Since the Ponoka Stampede Association (PSA) officially announced the postponement of the 2020 Ponoka Stampede on April 29, Ponoka News asked for reaction from the town and various community groups, receiving an outpouring of support.
The Stampede, which was to take place from June 25 to July 1, and would have been the 84th annual event, was cancelled the week after the province announced mass gathering restrictions would continue over the summer.
According to PSA president Bruce Harbin, a survey conducted by the PSA several years ago concluded that for every Ponoka Stampede ticket dollar sold, $80 was spent in the community at local businesses.
Impact on businesses
“The cancellation of the Stampede will definitely have an economic impact on our community, especially on local businesses that see increased sales during the Stampede, and the many clubs and service organizations that rely on the Stampede for fundraising,” said Mayor Rick Bonnett in a provided statement.
“The Stampede attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Ponoka every summer.
“Many of those visitors spend money at local businesses in Ponoka, including grocery stores, restaurants, motels, gas stations, etcetera.
“Some of our local restaurants have told us they see sales increases of 30 to 45 per cent during Stampede week, so the cancellation will certainly be felt by them.”
Bonnett added the town supports the PSA’s decision to postpone the event until next summer.
“In the midst of a pandemic, inviting visitors from across Western Canada and the United States to our community for a major event like this could jeopardize the health and well-being of our citizens,” he said.
“It will be very different this Canada Day weekend to not see the mini-city of trailers and RV’s that annually visit the Stampede Grounds for our Ponoka Stampede,” said Ponoka chamber president Barry Grant.
“The postponement of this year’s event until 2021 is just another hit to our local economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are many local businesses who will feel the affects of the cancellation. The tourism dollars generated by the Ponoka Stampede means a lot to our town every year and will definitely be missed.”
Impact on the community
Several community groups also raise funds through food booths or volunteer work at the Stampede each year and rely on those funds for their programs and activities.
According to public relations director Erin Williamson, the Ponoka Minor Hockey Association (PMHA) raises funds through volunteer activity at the Stampede each year.
Those funds are used to cover part of registration fees for families, and to assist families whose children would not otherwise be able to afford to play.
The PSA also purchases about $1,500 in pucks for minor hockey each year.
The Ponoka Pool Sharks is another club that relies heavily on the Stampede, raising about $20,000 each year through their infield booth.
“Ponoka Pool Sharks has worked closely with the Stampede Association for twenty years, providing the volunteers to run the infield food booth, so without a doubt, that income is a part of our annual budget,” said Rob McArthur, publicity chair.
Now, the club is looking at other possibilities to raise the funds, such as government grants or other, smaller fundraisers.
A large fundraiser done back in the fall cushions a bit of the blow for now.
“That fundraiser, while already earmarked for other budgeted items, certainly has given us a little bit of breathing room,” said McArthur.
“Without that income though, we would have found ourselves facing greater challenges.”
Although the Pool Sharks isn’t a large club, it has a strong core of dedicated families and it hopes to be able to start its season in the fall.
Although some may find added noise during Stampede week a nuisance, according to Ponoka RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley, only a handful of noise complaints were received last year, and those were mainly surrounding the camping area and were mostly handled by PSA security on the grounds.
The town also stated it has not received any noise complaints during Stampede week for the past two years.
The Ponoka RCMP received a total of 341 calls for service from June 21 to July 2, 2019.
“It is surreal that after 84 years this event will not happen in 2020,” said Smiley, adding that it was truly the only decision that could be made given the circumstances.
“Ponoka, and our surrounding areas, were blessed to have only had minimal cases of COVID-19, and the community has shown great resilience over the last few months.
“I know we can see this through and next year’s Stampede will be that much more meaningful for us all.”