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Calgary’s oldest street party, Marda Gras, is back this weekend in Marda Loop

Although it’s being held on a Sunday instead of Fat Tuesday, revellers can still take in Calgary’s oldest street party this weekend as Marda Gras returns for 2023.

The festival, which was scaled back because of the pandemic, is returning to full form for 2023, with hundreds of artisans and food vendors, local businesses and non-profits, community performances, and musicians to take in.

“This is our 36th annual event, and Marda Gras is the longest-running street festival in Calgary and has a ton of community support—especially from the Marda Loop businesses and lots of different nonprofit organizations,” said Shannon McNally, festival manager for Marda Gras.

“Also a lot of local handmade business support, too. This year, we have more artisan vendors than we’ve ever had, so we’re really promoting people coming down to shop, bringing a little money and supporting local because we want to keep it in the city and help grow the economy that way.”

The ever-popular Marda Gras pet pageant (now in its 13th year) is also back in full form, with Olympian Alysia Rissling taking on the role of Madra Gras’ first-ever celebrity emcee.

“Check out the 30 pet contestants as they march across the stage and show off their stuff with their owners, often in a matching costume, which is very fun and very hilarious to see,” said McNally.

“We have some guest judges that will be judging our pets, and we’ll be awarding three prizes as well.”

Local personalities Chanry Thach, Kylee Roman, and Magan Pierson will be acting as this year’s judges.

McNally said that families also shouldn’t miss the kids corner, which will have free face painting, enjoy the bouncy castle, or take in some soccer activities with the Calgary Minor Soccer Association.

“This is definitely a packed event. We’ve got three blocks just full to the nines with patio extensions, vendors, and lots of good stuff,” she said.

Marda Gras starts at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 13, and runs until 5 p.m. Maps of the festival can be found at www.visitmardaloop.com/mardagras.

Parking in the surrounding community is free, although space is limited. Free parking will also be available on Sunday at The Military Museums, and a shuttle bus provided by Southland Transporation will take visitors to a drop-off and pick-up point at Garrison Gate, just one block from the festival.

Festival gives people a different perspective on the inner city

Marda Gras, said McNally, offers Calgarians a different way of accessing Marda Loop and its businesses.

“Allowing for a street to be closed, a Main Street in inner city Calgary is a really special thing. It gives you a pedestrian perspective of the street, it introduces you to the businesses on a more intimate level, and you can really get to know some of the businesses that work and live in the neighbourhood,” she said.

“What makes Marda Loop kind of unique is that a lot of the business owners within the BIA also own homes in proximity or live in proximity to where they work.”

She said that the festival is also a way to get Calgarians to reconnect with the neighbourhood, despite the construction challenges that have made access occasionally more difficult.

“Marda Loop is open, and open for business even through construction. As we all know, Marda Loop is going through quite a few construction pains these days. It’s a wonderfully-rapidly-growing community full of new development, which is wonderful for businesses to see more density and more customers,” McNally said.

“But it’s also nice to be able to promote and talk about your business one-on-one and be able to give back to the community a little bit as well. I think that the businesses really appreciate a street festival like this, just for connecting and showing what makes them unique.”

Among those unique businesses this year would be the addition of dozens of artisans and makers, which McNally said was part of the efforts to help the local economy and encourage people to shop locally.

“There’s such an array of vendors, it’s hard for me to recall all of them,” she said.

“It’s unique stuff. It’s handmade. There’s jewelry, there’s homemade skincare, there’s hot sauce, there’s honey… there’s hats, there’s some dresses, there’s jewelry for your pets—lots of dog bandanas—all sorts of good stuff.”