Fletcher Armstrong, with the Calgary Grey Cup committee, rides his horse, Marty, in the front foyer of the Royal York hotel Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012 in Toronto. Calgary Stampeders will play the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League Grey Cup Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
TORONTO - As Toronto gears up to host Sunday's historic Grey Cup, fans of the Calgary Stampeders are bringing some western flair to the city.
"We're just going to kick up our heels and party it up now," said Brad Greenslade, a member of the Calgary Grey Cup Committee. "We're here to paint this town Calgary!"
Donning Stampeders red and a white cowboy hat, Greenslade says he and the other 60 committee members have been spreading cowboy spirit since they began arriving in the city over the past few days.
And so far, Toronto has embraced it.
On Thursday, the group's chairman trotted a horse named Marty through the front doors of the upscale Fairmont Royal York Hotel as a crowd of cheering fans hooted and chanted "Go Stamps go!"
The tradition of Stamps fans riding a horse into the hotel lobby began in 1948 when Calgary won the CFL championship in Toronto.
Greenslade says the horse stunt brings Calgary luck and he's happy they were able to recreate it for the 100th Grey Cup. The Stampeders will face the hometown Argonauts in the big game Sunday at Rogers Centre.
Earlier in the day, the 15-year-old dark brown stallion was turned away due to safety concerns.
The hotel rolled out its official red carpet, usually reserved for royalty and heads of states, and even prepared a bucket of apples and carrots for his arrival. But the Royal York stopped short of letting the animal through its front doors.
Hours later, after the Calgary fans took Marty to various spots around the city — including TV stations and an Irish pub for some apples and beer — the Royal York changed its mind about their four-legged guest.
Greenslade said many stopped to take photos and pet Marty as he toured the city.
"There are people as we're walking around, they've probably never seen a horse, let alone one walking the street of a major urban city," he said.
When Marty returned to the Royal York, he was immediately allowed inside where he posed for photos under a crystal chandelier on the hotel's marbled floor.
Even CFL commissioner Mark Cohon stopped by to see the stunt.
Committee chair Fletcher Armstrong says this is just another example of Toronto welcoming Calgary's brand of western hospitality.
"Yee-haw! We're in and it's huge," said Armstrong, grinning from ear-to-ear while sitting atop the horse. "It's history. We're here. We're in. The tradition is live and well."
Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman Obby Khan said the team was prepared if the hotel hadn't changed its mind.
"We were going to go over there and fight some people," said Khan. "We had our cowboy gear on, I had my lasso and pistol ready to go, and we had to go to practice unfortunately. But that's great news. Party at the Royal York — let's go."
Also Thursday, the CFL announced it had reached a compromise with the Stamps about one of their other traditions.
The league says it will allow the team's horse mascot Quick Six and rider Karyn Drake to be on the sidelines during the game but won't let the animal gallop alongside the field when Calgary scores due to a lack of available space and safety concerns.
Stamps fans will be busy for the next few days.
They're hosting two free pancake and sausage breakfasts at Nathan Phillips Square on Friday and Saturday after lugging a dozen stoves and more than 500 pounds of pancake batter from Calgary.
Organizers say there's going to be enough food to feed up to 5,000 hungry fans each day.
The event will also have a chuckwagon, a live band, line dancing and appearances by the Stampede Queen and Princesses and their other mascot, Charlie Horse.
Organizers will also be passing out 5,000 cardboard cowboy hats, 5,000 pins and 500 mini footballs to "honorary Calgarians."
The committee will also put on a cowboy history and musical show Friday for hundreds of students at an inner city elementary school.
Stamps season ticket holder Michelle Salomons says the CFL is all about having a good time but it's also about the camaraderie.
"It's a pretty proud organization, a proud fan base," said the 34-year-old from Red Deer, Alta. "Even coming here too, you see fans from all over the place and everybody gives you a high-five."
Dennis Schwartz adds that even if you're not cheering for Calgary, the Grey Cup brings Canada together.
"I really hope it takes over and it rocks the city right out," said Schwartz, who drove in from Harrow, Ont., near Windsor. "It's 100 years and it's totally Canadian. A Canadian team is going to win no matter what."