LATE BREAKING NEWS: Despite the odds, and perhaps with a tip of the hat to hallowe’en, Calgary’s city council pushed the Olympic bid into extra innings. “It ain’t over, until it’s over,” the late Yogi Berra once said of his New York Yankees. But he just as well could be referring to the middling part of an original Star Trek episode. November is the month of the dead. With the plebiscite now in play, we shall learn if the real McCoy of The Enterprise is more right than wrong about the bid.
CALGARY FLOATED A BALLOON and it just deflated.
In the psychology of the moment, there’s bound to be a few people — okay, lots of people — upset with the turn of events. It’s a poke at Calgary’s self esteem, they say, if not a huge let down by Canada, and hell, a missed opportunity to vote in a plebiscite in the middle of the Month of the Dead. We didn’t even have the chance to say know!
Get over it.
Many Calgarians, me, included, have fond memories of the Disney Olympics (more on this in a moment). It was the 1980s, the National Energy Program, and twenty-dollar oil. Yet here we were toasting the world, as hosts of the 1988 Winter Games.
We put on a great show!
BIGGER THAN MICKEY MOUSE
The Walt Disney Company knew about Calgary, long before our Olympic games. In the 1960s, Nikki: Wild Dog of the North was shot around Canmore (as in shooting a made for television movie). Perfect family viewing!
As for the 1988 cinderella stories of the Jamaican bobsled team and ski jumper Eddie the Eagle, well… it was a no-brainer. Disney made two very successful comedies.
There’s nothing funny about the movie that’s playing out in Calgary these days.
WE ARE BETWEEN STORIES
Author Yuval Noah Harari calls this an Age of Bewilderment: The old stories have collapsed and no new story has yet emerged to replace them.
If we had a story of our province—a pragmatic dream of what we believed we could look like a decade from now, a story every Albertan could see themselves in—would we be having polarized debates about the 2026 Winter Olympics bid?
THE OLD STORIES
(a) NOSTALGIA: Imagine an Alberta restored to its rightful place as Canada’s economic engine (Calgary at the hub, of course) with lively, bouncing 21st century Heidi & Howdy mascots cheering on smiling, waving citizen volunteers. In this halcyon haze, my husband pulls out our VHS cassette tape of Cool Runnings (the Disney flick of the Jamaican bobsled team) forgetting we no longer own or have need of a VHS player.
(b) INNOVATION: Alberta, now a green energy acolyte, has engaged the best & the brightest to innovate our way to a modern future. The 2026 Olympics will be a showcase for this prairie hotbed of innovation, minds whirling, ideas swirling. High-tech will be the bold face of the Games. The brain drain will be reversed; Alberta will be a magnet for the creative arts & design folks who make Silicon Valley what it is. This is the story I’ve seen Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary’s Olympic Bid, embrace. Just think of it: Bow Silicon Valley!!
(c) HISTORY: I was living in Calgary in 1988; it was a thrilling time. Of course I’d love to see a revival of that Alberta, and that Calgary. Those Olympics put the city and the province on the map.
And it was no accident:
Peter Lougheed was Alberta’s premier in 1981 when Calgary bid for the ’88 Olympics.
Oil & gas and royalty dollars were squirting out of the ground; commerce was booming.
The federal government ganged up on Alberta; it imposed the National Energy Program to put us in our place; it choked the energy industry. But we survived. And through it all, the province reclaimed its space and respect within Canada’s confederation.
The Alberta government also invested heavily and strategically in culture—including the Olympics—as a way to attract and retain the people we needed to build this province.
COMMERCE + CULTURE = ECONOMY
Lougheed was one of the first premiers in the country to name a Minister of Culture. As leader, he managed to turn a onetime sleepy backwater into a magnet for talent from all over the country and the world. He did that by focusing on commerce and culture, blending the two in ways that fired up a can-do attitude across communities in our province. Albertans felt anything one could imagine was possible.
THE OLYMPIC BID IS DEAD
It’s time to fire up the cultural enterprise. And by culture, I don’t merely mean entertainment and trifles to amuse ourselves.
It’s intellectual property. And it’s design, and yes, art too. These are the things that are not only attractive for people to come and enjoy, but potent tools to create an economy.
Think of the trillion dollar tech economies (sic). The iPhone, for one, did not arise out of a purely engineering culture (such as we have in Calgary), or an investment culture of risk (ditto for Calgary), but rather a three-legged stool of engineering, investment, and savvy arts & design (the latter is what we’re missing at the moment).
One of Peter Lougheed’s leadership principles was to invest in culture to build the Alberta economy. And one of his successors, premier Ralph Klein thought it smart to dismantle much of the cultural enterprise built in the province (except for racetracks) thinking it reduced the drag on the economy. That was then…
This is our time to get the cultural mix right. And more important to get our story right. We are more—much more than the Olympic games, and a comedy about bobsledding.
That’s what I’ll be talking about in part 2…