Flood-damaged Stampede grounds get ready to open

Last-minute preparations for the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" are underway in Calgary after the Stampede grounds were ravaged by floodwaters more than a week ago.

Crews work under pressure to prepare for Stampede Sneak-a-Peek in Calgary

Left: Calgary Stampede, Alta., September 2008 (Google) | Right: June 21, 2013 (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Last-minute preparations for the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" are underway in Calgary after the Stampede grounds were ravaged by floodwaters more than a week ago.

Now in the final hours before the Stampede Sneak-a-Peek gets underway, preparations at the park look a lot like any other year.

"I think the people that come down to the Stampede this year are really going to want to celebrate the community that is Calgary," said Stampede spokesman Kurt Kadatz. 

Those working behind the scenes say the cleanup accomplished at the Stampede grounds after it was covered with muddy floodwaters shows how much Calgarians have riding on the event, including the rodeo.

"I actually think that we're going to have record crowds this year because people want to see how well things have been cleaned up from the flooding," said Stampede worker Don Smith.

"It's just extraordinary, because the amount of sludge and crud that was everywhere, and you can’t even tell there was a flood here now."

But at least 40,000 people who bought Saddledome concert tickets will now be changing their plans after the building suffered extensive flood damage.

"We're anticipating that many of those folks will still come down to the park, because certainly their ticket does guarantee them access on the day that concert was scheduled," said Kadatz, adding the concerts will be rescheduled.

Demand still high

The Calgary Hotel Association said bookings across the city are down five per cent from last year when the Stampede held its centennial celebration.

Hell or High Water

Stampede president Bob Thompson announced after flooding hit Calgary that the Stampede would run as scheduled from July 5-14 "come hell or high water." 

The phrase first appeared in social media, then took off on Stampede flood relief T-shirts and will be featured in song at this year's Grandstand Show.

The Stampede says the flood-relief T-shirts raised more than $500,000 for the Red Cross by July 1. 

Based on the demand, the Stampede has also released "Heck or High Water" T-shirts as a kid-friendly option.  

Palliser spokesman David Woodward said there has only been a handful of concert-related cancellations at the historic downtown hotel, including Carly Rae Jepson.

"There's enough demand in the city that even though those concerts were cancelled ... and some of those attendees decided not to travel to Calgary, there's enough other interest in the Stampede itself to replace that business in the downtown hotels," said Woodward.

Stampede officials said they've been able to wrangle most events into other locations — other than the Saddledome concerts — but the cutting horse competition on Monday has been cancelled. Kadatz said they moved some of the agricultural programming planned for the Saddledome to other areas around the Stampede grounds.

There will also be no handicap accessibility or ground-floor access to the Big Four Building, which hosts the popular SuperDogs show.

"So really a fairly small impact for the number of events that have been adjusted," said Kadatz.

CBC will also be holding a Back in the Saddle Block Party all day Thursday to raise money for flood recovery and a rebuilding fund with a Stampede breakfast starting at 6 a.m. MT in the CBC parking lot just off Memorial Drive in the city's northwest.