The so-called Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is set to go ahead in July with several changes to adapt to COVID-19 health measures, and without the widely popular chuckwagon races.
The Calgary Stampede said Thursday that the Rangeland Derby would not be going ahead this year due to a cancelled chuckwagon season in 2020 and 2021. However, Stampede officials expect the races to return in 2022.
The Grandstand Show will also undergo changes this year and will feature rodeo events, live music, the Young Canadians and fireworks.
The show has been rebranded as the “Evening Show” and was originally supposed to feature local country singer Paul Brandt, who will not be participating this year.
According to the latest update, the 2021 Calgary Stampede will feature the rodeo, the midway, Elbow River Camp, live music at Nashville North and The Big Four Roadhouse, BMO Market, Western Showcase, agriculture showcases and competitions.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic still a factor in the weeks leading up to the July event, there are several safety measures to be in effect and others still in consideration.
“It still will be a different Stampede than we’ve had in the past, there will continue to be safety measures in place,” Calgary Stampede spokesperson Kristina Barnes told Global News.
“Expect fewer people, things laid out differently — we will continue to move forward with those plans.”
Stampede officials said they’re expecting to introduce pre-purchased park entry to avoid large crowds at the gates, as well as capacity limits within the Grandstand and other shows.
Planning for the Stampede has proven challenging for organizers, Barnes said, as Alberta’s provincial health measures are set to change through the evolving COVID-19 situation in the province, and thresholds set for the province’s reopening strategy.
According to the province, the third stage of the reopening plan would take effect two weeks after at least 70 per cent of the population over the age of 12 had one dose of the vaccine. Provincial estimates show that third stage, which includes an easing of the majority of current health measures, could begin nine days before the Stampede is scheduled to begin.
“Planning a Stampede takes a year. We’ve come to this point and our teams, employees and volunteers have worked incredibly hard ensuring that we have plans in place that can flex and adapt depending on the situation,” Barnes said.
“As we move forward through June, we’ll continue to have those plans flex and adapt to where we’re at in July.”
Calgary’s mayor is urging people to remain cautious and get their vaccine to help move the reopening forward.
Naheed Nenshi, who also sits on the Stampede Board, told reporters on Thursday that there is a risk moving forward with the Calgary Stampede during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that risk will be rewarded if all goes according to plan.
“Based on what we’re looking at with infection, hospitalization, vaccination rates, five weeks from now will look very different than today,” Nenshi said. “The wait, as long as the numbers keep on the trajectories they’re are now, then the reward outweighs the risk.”
Nenshi added that the city has a chance to be a national leader in what life could be life post-pandemic.
“The Stampede will be the first major event in Canada to move forward since the COVID(-19) crisis,” Nenshi said. “That is a responsibility we don’t take in any way lightly.”
Changes to the provincial reopening plan are expected to be a guide for Stampede organizers, Barnes said.
The planning will be key for some attractions such as Nashville North, which is currently being set up near the Grandstand due to ongoing construction of the BMO expansion project.
According to Barnes, the popular event tent will possibly be a much more controlled environment this year with tables seated at a distance similar to a restaurant or bar.
“As we move through those phases, experiences like Nashville North will also flex and change,” Barnes said.
Details remain scarce about other popular traditions like the Stampede Parade, which may still go ahead this year.
Premier Jason Kenney has alluded to the City of Calgary not granting the Stampede a permit for the kickstart to the event.
Nenshi said Thursday that it most likely won’t be through the streets of downtown Calgary due to challenges with controlling how many people can attend.
“I did tell the premier that the the one thing that we really don’t see working is a traditional parade in the way that we’ve done that through public streets downtown,” Nenshi said. “The way it has been done for so many years just didn’t feel right at this time.
“It didn’t feel like we could keep people safe. In particular, young children who do not have the ability to be vaccinated are a huge portion of the audience for the parade.”
Nenshi said details on the parade and other Stampede attractions will be released in the coming days and weeks.
Medical experts believe the Stampede going ahead safely is a possibility, but remain cautious about the risk with many people attending with only one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’m somewhat anxious about it myself. I think if people are fully immunized or at least partially immunized and taking reasonable precautions, that would certainly help,” said infectious diseases expert Dr. Lynora Saxinger.
“I think I would wait a little bit longer on that until we have higher vaccine coverage and maybe more understanding on how much risk those events pose.”
Organizers said thousands of local jobseekers, vendors, performers and artists are looking forward to this year’s Stampede.
The hope, Stampede officials said, is to make the event the Greatest and Safest Outdoor Show on Earth.