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Volunteer Jessica Rooney, left, cooks pancakes during a drive-thru pancake breakfast as people try to enjoy the Calgary Stampede even though it has been cancelled on July 4, 2020.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

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Stampede Park is mostly deserted but Calgarians are still finding ways to enjoy some Stampede perks from their cars and backyards.

The Calgary Stampede, which includes a rodeo, midway and exhibition, typically attracts more than 100,000 visitors a day, but it was among many large events forced to cancel this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To fill the gap, Stampede organizers and local groups are putting on fireworks, drive-through pancake breakfasts and other events that people can take in at a safe distance.

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“You can’t cancel Stampede spirit, so we’re trying to keep that alive even though we can’t celebrate in the traditional way,” said Dana Peers, president and chairman of the Calgary Stampede Board.

The Stampede was scheduled to start on July 3 but was scratched for the first time in more than a century. The 10-day event contributes $540-million to the local economy, organizers say, and creates 4,700 jobs, including 3,500 seasonal workers during the summer. But the Stampede laid off most of its 1,200 year-round employees in March.

Other fairs and exhibitions across the country are also facing cancellations. Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition, which attracts 1.4 million visitors each year in August, was cancelled in May – only the second time it has been shut down in its 142-year history. Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition in August is also out of commission.

In Calgary, instead of piling onto Scotsman’s Hill, a popular spot to watch the fireworks that are part of the Stampede’s nightly grandstand show, local residents with a view of the city skyline can see one of two fireworks displays from their homes. The first was last Friday and the second is this weekend. And the daily pancake breakfasts that usually draw large crowds across Calgary instead will involve lineups of cars and trucks.

“For lots of people, it’s synonymous with the Calgary Stampede that they’re going to have a free pancake breakfast,” Mr. Peers said. “We wanted to keep that tradition alive and the new rules have brought us to this drive-through method.”

A server delivers mini-donuts to a vehicle during a Stampede Food Truck Rally as people try to enjoy the Calgary Stampede even though it has been cancelled, in Calgary, Saturday, July 4, 2020.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The Stampede is the biggest event of the year for food trucks and vendors. To make up some of the loss, YYC Food Trucks is playing host to a 10-day event mimicking the midway, inviting people to drive up to their favourite spots. The event is putting more than 400 people and 30 trucks back to work, according to Jennifer Andrews, co-owner of YYC Food Trucks. A lineup of about 50 cars had formed 10 minutes before opening on the event’s first day.

“A lot of trucks have said that if it hadn’t been for the drive-through, they wouldn’t be in business,” Ms. Andrews said. “The Calgary spirit is vibrant and we’re survivors.”

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce is also holding a series of virtual events to bring the business community together over drinks and food from home. Networking events and parties in local restaurants, bars and temporary tents that sprout up throughout the city’s downtown are a major part of the Stampede experience traditionally for corporate Calgary and business leaders who visit from across the country each summer.

The festival acts as the launching point for new client relationships and deals – much of which would not happen without the Stampede, according to chamber president and chief executive officer Sandip Lalli.

“The business community is having a hard time connecting and generating leads for business because of COVID-19,” Ms. Lalli said. “A lot of the conversation will probably be around how they got through the last six months.”

To keep the Stampede spirit going this summer, some crowd-drawing attractions are being held with physical distancing in mind.

‘This is what it’s all about’: Brazilian cowboy finishes 3,400-km trek from Alaska to Calgary

A small group welcomed parade marshal Filipe Masetti Leite as he arrived at the Calgary Stampede grounds last Friday after a 13-month ride on horseback from Anchorage, Alaska. The 33-year-old Brazilian, who immigrated to Canada as a teenager, completed a 3,400-kilometre journey the same day the Stampede was supposed to begin.

Filipe Masetti Leite, a Brazilian cowboy who has been riding from Alaska to Calgary and who has also been chosen as the parade marshal for the Calgary Stampede, becomes emotional as he leads his horse Mack into the Stampede grounds in Calgary on Friday, July 3, 2020.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

“What this rodeo means, not only to Canada but to the world, thank you boys and girls,” he said as he stood on the stage at the rodeo grandstand. “I’m a cowboy and the older I get I fear our world ending, and I value it so much because the greatest lessons in my life were taught from a man who wears a cowboy hat and spurs, and I would not have finished this journey if I weren’t a cowboy.”

Local organizations are also holding their own community celebrations. Some breweries are planning Stampede-themed parties with cowboy hats, hay bales and wagon wheels.

Grace Presbyterian Church is putting together a social-media video of prerecorded footage of people at home making pancakes and line-dancing. After more than 800 people attended the church’s pancake breakfast last year, the group hopes to provide its community members with a way to participate in the Stampede during the pandemic while fundraising for a local charity.

“There is a real sense of community spirit with the Stampede breakfasts that happen all across the city and people gathering together and celebrate,” said Rev. Jake Van Pernis. “We put together a virtual stampede party as a way of continuing with that sense of community connection.”

But some businesses are not able to adapt and Stampede guests will have to wait until pandemic restrictions lift for festival favourites to return. Amusement-park rides and games providers and retailers that display products at the midway are still unable to reopen.

“These businesses essentially will have little to no revenue for the next year and they’re going to have to hang on to make it through to next year,” Mr. Peers said. “It’s not an easy thing to say and it’s not an easy thing to do.”

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