Jasper Heritage Rodeo hangs up reins after 97 years

Canada’s only professional rodeo inside a national park is hanging up the lasso after 97 years.

The Jasper Heritage Rodeo, an annual summer event that included barrel racing, steer wrestling and bull riding, was cancelled for the past two years by the pandemic. Organizers decided at a general meeting on April 4 to shut it down for good.

“It’s very sad because for a lot of the people it’s like family,” Michael Furzeland, vice-president of the Jasper Heritage Rodeo, told CBC’s Edmonton AM on Thursday. 

He said a lack of volunteers, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and an ending lease with the federal government all contributed to the decision.

4:57Jasper rodeo hanging up the reins

The Jasper rodeo has tossed its last lasso. We’ll talk to one of the organizers about why the event is folding after almost a century. 4:57

Furzeland said six people showed up to the annual general meeting, of which only three were interested in continuing the rodeo. He said at least six people would be needed to help organize. 

A decade ago, the Alberta rodeo had more than a dozen volunteers but that number has been dwindling ever since, said Furzeland, who has been with the rodeo for 15 years.

Most recently, the rodeo was held near the Whistler’s Campground, located just outside of Jasper. The rodeo’s lease with Parks Canada was coming to an end in 2023 and Furzeland didn’t know if it would be renewed. 

The Jasper Heritage Rodeo started in 1925 and was the only professional rodeo in a national park, Furzeland said. Pre-pandemic, the event attracted around 900 people, both residents of Jasper and tourists that were visiting the Rockies.

“Forty per cent of the attendance was Europeans,” he said.

He said a number of the foreign tourists had reached out to them on social media looking forward to the rodeo this year. “I’m sure that was a unique Alberta experience that you would not normally get in a national park,” he said.

The end of the Jasper isn’t indicative of the state of rodeo in Alberta, where the number of events is actually on the upswing, according to Jeff Robson, general manager of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. 

Pre-pandemic, Alberta had 41 rodeos. This year, there are 53 events planned, Robson said. 

“Coming out of a very trying pandemic time to, you know, to feel that much enthusiasm and excitement for the sport has just been great,” he told CBC on Monday.

He said the rodeo in Jasper shutting down was a huge loss because it added to the “tourism flair” of Jasper. 

“It was another additional thing that, you know, people who came to Jasper — maybe expected or unexpectedly — could find in a really cool town,” he said.

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