If all goes well, central Albertans can expect a plan for the 129th running of Westerner Days in the 10 days to two weeks.
Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen said Friday that the organization was encouraged by the province’s reopening plan and the news that the Calgary Stampede would go ahead with a limited capacity.
“It gives us a strong confidence in time, we’re getting there. We’re getting close,” he said.
“We still are cautious in our approach to make sure we’re not over-extending ourselves and going beyond our means because there is still risk in the decision, whether it comes to fruition or not.
It’s obviously very positive news for the sake of events, but we want to make sure regardless of that, we still need to give confidence to our spectators and attendees that they’ll be able to do this in a safe way and that they feel comfortable gathering again. It’s a big change.”
Under the new “Open For Summer” plan introduced by the provincial government this week, Stage 3, which will be triggered two weeks after 70 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have at least one dose of the vaccine, includes no restriction on outdoor gatherings. Hospitalizations also have to be under 500 and declining by that time. The province expects to be at that point by mid-July.
The Calgary Stampede, which is slated for July 9-18, takes place before Westerner Days, something that Olesen has repeatedly said gives them an advantage in terms of logistics.
“The fact that we are after them is really huge because it allows us to naturally flow from what is happening in Calgary,” Olesen said. “We work with a lot of local partners that are looking to do things as part of the fair. We try to work with them.”
“They have the same challenges we would – they’re a smaller group and it’s not just sitting in the garage ready-to-go-type moment. It’s about being able to get yourself ramped up, get yourself staffed up and volunteers. Have your resources ready to go. Timing is everything.”
The Calgary Stampede drew close to 1.2 million people over nine days in 2019 and Premier Jason Kenney has indicated that it may operate at a lower capacity than in a typical year. Olesen said capacity limits and how exactly to organize crowds and vendors are still in the works for the Red Deer event.
“In terms of capacity and managing social distancing would be the base of our planning. From there, the stampede is the leader but they have different advantages that we don’t,” Olesen said.
“We need to gauge our expectations and be realistic about what we can do well and balance a good experience with a safe feeling and true safety.”
Olesen added that if they are able to go ahead, they will require pre-registration from attendees.
“We would hope to share our plan with the community in the next 10 days to two weeks. The likely model is pre-sale tickets, so you do have to buy your entry before coming. I think people can expect that,” he said.
They are still working with Alberta Health Services to solidify plans and hope to have a firm announcement 30 days ahead of the fair and exhibition.
“The challenge is there could be some flexibility in the timing because it really depends on what happens in Calgary as well as Edmonton at K-Days, with us right in the middle. If there’s any play on either end, that will be something we’ll need to pivot on,” Olesen added.
“We should know everything fairly concretely in those timelines and we’d be able to make our commitment and move forward in and around that mid-June time frame.”
Westerner Days was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only the fourth time in its history.