Cancellation of the 2020 Calgary Stampede will deal a blow to the Alberta economy and also to the summer plans of professional cowboys, chuckwagon racers, volunteers and tourists.
The annual showcase of western culture was officially cancelled April 23. Last year’s event had an economic impact of an estimated $540 million in the Calgary region, according to Stampede figures.
Advertised as “the greatest outdoor show on earth” the Calgary Stampede was the largest among Alberta’s summer festivals to be cancelled under direction of Alberta Health Services as it seeks to limit the spread and impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Edmonton’s Klondike Days and Lethbridge’s Whoop Up Days also announced cancellations last week, as did numerous other smaller fairs and events.
Those close to Stampede operations greeted the official cancellation of the Stampede with disappointment but not surprise.
“I think it was the right decision and it was timely because so many people rely on that event, both from a travel perspective, a vendor perspective as well as all the volunteers,” said Dr. David Chalack, a past-chair of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede board.
“I applauded the fact that finally the decision was announced. I don’t think there was any other choice.”
Requirements for social distancing and limited size of public gatherings had already led to about 1,000 layoffs of Stampede staff prior to the announcement, Chalack said. Management and directors looked at every possible scenario to hold the event, which has run annually since 1923 and was first held in 1912.
Cancellation will affect a number of agriculture-related events typically held on the grounds. Heavy horse displays, sheep shearing demonstrations, blacksmithing competitions and numerous educational displays related to agriculture are part of it. The extensive cattle shows that were once part of Stampede moved to Olds several years ago in the form of Summer Synergy.
Annemarie Pedersen, a Calgary resident and current executive director of the Alberta Farm Animal Care Association, has volunteered at the Stampede for the past 16 years. Cancellation of the 2020 event appeared to be inevitable given pandemic restrictions, she said.
“It has been an incredible experience to be part of the team that puts it all together. It’s sort of like going home to a small town every summer because there’s people that I don’t get to see unless we’re at Stampede.
“I’m going to miss that for sure, miss all the people and the volunteers.”
Pedersen noted there is much more to the event than the actual run of 10 days. There are major economic spinoffs in the entire region from visitors to restaurants, hotels, bars and nearby tourist destinations.
“At a time when everybody is kind of wondering how the economy is going to come back, this is a big chunk of people’s businesses that will not be happening this year,” she said.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed some of the same views in the news release announcing cancellation.
“The Stampede is a critical part of who we are as Calgarians. It’s almost impossible to imagine a summer without it. But these are extraordinary times, and the Stampede has done what they always do: put the community first,” said Nenshi.
Stampede president Dana Peers, in the same release, said the “yahoo” Stampede spirit would not be quashed despite this year’s disappointment.
“I promise you this does not mean the end of Stampede Spirit in our community this year,” he said. “We know our community is strong and resilient. We’ll get through this together. Keep your hats on.”
Pedersen said she is hopeful that pandemic-related restrictions will ease later this year, allowing some fall and winter events at the urban venue.
“I think we’d all be very eager to get together to do something and bring a little bit more Stampede to the city at some point anyway.”
And there’s always next year.
“I’m sure we are all committed to make 2021 a home run. If we can’t do 2020, we’ve got lots of time to make sure 2021 is as big as it can be, and really come back with a bang. Hopefully that’s possible.”