Rides are going up, concession stands are waiting, stuffed animals are on display at gaming tables, and the Calgary Stampede is eager to get underway Friday in its first return to full capacity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.
The 10-day celebration of cowboy life was canceled for the first time in its 112-year history in 2020.
It returned last year with a stripped-down version that included rapid COVID tests to get into some tents, a limit on the number of people who could be in Stampede Park and physical distancing guidelines.
Additionally, the popular chuckwagon races were canceled and the parade was held on the Stampede grounds with no spectators allowed.
That is not the case this year.
“Stampede is back. It’s been a rough couple of years for all of us, so you can feel the vibe here and we’re looking forward to the excitement,” said Steve McDonough, Stampede’s president and chairman of the board.
“It’s all back to what you know and love, but it’s even better. We’ve taken everything we learned from last year and redesigned the Calgary Stampede for the future – it’s ready to go.”
McDonough said the event is not meant to throw caution to the wind in the aftermath of COVID-19. He said there will still be hand sanitizing stations throughout the park, there will be places people can go to avoid crowds, and masks are optional for people who might be a little nervous.
“Last year people were very, very cautious. I don’t think we’re going to break any attendance records. Last year it was about 532,000 people,” he said.
“If we reach a million, I will be extremely happy.”
McDonough is relieved that Limited Stampede took place last year at a time when public events were unknown.
“We’re still going to shake off the rust and if we didn’t have the 2021 Calgary Stampede, it would have been a lot harder,” he said.
“We were the first major group and meeting in Canada. Our protocols were used by every other sports and fair meeting across Canada.”
Scooter (Greg) Korek, vice president of client services for North American Midway Entertainment, will make his 45th appearance on Stampede.
Growing up in Calgary, he joined the middle crowd as a teenager. He said that the return of regular fairs has been spectacular and began in Miami in March. It was most recently in Manitoba.
“I think there is some pent-up demand in the community and some of these fairs, in Manitoba, hadn’t been played since 2019 and we had a spectacular run and I expect nothing less here at Stampede,” he said. Korek, who is 62 years old.
“We’re putting the pandemic behind us and having a little fun.”
North American Midway Entertainment was forced to quarantine for two weeks last year before being allowed to settle in Calgary.
Korek said the design of the buffer zone will be a little different this year to accommodate the expansion taking place throughout the park. He said there are three new attractions this year, including Canada’s largest Ferris wheel.
The Calgary Stampede runs from Friday through July 17.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 7, 2022.