The Calgary Stampede is preparing to open its doors to the public this week after missing last year due to the pandemic. Officials offered a glimpse Wednesday of the COVID-modified experience attendees can expect.
Jim Laurendeau, vice-president of park planning and development, said guests will still be able to find their favourite attractions.
“We are almost ready to welcome the community to a Stampede with some things that we all know very well, and some that will be new and different,” Laurendeau said Wednesday.
“There are so many ways to choose what’s right for you at this year’s Stampede.”
The event officially kicks off on Friday, but the traditional Sneak-a-Peek returns Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight.
Fewer rides, digital queues, masked employees
Precautions are being taken to maintain and enhance safety at the Stampede, after the province lifted the vast majority of its COVID-19 health restrictions on July 1.
Stampede attendees can expect wider aisles on the midway, more space between attractions, and digital queues instead of in-person lineups, Laurendeau said.
The park’s capacity will be monitored and reduced, though officials did not confirm hard numbers as to how many people this will allow into the park at once.
Employees and volunteers dealing with the public will be masked, though this is not required for attendees.
Guests will be required to provide proof of vaccination — or take a free COVID-19 rapid test — to enter Nashville North, which will be an open-air canopy rather than a tent, and operating at about full capacity.
There will be fewer rides on the grounds, though favourites including the Zipper, ferris wheel and Polar Express will return.
“We’re taking breaks every two hours to sanitize every ride,” said Lynda Franc, a spokesperson for North American Midway Entertainment.
Dr. Jia Hu, a medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services in Calgary, said he “wholeheartedly believes” the event can be held safely.
“We really are trying to go above and beyond when it comes to ensuring a safe experience for everybody who’s participating,” said Hu, who has been an advisor for the Stampede.
“We will be implementing, I think, some of the most robust and innovative safety protocols in Alberta.”
Susan Henry, the chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, also encouraged guests to carry and use hand sanitizer, stay with their cohorts, physically distance and practise patience with others.
“Give people space, physically and metaphorically speaking, and please be patient with each other,” Henry said.
“It’s been a long 16 months for a lot of Calgarians, and we all have a different level of comfort. Feelings and opinions have been very strong.”