By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The U.S.-led war in Iraq may be officially over - along with tension over Canada's refusal to provide troops for the conflict. But Havre Mayor Bob Rice's widely publicized wartime efforts to promote friendship between Canada and the United States are continuing.
For six days earlier this month Rice was one of the guests of honor during the Calgary Stampede, the city's annual 10-day celebration that includes a rodeo, games and entertainment and draws tens of thousands of people every year. Rice attended meals hosted by the president of the stampede and the mayor of Calgary and met with several other Canadian officials and dignitaries.
Rice called the trip "just a dream type thing."
"I mean it was a once in a lifetime deal," he said. " I've never been treated like that in my life."
During the Calgary Exhibition & Stampede Parade, Rice and his wife, Dottie, sat in stampede president Don Wilson's VIP section reserved for members of Parliament and other dignitaries.
Rice was escorted between events by Dawn Malcolm, the wife of one of the stampede directors. When it came time to enter the arena, Malcolm ushered the Rices into an old-fashioned - but appropriate - conveyance.
"She says, 'We've got to go. We've got to catch the stagecoach.' I thought it was a joke," he said.
It wasn't a joke. Rice rode into the arena in a stagecoach with stampede officials.
The cause of all the hubbub was Rice's effort this spring to welcome Canadians to Havre after he heard rumors that some northern visitors had been treated poorly because their government refused to support the war in Iraq. Rice launched a public relations campaign of sorts, declaring a Canadian Appreciation Day at the start of the annual Festival Days celebration in September and speaking with officials from Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
The media smelled a story, and converged on Havre - at least over the phone lines. Rice was interviewed by several radio stations about his efforts to improve U.S.-Canadian relations, and he was aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and National Public Radio in the United States. He was also the subject of at least four newspaper articles, including one in the Calgary Herald, and was interviewed by a television station.
On June 9 Rice was featured in an article in the Canadian magazine Maclean's, complete with a photo of Rice in his office and another of the Festival Days parade on Fifth Avenue. On June 15 Rice wrote a column in the Calgary Herald inviting Canadians to Festival Days.
Canadians reciprocated. David Johnston, co-chair of the Calgary Canada Day Committee, invited Rice to attend the Canada Day Gala Dinner on July 1.
"He kind of put Havre on the map here with a lot of people," Johnston said this morning.
"He was a wonderful ambassador to Havre, I'll tell you that," he said.
Canadian senators, aldermen and Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier attended the swank dinner in Calgary's Canada Olympic Park. Rice was introduced during the dinner, and one of his past newspaper articles was read. Then he got a summons from the president's table.
"That's when the stampede committee director, Larry O'Connor, said they wanted to talk to me at the president's table and that's when the ball started rolling," Rice said.
Bob Dyck, one of the stampede directors, offered to buy Rice's tie, which displayed the American flag.
"They called me over and he said, 'I want to buy that tie,'" Rice said. "And I said, 'Will you wear it?' And he said, 'Absolutely.'"
Wilson invited Rice to stay an extra few days to be his guest at the stampede, and Rice agreed.
"They were just tremendous," he said. "Nicest people I've ever met."
The owner of the International Hotel of Calgary offered to give Rice and his wife a free suite for two nights. When Rice's trip was extended, the owner extended their stay three more nights.
Rice said he checked with Havre City Attorney Jim Kaze before he accepted the offer, to make sure he could legally accept the gift.
During the fireworks that night, Rice said, thousands of Canadians who turned out at the Olympic park to watch the fireworks saw photos of Havre projected on an enormous screen. The photos were taken from a CD put out by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
Event officials said about 15,000 people attended the fireworks show.
Over the next few days Rice was treated like royalty. On July 2 he attended a breakfast hosted by Bronconnier and was announced to the group.
Many people expressed interest in coming to Festival Days, Rice said, including Vice Consul Darian Arky, several members of the consulate, and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Rice also met with ordinary Canadians - "tons of them," he said.
"Once when I got off the shuttle, this lady said, 'Oh, that's that U.S. mayor. See if you can get his autograph.'"
In a separate incident, Rice said an Alberta couple approached him to inquire about coming to Festival Days.
"A lot of people came up and introduced themselves and said they were going to come to Festival Days and liked what I had to say. Pretty overwhelming, actually."
Now Rice has a stack of business cards of the officials and notables he met, and before Festival Days comes, he intends to use them.
"I'm going to send all of these people personal invitations to come."