Doc Walker (Promotional photo.)

It’s good-bye hockey, hello rodeo for Red Deer’s Centrium

The Canadian Finals Rodeo starts Tuesday

Transforming Red Deer’s Centrium from a hockey rink to a dirt-covered Canadian Finals Rodeo ground doesn’t happen overnight.

It will take all weekend long to pull off this Herculean task — with crews working around the clock.

Abby Wallin, event delivery manager for Westerner Park, says the exhaustive process started when Friday night’s Red Deer Rebels game was over.

It will require staggered shifts of staff and volunteers working with ice chippers, mops, dump trucks and grit.

Lots and lots of gritty dirt.

The ice chipping began as soon as hockey fans left the Centrium.

Removing the ice took all night, with hot water applied to melt the freeze around the Rebels logo, which is actually printed on a cloth mesh that lies under the ice.

It must be removed carefully, so it doesn’t rip, Wallin adds.

By about 6 a.m. Saturday, truck drivers from Bettenson’s Sand and Gravel were ready to help shovel up and transport multiple loads of slush to a dump site outside on the Westerner Park grounds.

“That will be a three-hour job,” estimates Wallin.

“Then we’ll be mopping up and scrubbing the floor and sucking up any remaining water.”

Meanwhile, a crew will begin removing the east-end rink boards and all the Plexiglas off the rink, so a ring steel barrier can be erected.

“We’ll run the steel along the boards,” said Wallin, who expects this to be completed by about 10 p.m. on Saturday.

That’s when the trucks will return, loaded up with dirt that needs to be spread out across the Centrium floor. Soil will be dumped and shovelled all night long, until noon on Sunday, says Wallin.

Another crew will work until 4 p.m., creating the bucking shoots at one end of the Centrium and the timed event installation at the other end.

“Every second is utilized,” says Wallin, as sound equipment must be installed in the Centrium, as well as in the Parkland and Prairie pavilions, where the entertainment and presentation ceremonies will be held.

With help from 500-plus volunteers, everything should be in perfect order when the Canadian Finals Rodeo launches on Tuesday and runs to Sunday, Nov. 3.

This year, there’s more things to do outside of watching rodeo events, says Mike Olesen, who led the planning for the 2019 rodeo, and is also the incoming CEO of Westerner Park.

A free community concert series is planned, and Olesen said anyone can come and enjoy the music, not just rodeo ticketholders.

Cabaret concerts in the Parkland Pavilion feature Doc Walker (Tuesday), Bobby Wills (Wednesday), George Canyon (Thursday) and The Road Hammers (Friday).

The only ticketed concert, Corb Lund’s show on Saturday night, is already sold out.

Olesen says 55 free events will happen over six days, including rodeo athlete “hot stove” interview sessions, autograph sessions, the Ultimate Cowboy Challenge, stock dog and bucking horse futurity events, the Canadian Finals Breakaway, and the Extreme Cowboy Competition.

Along with the Rising Stars event this year is the mini chuckwagon challenge finals. There’s a trade show and pancake breakfasts for charity.

“It’s all about engaging the community with a premier event,” said Olesen, who believes the rodeo offers another chance “for Red Deer to celebrate itself and welcome more of the world here.”

He notes the event attracts fans and volunteers from as far as Australia, Mexico and Europe, as well as from all over Canada and the U.S.

More than 45,000 people are expected to attend the six-day event. The largest rodeo finals in Canada is anticipated to boost the local economy by more than $37 million, says Olesen.

Tickets have been “going strong,” he adds, but some are still available for the rodeo events from

More volunteers are also welcome. Please contact Westerner Park for more information.

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George Canyon ( image).

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