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Auctioneer Robert Bergevin auctions off chuckwagon driver Kurt Bensmiller during the annual Calgary Stampede Canvas Auction where businesses bid on sponsoring a chuckwagon driver for the upcoming Calgary Stampede, in Calgary, on March 23, 2017. (Todd Korol/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Auctioneer Robert Bergevin auctions off chuckwagon driver Kurt Bensmiller during the annual Calgary Stampede Canvas Auction where businesses bid on sponsoring a chuckwagon driver for the upcoming Calgary Stampede, in Calgary, on March 23, 2017. (Todd Korol/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Proceeds from Calgary Stampede chuckwagon auction up slightly Add to ...

It came right down to the wire but the annual Calgary Stampede chuckwagon canvas auction on Thursday night just edged out the total raised a year ago.

Bidders pledged just over $2.4 million for the right to advertise on tarps on the 36 chuckwagons that will compete in 10 days of racing July 7-16 at the Stampede.

The auction, considered a bellwether for Alberta’s oilpatch mood, raised just under $2.3 million last year, the worst showing since 2010 when it brought in $1.97 million.

The record year was 2012, when bidders pledged just over $4 million.

Dave Sibbald, president of the Calgary Stampede board of directors, said the tarp auction’s success bodes well for what is billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth this summer.

“I think it’s a really good lead indicator, as it always has (been),” he said.

“I mean, we’re up over last year, we’re starting to see the economy come around and this is very positive news as we start to enter into our ad campaigns and our launch.”

The top bid of $110,000 on Thursday bought rights on the wagon driven by 12-time champion Kelly Sutherland, 65, the sentimental favourite because he is retiring after this year’s event.

“I said if we raised the same amount of money as last year we’d be very lucky, because I think a lot of companies even this time last year were just thinking it would be short-lived,” Sutherland said.

“To me it’s 2018 and 2019 before we turn the corner.”

Two-time winner Kurt Bensmiller bought his own wagon for $95,000 at the auction, the same price he paid last year, and plans to resell it to a group of advertisers who will split up the rights.

“With the economy, everyone is struggling,” Bensmiller said.

“They’re cutting corners and trying to take care of their families and their business. It is what it is. You can’t sugarcoat what’s going on in Western Canada.”

The auction takes place as crude prices have been lingering below the US$50 per barrel mark, though nearly US$10 above what they were at this time last year.

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