Cancelling the Manitoba Stampede is a gut-punch to the small town of Morris, Manitoba — and this year, the hits just keep on coming.
“It’s a very important part of our community identity,” says Morris Mayor Scott Crick. “It’s so beneficial for the community.”
In a ‘normal’ year, calling off the town’s biggest event would have been a blow, but this year the town and its business are already hurting, said Crick. COVID-19 has shuttered businesses, taken jobs, and — very important to a town along a major highway — sharply reduced traffic through the community.
Why it matters: Cancelling rodeos means loss of income for competitors, agricultural societies, vendors, musicians, exhibitors, and the many businesses that feed and accommodate rodeo visitors.
Valley Agricultural Society, which organizes the Manitoba Stampede, announced April 21 that it was cancelling the rodeo and accompanying fair for public safety reasons related to COVID-19. It also cancelled other events at the rodeo grounds.
Between 28,000 and 30,000 people come through the gates during the five-day event — not to mention exhibitors, musicians, vendors and rodeo competitors, said Norm Gauthier, president of the Valley Agricultural Society. Many of these folks visit local hotels, campgrounds, restaurants and businesses.
“It’s definitely a hard decision,” Gauthier said.
It will also be a blow to competitors for whom rodeo is their livelihood and may compete in more than one show per weekend, he said.
“For them it’s a huge loss,” Gauthier said.
The closure comes as many other rodeos were also announcing they were cancelled. The Calgary Stampede announced it was cancelled on April 23.
The Calgary Herald reported this was the first time the event was cancelled in its nearly century-long history. The event brings $227 million into Calgary each year, according to the Herald.
Across Manitoba, many small towns are also cancelling their rodeos and agricultural fairs.
Carberry Fair organizer Alan Christison said he wasn’t looking forward to telling his young daughter that the fair and rodeo were cancelled.
“It’s an event everybody looks forward to,” he said.
When Christison spoke to the Co-operator on April 27 he was waiting on the province to roll out its plan to reopen businesses. The rodeo portion of the fair was cancelled, and Christison wasn’t hopeful the fair would be salvaged.
The April 29 announcement from the province gave little hope that large events would be permitted this summer.
The fair draws 1,200 to 1,500 people to the small community each year, said Christison. The fair also hosted a popular fundraising event, the Carberry Fair Potato Truck Pull, which is also cancelled. Last year the event raised over $150,000, according to a report from the Brandon Sun.
Christison said the Carberry Agricultural Society depends on events like the fair, as well as family reunions and weddings, to maintain the grounds. On April 27, seven of 11 events booked there had cancelled.
“That will really hurt our revenue,” he said.
The Manitoba Stampede grounds also host events, like the Howl at the Moon country music festival which is cancelled.
“Not having that income is going to make the next year difficult,” Gauthier said.
McCreary, Miami, Glenboro, and Arborg have also cancelled their rodeos, according to the Heartland Rodeo Association website.
Aside from public health regulations, it doesn’t seem fair to ask businesses for sponsorship cash right now, said Claude Potvin, committee director of the Heartland Rodeo Association.
The Miami Agricultural Society cited similar reasons in a letter announcing its fair cancellation.
“We feel it is our responsibility to support those who have supported us for so many years by holding off pursuing sponsorships and refunding those who already so gratefully sent us sponsorship,” wrote Troy Turner, president of the Miami Agricultural Society in a letter posted to Facebook.
Most cowboys and cowgirls in the Heartland circuit rodeo for the love of the game, not for money, Potvin said. They probably wouldn’t lose money much if they couldn’t compete.
Potvin was more concerned for the stock contractors — the operations that provide the calves, steers and broncos for rodeo events.
“We’ve got to take that livelihood into account,” he said, adding that if rodeos cancel, these ranchers will still have herds to feed.
Potvin said some Heartland rodeos are still holding out hope they can salvage the season — even if it means pushing competitions into fall. This season was to be Heartland’s 25th anniversary and Potvin said they were hoping for a big celebration.
If a few rodeos can still run late in the year, they may combine them with next year’s season, said Potvin. The association final is already cancelled — you can’t run a final on just a couple of rodeos, Potvin said.
For barrel racer Jodie Davis, however, it’s slowly sinking in that this summer is just going to be different.
“It’s falling apart at the seams,” she said. “Every time I go on Facebook or go on the internet, there’s another rodeo cancelled.”
Davis, a university student from Minnedosa, said she’s been racing since Grade 8.
“Every summer is packed with rodeo,” she said. “I’m on the road with rodeo every single weekend.”
Rodeo wasn’t her livelihood, she said, but that doesn’t mean cancelled competitions have no economic effect. She has six horses — three of them competitive racers — to feed and keep in shape. No competitions mean the horses don’t gain experience, which potentially impacts their value.
In barrel racing, if a horse has placed well and won a lot of money, that can affect its value and ability to be bred to good stud horses, Davis explained. For her this isn’t a big hit, but it will be a loss for higher-level racers, she said.
It’s also a huge disappointment for her friends going into their last year of high school rodeo, Davis said.
This is their last year to go to high school national and Canadian competitions, she said. They also don’t get their “cowboy grad.”
“I know that’s pretty hard on them,” Davis said.