St. Albert has this magical way of retaining its small-town feel here and there, no matter how much the city grows.
Bumping into your neighbours at the Saturday farmers' market throughout the summer is one such way. St. Albert Rainmaker each spring has long been another.
Happily, the city's largest festival of its kind is back this week after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
We're glad to see it.
In so many ways the city comes together each year to celebrate what began as Rodeo 104 in 1965, and what has grown into a Rainmaker of a much larger scale.
It continues to be one of the largest semi-professional rodeos in Canada, but also offers a two-evening concert series with musical acts from all over the country. The midway has grown, but still serves up the sticky, deep-fried fare of years past, along with some old favourites as far as rides go, and plenty of new ones, too. The open-air marketplace is a collection of locally-owned and locally-made goods for patrons to peruse.
And let's not forget the rain. So many Rainmakers have lived up to the name. I'm sure many of us have spent a day or two mucking around the grounds in the mud over the years, or performing or volunteering in it.
Some things have changed, such as the mud-bog racing of the 1980s and 1990s, which brought plenty of crowds, young and old, many of whom walked away covered in the squishy stuff.
And thankfully, some things will stay the same.
The Gazette's early-Saturday-morning pancake breakfast is notorious for lineups in the hundreds. Families start here to fill their bellies, then line the streets of St. Albert's downtown and up the big hill to wait in anxious excitement for the parade's arrival.
The parade is one of those places where community takes hold. We chat up the people we've grown up with, gone to school with, whose kids now play with our kids; wave hello to the teachers and local politicians and business owners we've come to know, who wave back from parade floats that crawl past the crowds, with volunteers handing out as much candy as rows upon rows of eager kids can fill their hands and pockets with. We share blankets, and umbrellas, and stories.
This is how we do community. St. Albert comes together in hard times, such as with the Citadel Mews fire a year ago, and again this winter in its support of those fleeing Ukraine. But we also come together in joy, and shared enjoyment, of those fun little ways in which we retain our identity.
The Rainmaker is one of those places where you can stroll down the midway and bump into friends and family, or share a drink with an old high school friend you haven't seen in decades at the beer gardens.
It’s an old-school reminder of our shared past as a city — so many of us have great Rainmaker memories — and that nothing quite comes close to connecting in person with our neighbours to maintain the spirit of our community.
Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.