It’s a crisp clear Saturday morning at Slater Park in southeast Calgary. Hundreds of people are gathering there for an eventful day full of Beakerhead festivities, which for a lucky few will include a ride on a massive, yellow, hot-fired balloon. 

Beakerhead runs every September and calls itself a “smash-up of art, science and engineering.”

Balloon chief pilot Gary Fehr and his crew, Al Toews and Don Carter of Red Deer’s Air-ristocrat Balloons set up the ropes in the sunlight. However, the pilots recognize they have a problem, and it’s coming from the west.

“The wind is blowing harder, but we’ll give it a try,” says Toews.

As the crowd stares in fascination at Fehr and his team in action, the crew makes its first attempt; But strong wind blows where it will.

Everyone watches the giant yellow balloon as it starts to take shape. The pilots force air into the opening, but the structure falls aside. The children are especially disappointed.

Despite the disappointment, everyone remains in line, not for 10 minutes, or an hour, but for four hours.

As the sun is going down, Beakerhead’s Jo Larson, says, “It’s incredible they’re still here after four times trying to set up the balloon.”

Slater Park remains full of families and friends who seem to forget about the balloon and instead, enjoy the weather and other other activities Beakerhead provided, such as flying kites and other playful activities.

Artistic producer of the Arts Recreation and Community Hub (ARCH), Judy Lawrence is awed by the crowd’s optimism.

“Over the four hours of failed attempts, nearly 700 people line up for a ride,” she says, “That’s the lesson we’re getting from them.”

The hot-fired balloon pilots keep trying.

Then it happens.

As if by magic, the balloon lifts into the sky in a majestic way, and the crowd is euphoric. Kids, still with kites in their hands, fixate on the vessel as it carries a lucky few into the atmosphere.

The editor responsible for this article is Maria Dardano and can be contacted at

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