There was tentative optimism Thursday night following the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon canvas auction, considered an economic bellwether for the oilpatch.

The annual event raised $2.4 million, a notch above the $2.3 million pledged last year, when Alberta was deep within the throes of the crash in crude prices.

"We're starting to see the economy come around and this is very positive news as we start to enter into our ad campaigns and our launch," said Dave Sibbald, president of the Calgary Stampede board of directors.

Still, the auction results were far off the record year of 2012, when bidders pledged just over $4 million at a time when oil prices were hovering above US$100 per barrel, more than double what they're trading for now.

"I said if we raised the same amount of money as last year we'd be very lucky, because I think a lot of companies even this time last year were just thinking it would be short-lived," said Kelly Sutherland, a 12-time racing champion whose chuckwagon drew the top bid of $110,000.

Stampede Chuckwagon Auction 20170323

World Champion chuckwagon driver Kelly Sutherland reacts after he was auctioned off during the annual Calgary Stampede Canvas Auction where businesses bid on sponsoring a chuckwagon driver for the upcoming Calgary Stampede. (Todd Korol/Canadian Press)

"To me, it's 2018 and 2019 before we turn the corner."

Driver Jason Glass bought the rights to advertise on his own chuckwagon for $95,000, the same price he paid last year, and said he plans to resell it to a group of advertisers who will split up the rights.

"With the economy, everyone is struggling," Glass said.

"They're cutting corners and trying to take care of their families and their business. It is what it is. You can't sugarcoat what's going on in Western Canada."

The auction gives bidders the right to advertise on tarps on the 36 chuckwagons that compete at the Calgary Stampede, which is scheduled to run from July 7-16.