Jacobs Crawley, of Boerne, Texas, comes off Little Muffin during saddle bronc rodeo finals action at the Calgary Stampede in 2017 which is always billed as "the greatest outdoor show on Earth" The Stampede's attendance has averaged one million visitors in recent years. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” plans for 2021

While such major international summer events such as the Tokyo Olympics are in danger of being postponed again this year due to COVID-19, in Canada the event that bills itself as the ‘greatest outdoor show on Earth’ is looking into how a revised version may be held this summer.

Canada’s Calgary Stampede is one of the biggest annual events in Canada and indeed in all North America.

The winning poster design for the (hopefully) 2021 edition of the Calgary Stampede. The design was created by 22-year-old Calgary artist Lexi Hilderman, and features a young Indigenous dancer with rainbow ribbons flowing from her regalia, inspired by the image of Katari Righthand from the Siksika First Nation. Hilderman says it’s meant to symbolize the passing of the storm and recognize resiliency and optimism. (Calgary Stampede)

A mid-summer celebration of ‘western’ cowboy life and culture, it has its roots in an 1886 agricultural fair, with the rodeo sports added in 1912 along with the name “stampede”.  The agricultural event continued through the war, albeit scaled down and in 1915 featured military type exhibitions, parades and tattoos, and was known as the “khaki fair”.  Post-war the “Victory Stampede” was held in 1919 to honour returning veterans. After a hiatus of three years, a merger with the Calgary Industrial Exhibition in 1923 resulted in the annual event. The depression didn’t stop the event, nor did the Second World War.

The first Calgary Stampede took place in 1912. From 1923 onward, it has been an annual event in Calgary and has been its biggest summer event ever since, and one of the biggest in Canada, and one of the richest rodeo events in all of North America (John Gibson/CBC)

Since then with midway, big name entertainers, a variety of cultural and other exhibits and judging contests,  it has grown to become one of the world’s richest prize rodeo events. With over a million visitors on average it contributes some $282 million to the local economy with more than double that amount to the provincial economy.

While the Stampede has grown widely in its entertainment and cultural offerings, traditional cowboy skills and rodeo remain the focus (file CP)

A major flood of the city in 2013 did not stop the event, but in 2020 the Stampede, and virtually every type of event, fair, or gathering of any type across Canada, was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Since then the Stampede organization has been struggling financially as not only revenue from the Stampede itself was lost, but also that from over 1,000 other events staged annually at Stampede Park.

Even as COVID numbers are showing an increase, discussions are being held as to how the event or a modified and likely scaled-down version, could be held this summer.

The very popular opening parade through downtown features a huge variety of horses, people, marching bands, floats, antique vehicles including farm tractors and more, With social distancing requirements due to COVID, it’s not known if the parade could be held, or in what form if the 2021 event goes ahead (CBC)

Organisers are planning for at least three different scenarios for a potential 2021 event.

An official said one advantage is the physical size of Stampede Park which covers 80 hectares. This could allow for greater spacing of events and people in a revised layout which uses the space differently to meet with any health requirements related to the virus.  As well, Stampede president Dana Peers says the arrival of vaccines may help in allowing the event to proceed.

A decision on the international event is expected sometime in March with the added hope that the 2022 event will be a return to a new and full-scale Stampede.

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