Most years across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, the spring and summer are filled with rodeo events over the weekend. In 2020, rodeos all across Canada were cancelled due to Covid-19.
For the first time in over 100 years, the Calgary Stampede was cancelled as a result of the pandemic, but for the time being it’s set to take place in 2021. Along with the Stampede, other rodeos could be back this year, too.
The Canadian Cowboys Association is Canada’s largest semi-pro and pro rodeo association and has been around since 1963, promoting rodeos—it consists of 900 members. It sanctions events across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia—including seven major events and five optional, novice, and junior events per year—and draws over 850,000 spectators from the Western U.S., Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and all over Canada.
In 2020, it had to cancel its entire slate of events—the Canadian Cowboys Association sanctions over 50 rodeo events in prairie communities. Every fall it hosts its Championship Finals in Swift Current and has thousands of spectators.
The unknowns around what comes next with the pandemic and provincial guidelines will mean nothing is set in stone, but the Canadian Cowboys Association is preparing as if there will be a season and remains hopeful events can run, even if they’re at a lesser extent.
“We’re being hopeful that rodeos will happen this year and what we’re looking at is if rodeos will be able to run as outdoor events with spectators,” said Lenora Bells of the Canadian Cowboys Association. “With the rodeos that are indoors, we’re looking at the possibility of switching them to outdoors so that they can have spectators.
“This is all of course only if the Covid-19 guidelines will allow us to hold these outdoors. We’re being cautiously optimistic. We’ve been in touch with our rodeo communities—we have about 50 of them—and we’ve been communicating with the committees that are in charge of the rodeo events.
“About half of them have gotten back to us that they plan to go ahead with an outdoor venue as long as they can have at least 100 spectators and they’re hoping that the government and the health authority will look into increasing that. We’re just hoping that there will be more flexibility for the outdoor events.
“Right now the decision for the seven months is coming from the health authority hopefully before the end of February and we’ll go from there. I know that the communities, and even us as an association, are looking at our partnerships and sponsorships in anticipation of rodeos going ahead and we’re also planning to go ahead with the finals in October in Swift Current.”
The importance of rodeo events across communities in the prairies cannot be underestimated, they help the local economy by driving more business into town.
Bells says they’re working to ensure all communities are able to host some sort of event as long as the guidelines allow and they’re ready to adjust venues and shift dates if need be.
“Our board has met a couple times already over this and we just continue to plan for having rodeos,” she said.
“It would be great to have all of them happen. We have two that happen in April that are indoors and they’re looking at just rescheduling to a different date later in the summer.
“So there might be some rescheduling happening too so the communities can have rodeos and some kind of festival to gather the community together. They’re definitely big for these communities—our subcontractors, our judges, our pickup men, our secretaries, everybody is just chomping at the bit to get out there.”
Bells thinks it’s important for the Canadian Cowboys Association to try and do something this year if they’re able to because even if it’s a smaller rodeo, it’s better than nothing and people haven’t been able to look forward to local events in a long time. She says some communities have even begun prepping for their yearly rodeo as they remain hopeful the spring and summer will bring a safer atmosphere.
“Some of the communities are already selling, not tickets to the rodeo, but they’re having fundraisers,” she said. “Some of the communities are doing that where you can buy a raffle ticket and win something. I know some communities are starting to do that. We’re keeping in touch with the communities and we have social media to keep up with.
“We encourage all our communities and members to follow our social media—we have over 600 cowgirl and cowboy members, subcontractors, etc.—and this can keep everybody up to date. So we encourage everybody to keep an eye on that and continue to be optimistic that even if it’s at a smaller scale, we can still plan on something happening. Everybody is ready to get together, but in a safe way so that’s what we’re figuring out.”
It’s not an easy task for the Canadian Cowboys Association to plan rodeos and guide communities in four different provinces through this because of the unknowns ahead. There’s a few months until the season begins, but there’s no way of knowing what travel restrictions and numbers for gatherings will look like for each province.
Still, Bells doesn’t think it would do any good to wait around to hear what they might be able to do in the coming months, they’d rather plan and ensure if they can do something then they will. She says for those in the rodeo community, communication is key as they move forward and encourages people to stay osted for updates through their social media channels.
“What we’re doing is planning like we’re having a season so the planning process is happening,” she said.
“For the dates of the rodeos, we’ll be going from last season’s dates—which now would be the 2019 dates—we’ll be posting those again on our website so people can see where the rodeos might be happening. If people want to look at that previous schedule, they can judge where and when rodeos might be happening.”