International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains might seem an unlikely place for a hot air balloon festival, but the city of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 colorful balloons — including a pink elephant, a black-and-yellow bee, and the purple-and-yellow Eye of Ra, named for the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in prevailing winds to rise a little this week — airtime to open the… Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 percent of our flights. The weather is affecting us everywhere,” said events director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a councilman.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’ve been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the town’s people.”

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The city of 12,000, south of Calgary, gained international notoriety in 2013 when flooding caused billions of dollars in damage to parts of southern Alberta.

High River was one of the hardest hit communities. Whole parts of the city were under water for weeks.

“I brought in some friends from the balloon community and they knew what was happening, so 20 of them came to High River and we did a balloon festival that was really amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“It was kind of the first big step towards recovery from the flood, and we’ve been doing it every year since the end of September.”

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Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there is no hotel room in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

This year, 23 balloons are taking part, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a fairly small community.

“We usually meet at various events. We usually travel. We’re like showmen to a certain extent,” he said, laughing.

“We travel to different cities for different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

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He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that seven or eight of the people I ballooned with in the ’70s and early ’80s are still at this event,” Davidson said. “You’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a flight was canceled Wednesday night because of wind.

“My god, am I glad we did it,” he said as the flight drew to a close.

The festival lasts until Sunday.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 23, 2022.

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