Farmfair, rodeo face uncertain future

Exhibitors say the bread-and-butter events in Edmonton shouldn’t separate when the Coliseum closes at the end of 2017

After running in conjunction with one another for decades, Edmonton’s two staple agriculture events, Farmfair International and the Canadian Finals Rodeo, may soon no longer be joined at the hip.

Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) organizers can’t guarantee the event will be held in Edmonton next year, and Northlands is unable to say definitively where Farmfair will be held after its five-year time limit is up at the Expo Centre.

“Edmonton is one of the possibilities, but the CFR could go to a different city or somewhere else,” said Jeff Robson, an adviser with the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, which works with organizations to determine where rodeos are held.

“We have to look at the reality here, and we need to keep our options open. This is a tough situation to be in.”

This uncertainty over the future of both events, which are held in November, is partly the result of a deal recently struck by Edmonton city council and Northlands.

The deal sees Edmonton take over the Northlands site and permanently close the Coliseum, which is home to the rodeo, at the end of December.

As well, the Edmonton Economic Development Corp. will now manage the Expo Centre, which is where Farmfair is held. Northlands is still allowed to host Farmfair there for at least five years, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess if the event will move or stay in Edmonton.

“We’re still working out the transition with the city,” said Northlands spokesperson Caiti Farquharson. “For now, we will continue to grow Farmfair, and it will continue to be a part of Northlands.”

In exchange for Northlands’ assets, the city took on the organization’s $48.7 million debt. Prior to that, Northlands had struggled for months to make payments on it.

The city has said it will have a clearer picture of what the Northlands site could look like once it releases draft redevelopment plans for the area in early 2018.

However, even if the CFR returns to Edmonton in 2018 and sets up new digs at the city’s downtown arena, which is known as Rogers Place, some exhibitors and attendees may be less inclined to go, said Terry Adams, who shows at Farmfair every year.

“It’s very important that they are together,” said Adams, who runs a grain and cattle operation in Forestburg, Alta. “People don’t want to be chasing around the city, going from one end to the other. I just can’t see that working out too well.”

Exhibitor Stacy Young agreed that having both events side-by-side is important, but she said she thinks Northlands has done a good job revitalizing Farmfair.

“There’s no reason it couldn’t stay at the Expo Centre,” said Young, who runs Double R Farms located in Breton, Alta. “But if it was moved to a more rural setting, that would be fine, too, as it’s more of a rural thing anyway.”

Robson hopes to have a clearer idea on where the CFR will be hosted once this year’s event wraps up.

“We’re hoping we will have a longer-term plan in place,” he said.

“This is 44 years of the CFR, and we will do the very best to give the Coliseum the send off it deserves.”

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