Train kept a rollin’: a brief history of the (in)famous 1970 Festival Express

Editor’s note: Fifty years ago tomorrow, a trainload of famous rock, blues and country stars rolled into Calgary for one of the most unique music festival experiences ever…The Festival Express. The article below focuses mainly on the Calgary stop of the festival. Along with rare archival photos, we’ve included likely never-before-seen surveillance video of the festival from the skies above McMahon Stadium.

Written by: Ron Kelland and Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

The 1970s were a good time for the City of Calgary. People came in droves to call Cowtown home, as its population increased by a third. Construction permits rained down like confetti as the city’s skyline shot mightily to the heavens. The famed Husky Tower (now simply known as the Calgary Tower) had recently been completed, giving Calgary’s skyline a truly distinctive look and providing a symbol of civic pride and optimism for decades to come. The famous, architectural award winning +15 Skyway pedway system, one of the most extensive systems in the world, was constructed and plans for a new and innovative urban transportation network, including the Deerfoot Trail freeway and what would become the LRT/C-Train system, were underway.

This is what Albertans call, “the good times”, the boom of our familiar economic cycle. Perhaps it was this optimistic feeling that convinced the city to approve a permit to host a now-infamous, “rock music festival” at McMahon Stadium in early July.

Newspaper advertisment, presumably from the Calgary Herald. Safe to say this is a pretty stacked lineup. Source: gratefulseconds.com.
Newspaper advertisment, presumably from the Calgary Herald. Safe to say this is a pretty stacked lineup. Source: gratefulseconds.com.

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Harriet’s Magic Hat: The Disk Jockey

Written by: Sara King (Provincial Archives of Alberta) and Jared Majeski (Historic Resources Management Branch)

It was a magical time in Edmonton in 1980. One area code, the Rat Hole, liver and onions at the Silk Hat on Jasper Ave. It was also a time with enchanted headphones and a young, open-collared Bruce Bowie.

Harriet’s Magic Hats was an educational program for children created by ACCESS TV, which primarily explored different careers as a girl named Susan travelled around with the assistance of her Aunt Harriet’s collection of mystical headgear. In addition to being an example of local programming in Alberta, the episode is a time capsule of technology and popular culture of the time it was made.

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630 CHED’s Bruce Bowie explaining to Susan how the music from vinyl records in their music library makes it out to the airwaves. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.

In this episode, Susan mysteriously transports into the booth at 630 CHED, right in the middle of a broadcast from legendary announcer Bruce Bowie. From there, Bowie shows young Susan the radio ropes, from programming commercials to the station’s automated system for playing records.

With the exception of Wings' "Getting Closer" and a Donna Summer disco hit, the playlist from CHED in 1980 is pretty middle of the road easy rock. Nice to see some pre-Kim Mitchell Max Webster in the rotation too. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.
With the exception of Wings’ “Getting Closer”, ELO and a Donna Summer disco hit, the playlist from CHED in 1980 is pretty middle of the road easy rock. Nice to see some pre-Kim Mitchell Max Webster in the rotation too. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.

This episode concludes with a jaunty montage of various Edmontonians biking, lounging, paddling and dancing along to the radio. Heck, even the bears and elephants are listening!

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One can only assume a brave Valley Zoo employee had to climb that tree to place the radio. The bears seem to be enjoying the tunes at least. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta YouTube.

Sharon Alexander, the actress who played Susan in the Harriet’s Magic Hat series, would go on to do a ton of voice acting, as well as appear in episodes of The X-Files, Da Vinci’s Inquest, The Outer Limits and Cold Squad.

ACCESS TV was the designated educational broadcaster in Alberta, created by the Alberta Educational Communications Corporation (AECC), an arms length corporation of the Government of Alberta. From its founding in 1973 until its privatization in 1995, it would produce, broadcast, and distribute television-based multimedia, in partnership with Alberta Education and the province’s universities and colleges.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta has a collection of 1506 video cassettes, 1071 video reels, 2220 audio reels, 731 audio cassettes, and 240 16 mm film reels in our ACCESS TV fonds (PR3368) as well as 1198 films and other government records transferred to the archives when ACCESS was a government body. But not all of them are quite as magical as this one.