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2020 Calgary Stampede cancelled for first time in over 100 years amid COVID-19

What the cancellation of the 2020 Stampede means for Calgary
The 2020 Calgary Stampede has been cancelled due to COVID-19. Michael King looks at just how that will impact the city.

Officials with the Calgary Stampede announced on Thursday the 2020 event has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, marking the first time in 100 years the event wouldn’t be held.

“As a community celebration, the cancellation of our annual event comes with our community and public health and safety front of mind,” President and Chairman of the Board of the Calgary Stampede, Dana Peers said.

“It’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, appearing sad about this latest development in the crisis response, said “this one is tough.”

Cancellation of 2020 Calgary Stampede another hit for economy
Cancellation of 2020 Calgary Stampede another hit for economy

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 2020 Calgary Folk Music Festival cancelled

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He referenced the 2013 Stampede, held just weeks after intense flooding devastated much of the city and surrounding area, and how it gave the community a “piece of, ‘Yeah, we’re going to be OK,’ during the uncertainty.

“This pandemic, this virus, this response, is something that is impacting every single one of us in the world,” Nenshi said.

“And that which makes us special, that community spirit… is being sorely tested.”

“But somehow, by being apart, the best way to show our community spirit and our togetherness is to be apart. Is to look after one another with all of this.”

Calgarians had been questioning whether the Calgary Stampede would go ahead this year given restrictions put in place which limit large gatherings and encourage social distancing.

Calgary Stampede president on decision to cancel 2020 event
Calgary Stampede president on decision to cancel 2020 event

READ MORE: Calgary Stampede lays off 80% of workforce due to COVID-19

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Recently, the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) announced that the City of Calgary had made the decision to cancel all public events up to June 30.

The 2020 Calgary Stampede was set to officially begin just three days later on July 3 with the annual Stampede parade and run until July 12. The Stampede grounds are typically open the evening before the parade for sneak-a-peek.

Nenshi says Stampede has put the ‘community first’ by cancelling 2020 edition
Nenshi says Stampede has put the ‘community first’ by cancelling 2020 edition

Nenshi, who sits on the board of the Calgary Stampede, said board members and management “struggled mightily” with the decision, but ultimately made the decision to put the community first, a decision that’s fully backed by the City of Calgary.

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“We all know it, we all get it, that it’s the right thing to do. But to stand here and to say that there will be no Stampede for the first time in 97 years — well that’s very, very, very tough,” he said.

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Large financial impact

According to Nenshi, Calgary is due to be one of the hardest hit Canadian cities when the pandemic is over, due to what he called a “triple whammy” of bad circumstances.

“The triple whammy is the public health impact, the global recession that’s been brought on by the virus, and the never before seen challenges in the energy sector, in oil and gas,” he said.

READ MORE: What do negative oil prices mean for Alberta and Canada’s economy?

Nenshi said all of the biggest drivers of the city’s economy — oil and gas, retail and travel and tourism — are being hard hit by the pandemic response, and that higher levels of government need to “think about Calgary differently.”

“That one-size-fits-all programs to help cities recover will not help Calgary recover,” he said. “Calgary will actually require additional assistance, because we certainly will be hit harder than any other city in Canada.”

Peers acknowledged that the cancellation of the event will impact the many local Calgary businesses that make up the greater Stampede, which include hotels, restaurants, vendors, ride-sharing services, and more.

“We know how much the loss of this year’s event will mean financially for them,” he said.

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He said right now, there were no plans on the Stampede’s end to launch any kind of support program for affected businesses.

“At this point in time, we find ourselves all in this position of having challenges ahead of ourselves and we all will, I hope, come through this together and be stronger in the future,” he said.

Nenshi says Calgary will be hardest hit city from pandemic
Nenshi says Calgary will be hardest hit city from pandemic

Peers said the Stampede didn’t have major event cancellation insurance, and said it was “difficult… at this stage in the process” to comment on what kinds of costs might be associated with cancelling the event.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, the Calgary Stampede as a whole — which operates year-round outside the main summer celebration — contributes about $540 million to Alberta’s economy each year. Peers said it contributes about $700 million to the Canadian economy annually.

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READ MORE: Could Edmonton reopen before other parts of Alberta due to promising COVID-19 data?

During the 10-day main event, the 2019 Calgary Stampede resulted in a $227.4-million boost to the city’s economy and a $282.5-million boost to the Alberta economy.

There are also thousands of direct and indirect jobs created by the annual event.

“Many of the businesses make their profit during the Stampede, and so for all those small business owners and all those individuals involved in Stampede … This is a tough moment,” Tourism Calgary CEO Cindy Ady said.

Along with local businesses, the cancellation of the 2020 Calgary Stampede will be tough on many charities who rely on fundraising efforts during the 10-day event.

Speaking to Global News on Thursday evening, Chas Filipski from the Rotary Club of Calgary at Stampede Park said the loss of money they would have generated during the event is “going to be a challenge.”

“Our primary focus [at the Stampede] is to raise funds through the sale of tickets for the [Stampede Rotary] Dream Home,” Filipski said. “As a club, we offer our services free of charge to sell those tickets on the grounds for the 10-day duration of the Calgary Stampede.
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“For some context, it provided about two-thirds of our overall budget, which was just over $1 million last year.

“Obviously you can’t replace that kind of money through savings because our job is to give the money back into the community … Obviously the main concern is the smaller entities that rely on us on a yearly basis for some sort of help, and that’s where we’ve got to find new ways to help the community.”

Rodeo athletes feeling financial pinch without Calgary Stampede
Rodeo athletes feeling financial pinch without Calgary Stampede

Past and future

The Calgary Stampede has been around for 108 years and as Peers said, it’s been a presence through two world wars, the Great Depression and the 2013 flood.

“I promise you, this does not mean the end of Stampede spirit, this year or in years to come,” Peers said.

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Officials celebrated the centennial Stampede in 2012 with a record 1,409,371 people passing through the gates.

Even during the Second World War, the Stampede went ahead with soldiers and members of the military serving as parade marshals.

Stampede will continue to plan for 2021
Stampede will continue to plan for 2021

Peers said management and the board are now shifting their focus to events at Stampede Park in the fall, winter and spring and looking forward to planning and hosting the 2021 Calgary Stampede.

In Edmonton, the 2020 K-Days festival — which is held after the Stampede — has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Mass gathering restriction will remain in Alberta for summer: Hinshaw

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On Thursday, Alberta Health announced 319 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 3,720. Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, also said the province’s ban on mass gatherings of more than 15 people would extend through the summer.

Worldwide, the virus has infected over 2.5 million people, according to the World Health Organization, and caused over 175,000 deaths.

Along with the Stampede, other world-famous events like Spain’s running of the bulls and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were also cancelled.