EDMONTON — Seventy years later, the Grey Cup tradition is alive and … well … kicking.
Tuffy, however, did behave herself — no kicking of any sort — inside the Chateau Lacombe on Wednesday afternoon as the 11-year-old quarterhorse mare was walked into the hotel to carry on a legendary Calgary custom during the annual week-long football fest.
“We’ve been doing this since 1948 when Calgary first played Ottawa in the Stampeders’ first Grey Cup,” said Calgary Grey Cup Committee spokesperson Sandy Dubyk. “Fans from Calgary took trains down to Toronto and loaded up wagons and horses and stoves, and the tradition’s carried on. So we’re here sharing that at Canada’s biggest sports party. And we’re here to help celebrate and bring Western hospitality to the people of Edmonton.”
Former committee chairpeople Phil Landon and Fletcher Armstrong took turns bringing Tuffy into the Chateau Lacombe — first through a side door and into the ballroom, where the Calgary Grey Cup Committee was holding its gala, and then through the front door and into the lobby, where the horse was offered — but declined — carrots at the check-in desk.
Tuffy and her riders were escorted in and out of the hotel by a special entourage, Lord Strathcona’s Horse Royal Canadians in their First World War attire and bagpipers made up of Winnipeg and Calgary Police Service members.
The tour was wildly cheered on by football fans and party-goers in attendance.
But Tuffy’s appearance and the party at hand don’t mark the only reason for the Calgary Grey Cup Committee assembling in Edmonton.
It’s here also to pick up a few pointers from this year’s festivities since next November it’s Calgary’s turn again to host the Grey Cup and the celebration that comes with it.
“We’ve already started planning for 2019 and the Grey Cup festival there,” Dubyk said. “There’s a number of different activities that will go on. Traditionally, some of the things that we’ve done is we’ve worked with an underprivileged school — provided something back to the community — pancake breakfasts and a parade.
“One of the things, I know, is that we’re looking to involve the community at large. So we’re looking at doing things on a much bigger scale next year.
“So 2019 should be very special in Calgary,” Dubyk added. “What would be even more special is if the Stampeders made it to the Grey Cup next year again. But we’ll have to wait and see.”
Way back when, that first appearance by the Stampeders in the CFL championship triggered the tradition of a horse making its way into a hotel, then the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
The Stampeders completed an undefeated season with a 12-7 victory over the Ottawa Rough Riders.
Now 70 years later, the Stamps suit up against the Ottawa Redblacks in the Grey Cup contest Sunday (4 p.m., TSN/770 CHQR).