Westerner Days wraps up early due to alarming weather, but is “huge success”

A total of 90,533 people came through the gates over five days

Red Deer’s Westerner Days fair wrapped up a early on Sunday night due to high winds — but the overall event was declared a great success by organizers.

A total of 90,533 people came through the gates over five days. While that’s down slightly from last year’s total of 92,729 fair-goers (and the 2012 record of 102,665), Ben Antifaiff, CEO of Westerner Park, said “it was a good fair and we were really happy with the attendance.”

Westerner Days 2017 wrapped up amid some alarming weather on Sunday. First, a Tornado Watch was issued in the afternoon by Environment Canada, sending thousands of fair-goers running for cover.

Shannon Penny, marketing manager for Westerner Park, said the midway and food areas were cleared at about 4:30 p.m., as thousands of people ran into the Prairie and Stockmens Pavilions to get out of the rain and hail.

It got sunny and warm for a few hours following the storm. But then winds began picking up at about 8 p.m. Sunday and the fair was closed at 9 p.m., an hour and a half early, out of safety concerns for patrons, said Antifaiff.

“Staff walked around sharing the message, and we asked the operators to shut down the midway rides,” he added. “It’s part of having an outdoor fair. We watch the weather closely.”

The previous few days had been warm and sunny — which likely contributed to Saturday’s fair attendance rising by 15 per cent from last year. On Saturday, 22,467 people came through the gates — well over the 19,456 who came on the same day last year.

Although other daily numbers were down slightly from 2016, Penny doesn’t think Central Alberta’s difficult economy had much impact on attendance. “People look forward to coming,” she added, and organizers tried to keep it affordable, including all entertainment in the price of admission.

Sunday was Family Day, which saw a lot of youngsters on the fairgrounds and Kids Corral, since a car-load of up to six people could get in for $32, and children age 10 and under could ride all day for $12.

Penny heard great comments about the entertainment, including Jess Moskaluke, Chilliwack, Tom Cochrane, Kim Mitchell, Jocelyn Alice and Coleman Hell. “People like the variety” — ranging from country to pop, rock to electronica.

They also praised new events, including nightly pony steeplechase running and jumping events, and the mounted shooters, which were held in addition to the pony chuckwagon races.

Sunday morning’s prayer service was attended by thousands, added Penny.

“I think it was a huge success.”

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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