Mike Olsen and his team at Westerner Park have been sitting on a handful of plans for Westerner Days this summer, just waiting for the provincial go-ahead.
The Westerner Park CEO said this week that organizers are ready to pivot at a moment’s notice in order to put on one of central Alberta’s premier exhibitions and fair.
“Plans are moving forward. It’s certainly a challenge. We need to be ready to pivot either way. We need to be ready to scale up, we need to be ready to scale down, including cancelling,” Olsen said.
“The focus is to start really with your most likely opportunity which is outdoor programming and managing your scenarios around social distance size… the point of scaling down is you can’t over-commit financially.”
Olsen explained that in addition to the multiple plans, they have also been in constant consultation with the Calgary Stampede about their plan, as well as Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services. The stampede typically takes place in Early July, with Westerner Days following, which Olsen also sees as helpful.
“In terms of timelines, they would be ahead of us, which is somewhat to our advantage. We can follow their lead in that sense,” Olsen said.
Premier Jason Kenney has said that he hopes all Albertans who want it have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June, which gives some optimism for summer festivals.
He also provided some potentially encouraging news for organizers this week when he said in a Facebook live question and answer session that he is hopeful outdoor summer events can go forward in 2021.
Olsen said that is likely the scenario they are planning for.
“It’s reasonable to believe that outdoor programming of some kind will be acceptable at that point,” Olsen said.
“The fair means so many things. Just because it’s early in July doesn’t mean that’s exactly when it has to occur either, so if we need to do things later and we can, we absolutely will.”
It’s been almost a year since the 2020 edition of Westerner Days was cancelled by ongoing COVID-19 public health measures. Over the last 11 months, it’s been tough for event facilities like Westerner Park and Olsen said some days, it’s a significant challenge.
“It’s been a very difficult year. We’ve continued to maximize the use of our time. We continue to modernize our operation and really evaluate how we want Westerner Park to run,” he said.
“We needed that time. It’s been a benefit from that perspective and I’m really excited about what we’ve got together and people will notice a difference… it’s difficult for the team because we’re itchy, we want to get going. You can only plan and cancel events so many times.”
Last year’s cancellation was only the fourth time in the 128-year history of Westerner Days that it was cancelled.
Olsen said that resiliency and the spirit of the community will continue on, regardless of what form the event takes in 2021 and beyond.
“For the sake of the brand of the event, I am not concerned. It builds from the spirit of what it is,” he said.
“When we are able to eventually open it up again, it will take on its meaning as it is. It may change what Westerner Days means, but it’s going to mean something for central Albertans because it’s their celebration.”