Back in the saddle: Calgary Stampede returns after cancelled 2020 event

The 2021 Calgary Stampede is set to become the largest event held in Canada since the start of the pandemic.

After months of uncertainty regarding the state of the event during as a result of the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta and across the country, a slightly altered edition of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth will kick off Friday.

Stampede Park welcomed visitors to the park Friday morning following a virtual edition of the traditional Calgary Stampede Parade that will be held on the grounds without crowds.

Calgary Stampede officials say they expect this year's attendance at Stampede Park will be roughly half of previous years and fewer visitors will allow for physical distancing.

Given the limited attendance at certain venues, officials say they won't be releasing attendance numbers on a daily basis.

The grounds were noticeably quieter Friday with fewer people than in years past, a stark contrast to a typical midway experience which is typically shoulder-to-shoulder.

Kristina Barnes with the Calgary Stampede says that’s because organizers are focused on safety.

“This year, with an overall reduced park and grandstand capacity, we are focused on operating a safe Stampede and providing a good experience for our guests.”

She says different venues have different capacities. For example, the Grandstand will have around 50 percent capacity while Nashville North will be full capacity as it’s requiring proof of a vaccine or rapid test.

Jim Corbin from Ontario had to have a rapid test to enter. It’s his first time to Stampede and says as soon as he heard restrictions were easing in Alberta he booked a ticket.

“I had nothing to do with everything shutdown in Ontario so we headed west,” he says. “The measures are safe, I think so.”

Beau Humphruy is visiting from Ottawa and says he and his girlfriend have both received two vaccines so felt comfortable travelling.

“You feel naked almost without your mask,” he says. “I’m pretty confident in the double vaccine.”

Nat Cam and his young son Zander are from Calgary and say they are happy to have the Stampede back and say it’s nice everyone has the option to wear a mask or not.

“It’s nice to take the kids out here and it’s nice having it back to enjoy it with the family."

Nashville North — a canopy-style tent on the grounds with bars, live musical performances and a dance floor — will require proof of vaccination to enter the tent or guests may take an onsite rapid test. The Stampede has done away with physical lineups outside Nashville North and replaced them with digital queues.

Frontline workers and up to three of their guests are eligible for free Calgary Stampede admission on the first five days of this year's event (July 9 – 13) as a token of appreciation for their efforts during the pandemic. The free tickets may be secured online or at the gates and a service charge may be applied.

For a complete list of events, attraction and schedules, visit Calgary Stampede.