Cowboys, performances, the midway and flipping pancakes are all but guaranteed to be returning to downtown Calgary for the Stampede this year, but one key part of the celebrations will be missing.
According to Premier Jason Kenney, who revealed the province’s three-stage plan for reopening for summer on Wednesday, there won’t be a permit for the typical celebratory start to the fanfare this year.
“I think Mayor (Naheed) Nenshi told me that there won’t be a permit for the Calgary Stampede Parade — that maybe instead, Stampede will have a scaled-down parade on the Stampede grounds,” Kenney said.
However, with COVID-19 public health restrictions set to start relaxing in a matter of days, Kenney said he fully expects to see “as much Stampede as the community can put on” in just a few short weeks.
Two weeks ago, the Calgary Stampede said it was working with Alberta Health Services toward hosting a successful event with an emphasis on physical distancing to keep visitors safe.
Earlier this week, North American Midway Entertainment, the company behind the rides that light up the midway each year, also confirmed it would be bringing rides and roughly 250 staff who were given temporary work visas for this summer’s event.
On Wednesday, Kenney said by early July, the province should be in Stage 3 of its reopening plan, meaning “almost all the health restrictions will be gone.” The 2021 Stampede is planned for July 9 to 18.
He expects pancake breakfasts, rodeos and event tents like Cowboys and Nashville North will be back at the grounds during those 10 days.
“If we hit these targets as we think we will, it will all be possible,” Kenney said, adding that timing may be the only issue when it comes to planning and booking talent for shows.
“I just said to my staff last night, knowing where we were going with today’s announcement: let’s think about doing a premier’s pancake breakfast,” he said. “We hadn’t planned on it, but let’s see if we can put one together in a few weeks time.”
Kenney encouraged other community groups to plan their own pancake breakfasts and other events usually put off during Stampede.
“We’re now in the position to give people this degree of certainty so they can plan,” he said. “I do know there will be a rodeo at the very least because we worked with the feds to get… relaxations on quarantine requirements for foreign rodeo performers that are going to be headed north.
“The bottom line is this: Conklin is coming, as I understand it, for the midway. Cowboys are coming for the rodeo. I’m sure the Young Canadians and all of the local performers are geared up.
“In terms of public health restrictions, I fully anticipate we’ll have as much Stampede as the community can put on.”
Kenney said public health officials have been working with various large event organizers, including the Calgary Stampede, for several weeks, looking at various contingency plans and guidelines depending on how things progressed with regards to cases and hospitalizations.
Speaking to Global News on Wednesday, Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health Dr. James Talbot said the plan for a nearly-normal Stampede could lead to a dramatic rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
“Can you imagine having the Calgary Stampede in all its glory, attracting people from all across Western Canada and the United States, having people mixing in bars with nothing in the way in restrictions, acquiring the virus and then going back and infecting their home communities?” he asked.
“That’s the kind of thing that can get an event a very bad reputation.
“They’re gambling on what will be guaranteed to be a superspreader event and two weeks after that, we’ll start to see an increase in the number of cases and four weeks after that, we may see pressures on the hospitals.”
In an emailed statement, Stampede spokesperson Kristina Barnes said organizers are “now working to determine the implications of today’s announcement and we expect that plans for Stampede 2021 will continue to evolve over the coming weeks.”
Barnes said the organization will continue to focus on putting on an event that’s safe for the community.
“We are extremely encouraged by the province’s open for summer plan, and celebrate our community’s commitment to safety in following the guidelines and stepping forward to get vaccinated.”
Barnes said the Stampede will likely have more information on this summer’s event on Thursday.