“The Showdown At The Royal York” is only one of the horse controversies in Toronto

TORONTO—A horse walks into a hotel...or does it? Rather than the setup to a joke, it's an honest question about what's going to happen Thursday. There's set to be a classic Western showdown, but instead of the O.K. Corral, it's apparently going to take place at Toronto's famed Royal York Hotel. Members of the Calgary Grey Cup Committee (a long-running group of fans that represents the city at every Grey Cup) had planned to ride a horse into the lobby Thursday (to recreate the famous 1948 incident at the Royal York that played a major role in the Grey Cup's development into a Canada-wide party), but the hotel's saying they won't be allowed in. According to Sean Gordon of The Globe And Mail, the Stampeders' fans aren't backing down, though:

The Calgary committee has procured a horse, and plans to use it — if not at the Royal York, then at the nearby Holiday Inn Toronto Centre, which has permitted the group to bring the animal to an invitation-only VIP cocktail party.

But the Royal York remains the goal. "We're going to be there at 10 a.m.," said Brad Greenslade of the Calgary Grey Cup committee.

And if they're turned away?

"I think they're going to be shooting themselves in the foot a little bit if they do that. We started this in 1948, it's time to let it happen again," Mr. Greenslade said.

Why's the hotel against this? The Winnipeg Sun's Kirk Penton has the details:

The Calgary Grey Cup Committee, a group of Stampeders fans, reportedly want to recreate the 1948 moment when a member of the equine family walked into the lobby of the posh downtown Toronto hotel.

That won't be happening, according to the Royal York's regional director of sales and marketing, Kerry Ann Kotani.We are not allowing it this year for health and safety reasons," Kotani said Wednesday, saying an alternate plan for the horse was in the works. "We just think it's cruel to the animal to bring it in. I can't imagine a poor horse trying to get into the lobby."

The Calgary crew tried to bring a horse into the Royal York lobby in 2007 when the Grey Cup was last contested in Toronto, but it wasn't let in and remained out on the sidewalk on Front Street.

"We actually have photos of the horse out front," Kotani said.

That may set the stage for a fascinating showdown Thursday. However, it won't be the only clash between organized Ontarians and wild Westerners this week, or even the only one over a horse! The battle to get the Stamps' traditional touchdown horse, Quick Six, or at least a local replacement, into the game Sunday, also doesn't show any signs of abating. From Sherri Zickfoose of The Calgary Herald, in a piece published online Wednesday evening:

"We continue to try to find a way, because it's a great tradition, but it doesn't look good as space is severely limited and there are safety concerns," said CFL spokesman Jamie Dykstra.

It wouldn't be the first time Calgary's horse was sidelined — make that restricted to running across the end zone — during a Grey Cup.

But it could be the first time the horse was banished from the building.

For the man who helped start the tradition of the galloping cheerleader, news the CFL may force the Stampeders to break tradition seems unsporting.

"To go to Grey Cup without the horse would be such a shame. Our fans expect it, and even some of the other fans expect it," said Rogers Lehew, team's general manager from 1965-73.

Yes, on one level, it's somewhat bizarre that so much of the lead-up to a national championship is revolving around non-participating horses, but on another, it's perfect. So much of the Grey Cup is about zany traditions (flapjack breakfasts! Alumni events that sometimes turn into brawls! The Spirit of Edmonton! The annual sex question!), and it's important that Toronto experiences those as well as the game itself. So far, the feeling on the ground has been of a city that's partly into this party (see all the people who showed up for the Argos' pep rally Tuesday) but is still somewhat hesitant; they're in the door, but standing in the metaphorical equivalent of the kitchen. Funnily enough, things weren't all that different in 1948 when the original train party (the recreation came in Tuesday) hit town. Here's part of Stephen Brunt's description of that from the recent 100 Grey Cups:

"On the Friday morning before Grey Cup Saturday, the train arrived at Toronto's Union Station, and out spilled something spontaneous, unchoreographed, a little bit wild, a little bit inebriated, and a whole lot of fun. At one point, the uninhibited Calgarians crossed paths with the very core of the eastern establishment, who were assembling at the same hotel for a black-tie reception to honour Governor General Viscount Alexander. The Calgarians sang "Home On the Range" as the GG walked by, by all accounts with a great big smile on his face."

However the various equine conflicts this week turn out, the larger point is valid. Yes, it's always necessary to have some planning and organization, and safety concerns matter as well. There are certainly times when it's best to just go with the wild party, though, and the Grey Cup's history has proved that again and again. We'll see how this one turns out.