'Back in the saddle': 2022 Calgary Stampede winds down with near pre-pandemic numbers

The 2022 Calgary Stampede wrapped up Sunday, and numbers show the first full event since 2019 reached near pre-pandemic attendance levels. 

Overall attendance expected to exceed 1.2 million, says Stampede CEO

Zeke Thurston, of Big Valley, Alta., rides during saddle bronc rodeo action at the Calgary Stampede on July 8. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The 2022 Calgary Stampede wrapped up Sunday, and numbers show the first full event since 2019 reached near pre-pandemic attendance levels. 

Steve McDonough, president and chairman of the Stampede board, said the parade led by actor Kevin Costner on July 8 brought in more than 305,122 spectators. McDonough said it was one of the highest attended parades in Stampede history. 

"I think it's fair to say Stampede in Calgary is back in the saddle," he said.

McDonough also said this year's event broke a daily attendance record for opening day, with 130,177 visitors on July 8. 

After nine days, about 1.109 million people visited the Stampede, CEO Joel Cowley said at a news briefing Sunday morning. 

And final figures released online Monday indicated that 1.2 million people attended this year's Stampede. 

A scaled back Stampede last year attracted nearly 529,000 people. 

The Stampede drew in 1,275,465 visitors in 2019 and 1,271,241 in 2018. The 2019 edition was the second-highest attended Calgary Stampede since 2012, when the festival celebrated its 100th year.

'Multi-year recovery'

Cowley said surveys conducted at Stampede Park show that nearly 30 per cent of visitors this year came from outside of Calgary, which mirrors 2019 numbers.

"That's incredibly important from an economic impact standpoint," he said.

According to Cowley, the Calgary Hotel Association saw an almost 90 per cent occupancy rate during the Stampede.

Joel Cowley, Calgary Stampede CEO, says nearly 30 per cent of visitors to this year's Stampede came from outside of Calgary. (Helen Pike/CBC)

This upward economic turn is a good sign for the festival, according to Cowley. The last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic meant a complete cancellation of the Stampede in 2020 and a scaled-down version in 2021. Cowley said that in 2020, the organization posted a $26 million loss, and 2021 saw an $8.3 million loss. 

"This will be a multi-year recovery for the organization to get back to where we were prior to the pandemic, but 2022 allows us to turn the corner."

Chuckwagon driver replaced Sunday night

This year's festival featured some changes from pre-pandemic times. 

The Stampede powwow, which is usually held each year at the Elbow River Camp, was moved to the Saddledome to allow for bigger crowds.

Dancers perform during the Calgary Stampede Powwow on July 12. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Chuckwagon races also saw new safety measures implemented. In previous years, four wagons would compete in each heat, but that was decreased to three at this year's Stampede. Custom-built delineator arms were also added to the track to create a buffer between the wagons and the rails.

Despite the safety measures, one horse died after being injured in the Rangeland Derby chuckwagon races last Thursday. The horse belonged to driver Cody Ridsdale's team. 

Ridsdale was also among three people who were injured after a vehicle ran into several people outside Ranchman's bar in Calgary on Saturday morning. 

Ridsdale is out of hospital but will not be driving on Sunday night, said Kristen Anderson, the Stampede's manager of communications and media relations, in an email to CBC News.

Anderson said driver Chanse Vigen will take Ridsdale's place in tonight's race.

CBC News has reached out to Ridsdale's family but has not yet heard back.

With files from Helen Pike


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