When people first see the City of Edmonton’s giant balloon, they’re not quite sure what to make of it.
“It’s unusual looking for sure,” explains Senior Communications Advisor Melissa Lovatt, who was involved in the design. “It’s meant to capture the spirit and essence of Edmonton, of who we are as city and a community.”
The balloon’s various shapes and colours depict Edmonton’s river valley, the northern lights and the pyramid architecture of City Hall and the Muttart Conservatory. It also symbolizes Edmonton’s Aboriginal heritage, many multicultural communities and volunteer spirit. Mostly it represents our creativity and vibrancy.
“When you see this huge balloon with every colour of the rainbow, it’s hard not to smile,” Lovatt says.
Reaction from the public was mixed when the balloon was unveiled two years ago, but it has since gained in popularity.
“People are calling us and asking us to bring it to their events, which is an indication people have embraced it and want the chance to experience it,” Lovatt says. “It’s become recognized as the City of Edmonton balloon.”
A large part of the initial controversy was the price tag, $60,000 to build, but Lovatt says it would have cost twice as much to build a traditional float that would have had fewer uses.
“The balloon is meant to be out on display at as many events in the City as possible,” she says.
Logistical concerns are also reduced; when deflated, the float weighs only 150 pounds and can be packed up and stored in a three-foot by three-foot bag. A traditional float would require a considerably larger storage space, insurance and needed a flat-bed truck to pull it in a parade.
Filling the balloon with helium adds to the overall cost, but it can also be filled with cold air. It floats very high with helium, so for parades, cold air is used and the balloon is put on a wheeled platform and pulled by volunteers which makes it easier to take under wires and traffic signals.
This year, the balloon also made its first appearance outside Edmonton, participating in the Calgary Stampede parade on July 4.
“We were very excited to be accepted into the Calgary Stampede parade,” Lovatt says. “The wide coverage the parade receives and the huge audience it attracts provided an opportunity to promote and enhance the image of the City of Edmonton.”
The City had been without a parade float for a number of years when City Council requested a float for the K-Days parade. Lovatt got the idea for a balloon when she watched the Grey Cup parade with her son and saw WestJet’s balloon plane with its smiling face. She worked with the Edmonton Arts Council who asked artists for design proposals that were then submitted to a jury. The winning entry, titled “Us,” was designed by Artsmith Communications in Edmonton.
When inflated, the float is 35 feet long, 14 feet high and 22 feet wide and requires eight to 12 people at a minimum to carry it down a parade route. Lovatt recruits family, friends and colleagues, mostly City of Edmonton employees, who volunteer their time.
“It makes for a very busy summer,” Lovatt says, “but I’ve been involved since the beginning, so I’m passionate about it and it’s become a lot of fun. This is a unique way of promoting the City of Edmonton.”