There will be no bucking broncos or tie-down roping during the Canada Day weekend this year, as the Airdrie Pro Rodeo (APR) has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The annual rodeo, which attracts more than 10,000 spectators a year, was slated to take place June 26 to 28 at the Airdrie Pro Rodeo Grounds, located five kilometres west of the city.
“We decided we really need to be paying attention to the safety of both the spectators and the competitors,” said APR President Jim Murphy. “We have to be cognizant of their health concerns. We don’t want to be the reason a bunch of people get sick.”
Murphy said the APR board of directors debated the possibility of postponing the rodeo, but ultimately decided that wouldn’t be feasible without potentially interfering with other rodeos taking place the same weekend.
“The cowboys all have the routes they take and rodeos they enter,” he said. “If Airdrie all of a sudden decides to go ahead August long [weekend], we bugger up whatever rodeo takes place then because we’re stealing their performers. We decided we couldn’t do that.”
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Established in 1967 and held during the Canada Day long weekend, the rodeo attracts more than 400 professional cowboys, who come to APR as a warm-up for the Calgary Stampede.
The event has grown over the years and now includes a junior rodeo and other attractions, such as live music.
With this growth, Murphy said the cost to put APR on has also increased, and the event relies on support from corporate sponsors. He added sponsors fund about one-third of the rodeo, and the financial struggles many local businesses have faced throughout the pandemic were another reason to cancel the event this year.
“Everyone in the community of Airdrie is hurting a little bit, on the financial side of things, due to COVID-19, so we can’t be expecting to be digging into people’s pockets,” he said.
On a positive note, Murphy said, cancelling this year's rodeo should not result in it being shut down permanently. He said organizers will take the year to improve and repair parts of the grounds, so APR can return bigger and better in 2021.
“It’s not like this is going to cripple it,” he said. “We run a pretty tight ship, so the good news is we’ll have a rodeo next year.”
APR Arena Manager Brett Raines said the biggest impact of the rodeo’s cancellation will not be on the cowboys, fans or the organizers, but on the many local businesses that benefit from the influx of customers the event generates.
“Those are the people who were really hurt by this,” he said. “We have a lot of compassion for our local businesspeople and what they’re going through, as well as families and everyone else. The cancellation was as much about those things as anything.”