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Benalto Fair and Stampede cancelled for the first time in more than a century

The Benalto Agricultural Society says they will hold the 103rd event next summer
Jake Burwash competes in the Novice Saddle Bronc event at a past Benalto Fair and Stampede. File Photo

The 103rd annual Benalto Fair and Stampede has been cancelled due to the ongoing health pandemic.

The Benalto Stampede follows the likes of the Rimbey Rodeo, the Ponoka Rodeo and the industry titan, the Calgary Stampede.

The Benalto Agricultural Society, which hosts the annual fair and rodeo, announced the cancellation after news broke that public health measures for social distancing would remain until the end of summer.

In making the decision, the Benalto Agricultural Society said the health and safety of the contestants, volunteers and rodeo fans was the main concern.

Neal Arksey, president of the Benalto Agricultural Society, said the committee held out on making this decision as long as they could.

“For a while there it was like every two weeks something seemed to change… We can’t have an event with more than 15 people and we have grown every year, so we can’t out on the show we want,” Arksey said.

The Agricultural Society did look at the possibility of postponing the event until the fall, but Arksey said it didn’t make sense.

The stampede and fair survives on the generosity of sponsors, and to postpone the major event for the hamlet would put a strain on sponsors.

“We rely on our local businesses, and around here we have oil patch and agriculture and a bunch of others, but with the stuff going on no one is doing as good as they should,” said Arksey.

“We rely so much on our sponsorships the we are not going to ask our neighbours for money that they don’t have.”

Arksey says it has been tough getting sponsorships for the 2020 event, even before COVID-19 hit Alberta.

He said the commitment wasn’t there early on because no one knew what was going to happen.

“COVID was the biggest factor in our decision, but the sponsorships was also a pretty big factor.”

This is the first time in over a century the event has been cancelled, but Arksey says everyone involved is “OK” with the decision.

“We were a consecutive rodeo. We held the event even through the First and Second World Wars,” he said.

Cancelling the 2020 event will give the Agricultural Society time to finish some construction projects at the fair grounds and plan next year’s event.

Arksey says plans for this year will carry over to next, and the committee will be able to add to it to make the 2021 Fair and Stampede bigger and better.

“We thank all of our sponsors and patrons who committed to this year. We are looking forward to holding the 103rd event next year, making it bigger and better than ever.”