Saddledome unavailable for start of Stampede

CALGARY – Calgary Stampede organizers say some signature events this year have been cancelled because flood repairs to the Saddledome cannot be completed in time.

Stampede spokesman Kurt Kadatz says the Calgary Flames have informed Stampede officials that the building won’t be ready for the first five days of this year’s festival.

Kadatz says the hockey organization is busy making repairs to the building so it will be ready for the Stampede concert series, which will be held during the second half of the Stampede.

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He says the penning competition, which sees teams of riders separate three cattle from a herd, will be moved to the nearby community of Okotoks.

But other events like the horse cutting and the vintage tractor pull will be cancelled entirely.

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Record floodwaters filled the Saddledome up to the eighth row over a week ago, but days afterward, Stampede officials vowed this year’s event would go ahead “come hell or high water” beginning this coming Friday.

“I know the Flames are working really hard to deliver the Saddledome for us for the concert series,” Kadatz said Sunday.

Performers for the series include Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiss, The Dixie Chicks and Tim McGraw.

According to a posting on the Calgary Stampede website about the penning competition, no other suitable replacement on the Stampede site exists.

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“As you are no doubt aware by now, the recent catastrophic flooding in Calgary has caused extremely serious damage to the Saddledome,” the posting advises participants.

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“The fragile state of the flooring alone prohibits the heavy machinery and tons of dirt at this time, let alone the host of other major issues.”

The heavy horse show, which features Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire horses moving to music of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, will also have to move from the Saddledome into a large tent called The Big Top. The website says organizers are hoping to announce a modified schedule soon.

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Crews have pumped millions of litres of water from the rodeo grounds, scraped mud, torn out and replaced drywall and have been sanitizing surfaces in Stampede Park just southeast of downtown as the days tick down to the opening parade later this week.

Organizers and longtime Stampede volunteers say it’s important for the party and rodeo to go ahead this year.

“I think more Calgarians are going to go this year because they want to say they went this year, because they have Calgary pride,” said Cliff Steedman, a retiree who has been volunteering with the Calgary Stampede for three decades.

For the past few years, Steedman, who is 85, has been volunteering as a carpenter and built sets for cooking performances. Unfortunately, he said his son’s home was damaged by the flooding, so he’s busy helping with the cleanup and had to bow out of his Stampede duties this year.

Many other volunteers are still available, however, according to Stampede spokeswoman Jennifer Booth.

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Now that the water has been drained from the grounds, she said the area is surprisingly dusty. The rodeo infield and track have been dried out. Crews are tearing apart walls inside buildings, while outside, other crews are planting flowers.

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The midway rides have arrived and are being set up, Booth said.

Booth said the Stampede got a lucky break in that its electrical substation — essential for everything from amusement rides to concessions — was protected from water damage and is operational.

“It was very emotional to look at the Stampede park and to see the amount of water that was in there. I never thought that anything like this could ever happen … it was sombre,” Booth said.

“The only thing that can really pull you out of something like that is the positivity and the goal at the end of putting something on for the community.”

“We’re just very confident that the community needs the Calgary Stampede. We’re a big icon for Calgary and for Canadians.”

“Calgary Stampede has always been the heart and soul and the spirit of Calgary and this year it will be even more.”

Stampede T-Shirts are being sold with the “Hell or High Water” slogan on them and the proceeds are being donated to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Floods Fund.

Steedman predicts the obstacles will be overcome and the show will go on.

“I’m going to go. Everybody’s going to go. Everybody who goes to Stampede every is going to go this year. They’re going to make it,” he said.


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