Calgary Stampede & Spruce Meadows
By Cpl Brandyn Tomayer
With the crowd looking on in anticipation the Strathcona’s one hundred man honour guard stood poised to deliver the Feu de joie. With rifles held high pointed towards the blazing sun Major Darryn Gray, Commander of the Guard delivers the order to “FIRE!” Within seconds the volley is released and the sound echoes off the surrounding stands and the crowd jumps as one. July 4th and the Strathcona one hundred man guard has just fired the first volley on parade at Spruce Meadows in 2015. The main event was the Feu de joie but the lead up to this event made it such a success.
Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) has continued to be lucky enough to be hosted by the City of Calgary and the Southern family to represent the very best of the Canadian Armed Forces in the Stampede Parade and Spruce Meadows Tournaments. With the guard chosen from A Squadron supported from the Regiment’s other Squadrons, preparation for the parades began in late June at CFB Edmonton. Ninety-six soldiers forming two guards of honour with Sergeants Ryan Vigar and Dave McMurtry spent days practicing the precise drill movements required for the event. The newly formed Strathcona’s Guard of Honour had just three days of practice to perfect the precise drill movements. Despite the thirty-degree heat on sweltering tarmac, with frequent water breaks the hundred-man guard was ready in time for the parade.
We arrived in Calgary the night before the Stampede parade and were housed at the Mewata Armories in downtown Calgary… we couldn’t be more central to the stampede fun! As soon as the cots were set up and the uniforms were pressed, the guard popped smoke and vanished into city to experience the Calgary Stampede firsthand. After a full night of cultural exploration the guard awoke bright and early to begin the first day of festivities. Starting at the east end of downtown Calgary the guard was given an early stampede breakfast and then staged for the Stampede parade to commence.
With a quick march down the block and a salute to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the guard changed to a relaxed manner in order to wave and engage with the crowd on the long trek through downtown Calgary. No matter how long the crowd had been standing there, as soon as the guard passed they erupted into applause and cheers. The feeling of walking through such gratitude was overwhelming. With sweat pouring off every soldier, the guard continued around the parade route giving high fives and shaking hands wherever they could. With Major Darryn Gray in the lead and Master Warrant Officer Cordell Boland rousing the crowd while the Pipes and Drums played on, it was unanimous that the Strathcona’s stole the show.
The parade ended at the same location it began and with everyone drenched in sweat but with big smiles on their faces only one thing was on their mind; how do we cool off now?
Luck would have it there was a small blue tent just tall enough to stand in with mist hoses. One hundred Strathconas quickly crammed into a tent only big enough for maybe ten. After completing a cool down and getting back on the busses it was off to Spruce Meadows to meet the Southern family and prepare for the next day’s event.
Feu de joie – A rifle salute fired by soldiers on a ceremonial occasion, each soldier firing in succession along the ranks to make a continuous sound.
The most difficult part of any drill is the creation of a unanimous body. Making the entire formation move as one is no easy task. Everyone has a theory of how to do it whether it’s MCpl Derek Murdoch with his “move on the on pause on the two three” or a simple ability to count out the time in your head. Regardless, it’s never easy to take one hundred people with different brains and make them move. But the Army has its ways.
As far as the Feu de joie goes it’s a simple drill movement, but the timing is key. If just one person fires too late or worse fires too early, the entire unity is thrown off. But the Strathcona’s Honour Guard had that timing.
With hundreds of people looking on in anticipation at Spruce Meadows, the guard joined the parade of nations behind the Royal Canadian Artillery Band and moved across the international ring to take their position centered in front of the grandstand. With the dais full of VIPs including the Southern family and the LdSH(RC) command team, expectations were high. After a Royal Salute to the Governor General of Canada David Johnston, the guard was inspected. The guard was told how great they looked, and the Governor General gave the Guard Commander the go ahead to begin the Feu de joie.
With an amazing crack the first rank began. As the wave of fire moved down the line on-looking parents only had seconds to cover the ears of their small children. As quickly is as it began the first volley was over and the crowd relaxed. With a “RELOAD” from Major Darryn Gray the guard charged their rifles as one. A second volley began, and the crowd jumped once more, followed by the third and final deafening volley. A brief silence followed, quickly broken by an eruption of cheers and applause from the spectators.
There is something extremely satisfying about completing a parade like this and just nailing it. The guard sounded incredible. With the leadership satisfied on a job well done the guard loaded up on the buses to relax and prepare for another night out on the town to take in all that the Calgary Stampede had to offer.
Sunday saw a similar day at Spruce Meadows with the guest of honour being the Minister of National Defence Jason Kenney. The parade went extremely well and the guard’s precision was as good as the day before. After three tight volleys and the roaring applause, it was all over. A week of practice had all been for those two parades. The band then played as the guard marched out of the ring while the crowd continued its applause. Following a quick change of clothes, the guard was back on the buses to return to CFB Edmonton and the grind of Regimental life. This memorable trip was followed by a well-deserved summer leave.