed into free pancakes on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Thursday, July 6, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Calgary is back

Cindy Ady, CEO of Tourism Calgary, said that this isn’t the year tourism in Calgary would be recovering—because it’s already back from the three years of the pandemic.

“We’re back… and you can see it in all the numbers that we’re seeing come in,” Ady said.

“Last year was the second best attendance for Stampede. I think we have a good chance of maybe breaking that record this year, because people are ready to shake it off and just enjoy Stampede.”

Ady said that the hotel bookings for this year are primarily coming from B.C. and Ontario, and that there is a bigger contingent of Americans making their way to the Calgary Stampede.

“Last week, our hotels were 80 per cent occupied and climbing, and about 48 per cent of those were coming out of the US. So, those bookings are very much back,” Ady said.

“We’re also seeing international travellers out of the UK and Australia.”

Minister Boissonnault was bullish on the Stampede, and the tourism numbers, calling the 10-day festival a gem in Alberta’s tourism crown. He said that federal support of the Stampede would continue.

“We gave $10 million to stampede over a year ago, so that last year we could get back to 2019 visitation levels, and we got to that,” he said.

“We put $160 million into the BMO Centre. So, when that centre is up and running, it’s going to make sure that Calgary and Alberta can attract those international events and conquer conventions of 10,000 people and more. That is the kind of growth is what I want to see here in Calgary and Alberta.”

He echoed Ady, saying that the tourism numbers are telling the right story about Calgary, and for tourism across Canada.

“What is interesting is our American visitations coming back, we’re seeing more Europeans, and we’re seeing more Canadians travel than ever before,” Boissonnault said.

“The visitors from Asia are still not at the 2019 levels, but we’re gonna hit 2019 levels [of tourism]—which is our best year ever as a country—in 2023. And we’ll be back to international levels by 2024.”