The summer of 2021 will be looking similar to last year in regards to events not being hosted in Southern Manitoba.
In recent weeks, both the Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition and Niverville Olde Tyme Country Fair announced their events are being cancelled again for 2021.
Dustin Krahn of the Niverville Fair Committee said that plans for 2021 became increasingly difficult to sort out. "It’s still not the right time to pursue the event, there were just too many challenges."
The challenges Krahn referred to included the logistics of running an event with the current attendance restrictions, added pressure on sponsors, and the need for a greater level of volunteers. He recognized there was likely a way to make some things work, but risks outweighed the idea of hosting the event.
Norm Gauthier, President of the Valley Agricultural Society that oversees the Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition would agree that the challenges were many and the decision difficult. "While it's hard on us emotionally to cancel these things because we all have a lot invested in the events we put on." Current regulations and the instability of covid numbers in the province and around the country tipped the odds to cancelling the stampede and exhibition for this year.
It’s not just planning and volunteer numbers needed that came into play as these events were cancelled, finances were a big part of the final decisions. Gauthier says, "unfortunately, not only is there a large financial impact with putting on an event of this size. We run a budget just north of $500k every year. We just don't have the people in place right now with the restrictions in place going on, it's just too hard to organize anything right now."
The financial risks included deposits for venues, performers and activities with the uncertainty of actually hosting the event critical in that final decision. Krahn said guaranteeing the future of the event was part of their decision process.
"At the end of the day, logistics and execution is obviously a consideration, but it was more of a question of if we were willing to expose ourselves financially. You're better off waiting and not risking the future of the event."
According to Gauthier, another issue was the uncertainty of knowing how many people would actually be able to attend. "Unfortunately, with an undertaking like the Manitoba Stampede, we cannot run this event without being able to run at full capacity. Anything less than that and we will lose our shirts. It's just not financially viable for us."
Response to the cancellation announcement has not been surprising to Krahn, "people don't like it, but for the most part, everyone saw it coming before we even said anything."
Gauthier has heard from both sides, those upset with the decision and those that are applauding the cancellation for 2021. "We've heard some backlash and we've also had a lot of other people come up and say that's the right move to make. So, it's really difficult and we've seen both sides of the comments."
Community events like these don’t happen on admission revenue alone but rely also on the financial support of local sponsors. Both Krahn and Gauthier recognize the difficult year it’s been for everyone. Krahn referred to the generosity of their sponsors and acknowledged the difficult year it’s been financially. "We are partners with these people and part of that is when things are going crazy like they are now, that we do our part and not put all these requirements on them."
The cancellation of the Manitoba Stampede impacts more than the event itself. Gauthier says the community will be feeling the impact as well. "It's a huge boon to every business in our town and they're definitely feeling the stress of not having our events happening. Not only our own events but the ones that we also host on our grounds every year."
In addition to the community being impacted by the cancellation, the athletes are having to find different ways to compete. Gauthier says that it is involving a lot more travel for them "the majority are crossing the border and working in the United States and they're spending their entire season down there and running in the US rodeos. Those events are still going. Texas is wide open and has no restrictions whatsoever."
The Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition might be cancelled for 2021, but they are still moving ahead with activity on the grounds this summer. Grants that were pre-approved prior to Covid-19 will be used on maintenance on some of the buildings with upgrades based on what they can afford. According to Gauthier expect to see some changes, "there will be noticeable differences when people come to the grounds in 2022."
Despite the disappointment of cancelling this year’s event The Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition is making the most of what they’ve been given for 2021 and are looking ahead. "It's a labour of love for every one of us involved and we are lucky in the fact that we have a very good group of volunteers. If anyone in the community wants to lend a hand, we do have many projects on the grounds that are going to go forward this year that will spruce things up. It's the perfect opportunity to get that stuff done."
As to the future of other summertime events? Things appear to be up in the air at this point in time for several other events. While Steinbach's Summer In The City has not released an official statement about this year's festival, their website indicates a possibility of moving the event to the Labour Day weekend in September.
-- Written by Carly Koop