The Westerner Day Parade returned to downtown Red Deer on Wednesday with thousands of Red Deerians lining the streets to welcome back prancing horses, marching bands and eye-catching floats.
“It’s really exciting and nice to have something like this” after a two-year absence, said city resident Ardin Brownlee.
As no parades or special attractions were held in the first years of the pandemic, Brownlee believes a larger than usual crowd turned out along this year’s route.
Watching the colourful procession go by, he was particularly taken with the “amazing” talents of the Red Deer Royals marching band and its flag-twirling colour guard. “All the dancing and the music really does something to you,” Brownlee added with a grin.
The 2022 parade was a first-time spectacle for many young children in the crowd. The last time the last Westerner Days Parade was held in 2019, “my son was three and my daughter was one, so this is really like her first experience,” said local dad Bradford Dand.
Seven-year-old Serene Thull, who sat curbside, was smitten with the marching musicians. Her brother Samuel Thull, nine, said he was thrilled with the red-coated RCMP contingent and would like to be a police officer too, someday.
Gillian Magnusson, who watched floats go by with her boyfriend and two sons, said “We’re happy it’s back and we can’t wait to go to Westerner Days!”’
The fair opened on Wednesday afternoon and will continue until Sunday at Westerner Park, offering an outdoor food court, rides and entertainment.
Mike Olesen, CEO of Westerner Park, said he was happy to be able to bring back the full experience, including parade, after two limited years. In 2021, only a few chuckwagon race events were scheduled. “It’s nice just to be able to re-connect with the community,” added Olesen.
The long absence created some organizational hurdles — “it was almost like starting from scratch,” said Olesen. But he was thrilled with the local support received from cultural, sporting and non-profit groups as well as local businesses.
“The community rallied. With everything else businesses and organizations are dealing with in the world these days,” Olesen is grateful for the participation.
Peggy Jackson, an organizer on the parade committee, also considers the community support “incredible.” She noted there were 85 parade entries this year — short of the 125 number maximum, but more than the minimum.
Because the Westerner Days Parade was just firing up again, the organizing committee decided not to award specific prizes for best float, etc. this year. “We opted to just re-connect and celebrate,” said Jackson.
“We really wanted to make it about everyone and be inclusive,” added Olesen.
This year, a pro-choice float was entered in the parade for the first time to counter the pro-life one that had participated for some years.
“Though abortion is legal in Canada, there is a very active anti-choice movement at work,” said Tracy Kennedy, one of the entry’s organizers. “You don’t have to look far to find individuals, and particularly politicians, who don’t agree with the procedure for ideological reasons.”
Kennedy added, “We can’t be complacent. As they’ve demonstrated in the U.S., things can change.” She was referring to the reversal of the Roe-vs-Wade ruling in the U.S. that now allows some American states to make the procedure illegal.
The pro-life float organizers maintain fetuses should also have rights. “It would be nice if we could talk to them,” said Tyler Vander Baaren, of the pro-choice parade participants.
Olesen said anyone is free to advertise on their parade floats — as long as the arguments are put forward respectfully, and are also respectful of others.