For only the fourth time in its 128-year history, Westerner Days Fair & Exposition has been cancelled.
On Friday, Westerner Park said it made the decision to postpone the event until July 2021.
The announcement came following the province’s direction that bans on large gatherings of people, which includes events and festivals, are expected to continue through the summer.
“We know these are necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of our entire community. Although this is our top priority, it doesn’t make the announcement any easier,” said Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen.
“This will have far-reaching effects on our community, partners, vendors and organization.
“Our staff and volunteers are all heavy-hearted about the news, but we know that by taking these measures now, we are not alone in the sacrifice that will help us all stay healthy and come together soon.”
Westerner Days has a major impact on the economy of Red Deer and the surrounding area. In a normal year, the overall effect is estimated at more than $7 million. Of that total, approximately $5 million is spent by visitors, exhibitors and contractors in Red Deer and area.
A total of 90,796 people attended Westerner Days last year, including a record-breaking 29,453 in a single day.
Dustin Snider, board president of the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce, said while the postponement was not surprising, it was still disappointing.
But the fact is there will be no economy if people don’t stay safe, he said.
“It’ll be a huge hit on the city, but we understand that Westerner Days is a community event, and the best thing to do as a community at the moment, is make sure everyone is healthy and safe,” said Snider, who is a member of the local hospitality industry as general manager of Earls restaurant and will be among those missing Westerner Days customers.
“We write on our takeout bags that we’ll get through this together. But it’s difficult to do when we can’t actually physically congregate. We’ll eventually have to figure out a way to do that,” Snider said.
Historian Michael Dawe said since 1892, the fair has only been cancelled in 1899, 1910 and 1911 (when only a horticultural show was held) and now in 2020.
“Since 1912, there’s never been an interruption,” Dawe said.
He said the fair has been held yearly for 108 years, even during the First and Second World Wars, the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and polio epidemics.
“The fair always went on.”
“It’s part of the way we as a community celebrate summer. Lots of people go out on Wednesday morning and watch the parade, the traditional start of the fair,” Dawe said.
Janice Wing, president and Westerner Park board chair, said as central Alberta’s largest summer celebration, organizers know the fair means a lot to the community.
“As a non-profit agricultural society, Westerner Days is our largest annual event, made possible by our team of staff and volunteers and the support of our partners, sponsors and community. We know the impact of this will be felt by everyone,” Wing said.
Westerner Park is now pivoting its focus to the fall, she said.
“The way we celebrate with everyone may look different this year, but our dedication to the community will not change,” Wing said.
Dawe said the last time the fair was cancelled, in 1911, it was transitioning to a larger exhibition, which was an important turning point for the showcase.
“The 1912 fair is considered still one of the great benchmarks, because it really expanded the fair grounds. They built some beautiful facilities,” Dawe said.