Elma Dela Cruz has had the opportunity to watch the Calgary Stampede only a handful of times since moving to Alberta from the Philippines nearly 18 years ago, but she nevertheless feels like she has a front-row seat to the event each year.

Her Tim Hortons restaurant always buzzes with excitement as guests clad in cowboy gear and Western wear meet for a meal before the festivities.

This year, Elma got a little closer to the action. Tim Hortons was invited to participate in the Calgary Stampede Parade, which had to be adapted due to COVID-19 restrictions. Rather than being open to the public, the parade was broadcast live on TV and streamed online, and frontline workers were among the participants who marched and were honoured for their contributions throughout the pandemic.

Elma poses outside her restaurant in Calgary

Elma was nominated to represent Tim Hortons by restaurant owners Dennon and Stefanie McSwain, who noted Elma had started out at their restaurant as a part-time team member and grew into a management role with her strong leadership skills, positive attitude and her exemplary work in navigating the changes brought in since the start of the pandemic to keep team members and guests safe.

We caught up with Elma to talk about what it was like to take part in a storied Alberta tradition.

What was your reaction when you were asked if you would like to march in the parade?

“It really meant a lot. I’m very emotional about it. I never expected it. We’re always there to serve the people who are going to the parade, but thinking that I’m going to be there myself? I was really, really excited about it.”

Elma, second from right behind the banner, backstage at the Calgary Stampede Parade

Given how much we’ve all gone through during the pandemic, it must’ve been thrilling to get outside and meet other frontline workers like yourself. What has it been like as some COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted recently.

“Our restaurant has some regular elderly customers who have been coming for many years and we didn’t see them as much during the pandemic – and we missed them so much. It’s so great to have things feel a little more normal. I love our regulars, they come in, we have their drink ready, and they’re all very appreciative. Sometimes they say we’re what keeps them going because they can’t survive without our coffee – that makes us feel good.”

Elma with a front-row seat to watch other marchers at the Calgary Stampede Parade

Your family must have been so excited about seeing you march in the Stampede Parade.

“They were even more excited than me. They’re like, ‘You’re going to be famous!’ I couldn’t wait to do it. I was so proud to be representing every team member who works at a Tim Hortons restaurant.”