White Hat Awards
Back in 1962, Tourism Calgary began an annual tradition of recognizing outstanding professionals and volunteers from the local hospitality industry. This investment became known as the White Hat Awards.
Having celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2023, the program inspires front-line staff to consistently deliver unparalleled customer service – contributing to Calgary’s reputation as an ultimate host city. More than 500 applicants are put forward every year. The ultimate prize is the Mayor’s White Hat Award, given out to the one individual who best represents the spirit of the white hat and has made a significant contribution to the industry.
The White Hat Academy
Taking Calgary’s commitment to delivering service excellence even further, Tourism Calgary launched the White Hat Academy for the tourism industry in 2019. This free, first of its kind learning program is designed to build an army of knowledgeable Calgary ambassadors. As Ultimate Hosts, Academy graduates have all the tools needed to provide white-hat-worthy service.
"Being ultimate hosts is not a fad, and it’s not something that can be done once and forgotten about,” says Cindy Ady, CEO at Tourism Calgary. “It’s an endless commitment to being the best and ensuring that each guest feels important and valued."
White Hat Volunteers
When you fly into the Calgary International Airport, you'll quickly encounter volunteers on the concourse wearing red vests and white hats. These are Calgary’s YYC White Hat Volunteers acting as ambassadors for the city, here to greet you with a warm western welcome and a ready smile, happy to answer your questions or lend a helping hand.
Volunteers selected as White Hatters come from all walks of life and participate for many reasons. Ethel is a retiree and when her husband passed away nine years ago, she became a White Hatter. She says it has opened up a whole new world for her and become her home away from home. It is all about friendship for Ethel who says “Calgary has the friendliest people on Earth!”
Carissa, a full-time realtor and relative newcomer to Calgary, saw being a White Hatter as an opportunity to give back to the community that welcomed her on her own arrival. “I will greet you just as I was greeted," says Carissa. "And I do so in Chinese for our China visitors. They feel like they’re getting the royal treatment!”
Tas is originally from Africa and has been a White Hatter for nine years. For him, the white hat is about lending a helping hand. “When I see a smile on their face after I help them, I get a lot of satisfaction,” says Tas.
Exceptional service and warm welcoming people set Calgary apart from other destinations. That’s why the community has been investing in programs like the White Hat Academy, Awards and YYC Volunteers - inspiring front-line tourism and hospitality professionals to go the extra mile and make delegate and guest experiences truly memorable.
So, Where Did the White Hat Come From?
In the 1940s, the Calgary Stampede wanted to encourage spectators at the annual rodeo, not just participants, to wear cowboy hats as a nod to the city’s western heritage and a symbol of Calgary’s hospitality. Maurice Schumiatcher, owner of the local hat maker, Smithbilt Hats, took up the challenge. While pastel cowboy hats were in vogue at the time, he decided to make them out of pure white felt, with a thin strip of red fabric for the hat band. This reflected the brand colours of the Stampede. Many of the first hats produced in 1946 were worn by the local ranchers and oilmen who rode in the 1947 Stampede Parade, which kicks off the world-famous 10-day rodeo and exhibition.
In 1948, Calgary’s identification with the white hat received attention across the country when local alderman, Don McKay, and a trainload of football fans road east to Ontario to see Calgary’s Stampeders play against the Toronto Argonauts for the Grey Cup (Canada’s equivalent of the Super Bowl). Hundreds sported the white hats as they cheered on the Stampeders, setting up impromptu barbecues and pancake breakfasts to the delight of the locals. It spurred national recognition of the hat and demand for this coveted item skyrocketed. Today, Smithbilt continues to produce the famed hat, selling an average of 12,000 per year.