BOWDEN - Two non-profit organizations that were initially planning to sanction an upcoming anti-restrictions rodeo and rally in Bowden have mutually agreed to reverse course and withdraw their support.
The Foothills Cowboys Association and Wildrose Rodeo Association recently issued a joint statement distancing themselves from the organizers of the No More Lockdown Rodeo Rally.
“There has been a lot of attention around this event and if (Alberta Health Services) finds such event is not in accordance with (provincial) government mandates and restrictions, the backlash could be very detrimental to our organizations,” reads the statement approved by both group’s boards of directors.
Northcott Rodeo Inc. is forging ahead with the May 1-2 rodeo rally with a new sanctioning body. It's being "organized in hopes of re-opening the rodeo world so we can retain a part of our Western heritage," according to the promotion of the event.
"We are a group of people in Red Deer County and beyond working together to gain support for businesses to be re-opened and a resource to share facts and information."
The event, planned to be held at the Bowden rodeo grounds, will feature guest speakers Rick Kohut and Glen Carritt during the rodeo performances. According to draw information, there's contestants entered in bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding and other rodeo events.
Alberta Health has not issued an exemption for the event, a ministry spokesperson has confirmed.
At stake for the Foothills Cowboys Association and Wildrose Rodeo Association was the possibility of losing not only their Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission licensing, but also their not-for-profit status, which could potentially spell the end of both associations.
“It’s not worth the risk,” said Murray McGonigle, a Foothills Cowboys Association past president, during a phone interview on Thursday, April 22.
Asked whether they had received any warnings from AHS or perhaps advice from legal counsel, McGonigle said the decision came as a result of coordinated communication with their counterparts at the Wildrose Rodeo Association.
When the Bowden-area event was originally given the green light, it was approved as a rodeo, he said.
“And then, when it became apparent that there was a political statement being made, it was just a board decision not to risk that status. Because if an association like ours loses that status, of course that can be quite devastating to any not-for-profit.”
As a non-profit society, the association, which formed in 1955, is governed by provincial government regulations, he said.
“We’d sure hate to see it disappear due to something that is totally not affiliated with the rodeo itself,” he said.
“Our objective as a society, is to promote rodeo for a level other than the professional level. And that’s it.”
The two associations are similar but technically separate organizations, defined largely by their regions, he said.
Speaking from his personal perspective and experience as a member of the Foothills Cowboys Association of 42 years, sitting on the board for 23 including the last four prior to this year as president, McGonigle expressed a level of understanding for the No More Lockdowns Rodeo Rally organizers, even if he does not agree with their position.
“I have nothing but utmost respect for people that are willing to make a stand in something they fully believe in, whether it’s my belief or not,” he said.
“It’s just one of those things — I believe the association really did not need to run the risk of maintaining their position as having a part in (the rally).”
Recognizing the lingering uncertainty and frequent changes announced by the provincial government, McGonigle nevertheless reserves optimism that the rest of the season might yet be salvaged later this summer.
“There are events that are being scheduled, and of course those are going to be dependent on what restrictions are in place,” he said.
“It’s a kind of a fly by the seat of your pants (situation). You better be able to change with the winds.”
Calling the situation “very stressful,” he said it’s hard to run and maintain an organization like theirs without any events happening, or having to adhere to restrictions so tight there’s no room left to break even.
Crossing fingers and remaining hopeful is about all they can do, he said, expressing concerns about the future of the sport.
Initially worried about the potential demise of rodeo following the initial onset of the pandemic, McGonigle said his primary goal as president at the time was to do what he could to help keep rodeo alive since a one-year hiatus could be enough to hammer the final nail in the coffin.
“Last year, we put on a lot of our own events,” he said.
The Foothills Cowboys Association was in 2020 able to host a finals that featured all of the rodeo events. Other than Alberta High School Rodeo Finals, that was the only finals in Canada that included all events, he said, adding they also worked in conjunction with the Chinook Rodeo Association.
“We’ve managed, let’s put it that way,” he said.
Meanwhile, the organizers of the anti-restrictions rodeo rally intend to forge ahead.
A statement issued by Northcott Rodeo Inc. on Wednesday, April 14, said, "The No More Lockdowns Rodeo Rally will be moving forward with World of Rodeo Canada as our new sanctioning body."
"We here at Northcott Rodeo Inc. still have a Rodeo Rally to plan and will be very busy."
A request for an interview went unanswered.
In response to questions emailed on Friday afternoon, Heather Kipling, an Alberta Health Services spokesperson, confirmed that public health inspectors are aware of the advertising and the organizers’ plans to proceed with the event.
“Inspectors have spoken with, and provided written information to, the organizers of the ‘No More Lockdowns Rodeo Rally’ as well as the Bowden Agricultural Society and Rodeo as the operators of the rodeo grounds, notifying them that current CMOH (chief medical officer of health) orders prohibit businesses or entities from offering or providing exhibitions, sporting events, or sporting and performance competitions at this time,” she wrote.
Applicants seeking an exemption status to host such events must be submitted to Alberta Health for review, she explained, adding AHS does not grant such exemptions.
“Public health inspectors will continue to work with all parties involved, as well as our law enforcement partners as needed, to uphold current CMOH orders.”
Kipling said AHS aims “to work collaboratively with Albertans to ensure compliance with CMOH orders and COVID-19 restrictions. The purpose of these orders is to protect the health and safety of all Albertans. We all have the responsibility to take action and do what we can to protect the health of our communities. We implore all Albertans to cooperate with current public health orders.”
In a follow up email inquiry, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan wrote, "A variety of stakeholders have been in contact with Alberta Health or submitted proposals requesting exemptions throughout the pandemic. We are not commenting on specific requests received, but do alert Albertans if any approvals are given or exemptions granted. However, no exemptions were issued for this event."