The Calgary Stampede has cancelled this year’s event in the face of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, representing not just an economic loss but also a painful symbolic blow to a city that was struggling long before the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The 10-day event, which attracts more than 100,000 visitors a day to a rodeo, exhibition and midway, was scheduled to start on July 3. In addition to the main attraction on the fairgrounds, the Stampede is accompanied by events throughout the city, including the opening parade, daily pancake breakfasts and party tents downtown.
The Stampede’s board chair, Dana Peers, said the indefinite ban on large public gatherings and the state of emergency mean the event cannot go on. He said planning will continue for the 2021 event.
“It’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Peers said.
The announcement marks the first time the Stampede has been forced to cancel by outside forces since it launched more than a century ago.
The Stampede continued to run during both world wars, the Great Depression and after a flood in 2013 devastated much of downtown Calgary two weeks before opening weekend. Even the Spanish flu did not force the cancellation of the Stampede or Calgary Exhibition, which were separate events at the time.
The Stampede’s CEO had previously said that the event could not proceed if there were any physical-distancing measures still in place by July.
The City of Calgary ordered all public events cancelled until at least June 30. That prohibition didn’t directly apply to the Calgary Stampede, but the date was seen as an attempt to hold out hope that the Stampede and other events such as Canada Day festivities could survive.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the cancellation of the Stampede is the latest sacrifice that his city has been forced to make, but he said Calgarians understand the stakes.
“Stampede is such an important part of who we are as a community and it’s hard for me to imagine what a July without the Stampede looks like," he said.
“But this year, with this risk, we simply cannot continue to do that.”
The Stampede and other events that are held on the grounds contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy and officials said that vendors will be hit hard. The organization that puts on the Stampede laid off most of its staff last month, as other large events on the Stampede grounds were forced to cancel.
Mr. Peers declined to speculate on the financial impact to the organization.
Alberta has been suffering under a downturn that began when oil prices collapsed in 2014, and in the years since, unemployment has increased and the city’s downtown office towers have been hollowed out. The shutdowns linked to the pandemic and a recent Russia-Saudi price war that sent prices tumbling to historic lows have made things worse.
Edmonton’s annual fair, K-Days, announced its cancellation earlier on Thursday. That event was scheduled to begin on July 17. The Calgary Folk Music Festival cancelled its July event on Thursday, while the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, which was scheduled for August, had already scrapped this year’s plans.
Other large fairs have been weighing their options, though events such as the Pacific National Exhibition Fair in Vancouver and the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto are not scheduled until later in the summer.
The Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions has called on the federal government to step in with aid for the industry, which is largely run by non-profit organizations and agricultural societies.
Heritage Canada has said the department will continue issuing grants for cultural and sports events, including to help cover the costs associated with pandemic-related cancellations.
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