Calgary Stampede kicks off with annual parade, enhanced safety measures
COVID-19 cancelled Stampede last year, for the first time in almost a century
The rides are up, the stuffed animals are displayed at the games tables and concession booths are loaded with supplies.
Forced by the COVID-19 pandemic to cancel last year — for the first time in almost a century — the Calgary Stampede has returned.
The setup may look familiar, but due to COVID-19, there are some notable changes to the 10-day celebration of cowboy life.
The walkways are wider, there are markers showing proper spacing in lineups and fewer rides.
"We wanted to spread this out, create more social-distancing space, so we brought less rides to achieve that goal," said Scooter (Greg) Korek, vice-president of client services for North American Midway Entertainment.
"The rides that we didn't bring were maybe some of our less popular attractions. We brought all the fan favourites."
Including the ones that cause some riders to throw up?
"Absolutely," Korek said. "That's our core business."
New safety measures adopted by the Stampede include cutting daily attendance in half, sanitation stations for the public and enhanced cleaning throughout the grounds. Staff and volunteers are required to wear masks and get COVID-19 rapid tests.
The chuckwagon races aren't being held and the parade to kick off the Stampede is confined to the grounds without the public in attendance.
WATCH | Get a glimpse of what the Calgary Stampede will look like this year:
"What I would say is people need to guide themselves with their own level of comfort. But certainly, we feel very confident that we have created an excellent environment here for people to come in and enjoy themselves," said Stampede vice-president Jim Laurendeau.
Korek said Calgary is the first stop in Canada and the entire midway's staff had to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival. The midway brings with it a full cleaning crew and everyone knows how to keep things sanitized and safe, he said.
"We started in March [with] our pandemic program, which is pretty extensive: social distancing, mask and gloves. We got really, really good at it."
A Stampede breakfast was held Friday morning in Calgary's northeast at the Northgate Village Shopping Centre, in the parking lot.
A vaccination clinic was available in the shopping centre for those in need of their first or second vaccination shots.
"If they can come for a breakfast and have a pancake and then go and get their vaccine shot — and it's not just for newcomers it's for the community at large," Harry Yee, chief operating officer at the Centre for Newcomers, told CBC News.
WATCH | A Stampede breakfast next to a vaccine clinic offers a poke and a pancake:
The event was hosted by the Centre for Newcomers in collaboration with the Calgary Stampede, 19 to Zero, and Alberta Health Services.
Nathan Bensler, with 19 to Zero, a group combating vaccine hesitancy, was there to help encourage people to get the shot.
"When we're encouraging vaccine uptake, we're noticing people say, 'I would go get the vaccine right now but we haven't had that clinic before,' so today we do have the clinic right across the parking lot," he said.
Parade kicks off
Friday marks the 109th edition of the Calgary Stampede parade.
According to the organization, the parade will have 60 entries,150 horses, two bands and eight floats.
This year's parade marshal will be Katari Right Hand, a 17-year-old fancy dancer from the Siksika First Nation east of Calgary.
Naheed Nenshi will be part of the parade for the last time as Calgary's mayor, after announcing he won't be seeking re-election in April.
While there will be no in-person spectators this year, local media will be broadcasting the parade so Calgarians can watch from the comfort of their homes.
With files from CBC