The clock is ticking for organizers of some of Calgary’s biggest summer festivals as they try to determine if they’ll be able to host their events this year amid COVID-19.
Last summer, the pandemic forced organizers to cancel the Calgary Stampede for the first time in its 108-year history.
This year, the Calgary Stampede will be going ahead.
“Stampede 2021 might look different — but what’s important is how it makes you feel,” communications manager Kristina Barnes said.
“We’re continuing to plan for the best and safest Stampede possible in 2021, of course, that means making sure there’s lots of flexibility so we can adapt our operations depending on the circumstances in July.
“The Stampede is challenging in that it doesn’t fit in one certain category. We have food services, restaurants, retail, rides, music — all of those different aspects, so we’re having to look at it in a unique way and working very closely with the government and AHS because of that.”
Barnes said organizers are looking at what was possible last year and what might be possible this year.
“We certainly have a lot of great teams making sure that we have those iconic parts of our celebration — that great Stampede feeling — and making sure it is a celebration that is safe for our community.
“Our planning includes the iconic aspects of Stampede — the animals, the music, the rides and the food.”
On Tuesday’s public COVID-19 briefing, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw were asked when organizers should know if they can move forward with in-person summer events.
“We do appreciate that events don’t get planned overnight — it takes many months for the large festivals that happen over a summer,” Shandro said.
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“We are doing our best to make sure we are providing a path forward for Albertans,” Shandro added. “But we still can’t know yet what our case count might be in the coming months.”
Hinshaw said that a lot rides on vaccines and how much of our population get inoculated.
“As additional vaccines are approved for use in Canada and as we see our supply of vaccines starting to increase, one of the absolutely critical factors in being able to consider having larger events this summer will be the number of people who we are able to offer a vaccine to and the number of people who accept that offer.”
“The more Albertans who are taking us up on that offer when they’re eligible, the more able we’ll be able to consider moving this summer — again, depending on timelines and vaccine availability — into potentially allowing some festivals that we weren’t able to last summer.”
Already, there are some who have been forced to cancel their events amid the ongoing uncertainty.
On Monday, Spruce Meadows announced it was cancelling its historic summer showjumping series for the second year in a row.
The equestrian and soccer facility in Calgary draws dozens of the world’s top riders to its annual summer and fall tournaments, but those competitions were wiped out in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The summer series is four tournaments over five weeks starting in June, and would have been important preparation for international riders for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo starting in July.
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Spruce Meadows is working with Equestrian Canada and the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI), to rework the September series to include the Nations Cup competition traditionally held in the summer series.
Right now, several other well-known events are still scheduled to take place this summer including Calgary Folk Fest, Beakerhead and GlobalFest.
In a statement sent to Global News in January, Beakerhead’s director of marketing Kendra Desmarais said the pandemic and health protocols “certainly create some challenges when it comes to booking presenters and artists, organizing venues and determining production details.”
“Beakerhead is considering a number of options and scenarios for 2021 and planning is underway.”
GlobalFest’s marketing and communications manager, meanwhile, said they hope the event can go forward provided it can be done safely.
“In the case that in-person events are not able to proceed, we are continuing along with the virtual programming that we launched via our YouTube channel last year,” Olwen Bell said in a January email.
“Like many festivals and tourism activities, COVID-19 has a very significant impact on what we do,” Bell added.
“GlobalFest works with a couple dozen different vendors, food trucks and cultural associations, who are all missing out on the community connection that festivals provide. Hundreds of performers are not getting the chance to share their cultural dance and music.
“Immersive experiences can’t be completely replaced by online content.”
— with files from Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press