The Calgary Stampede says more than half a million people walked through the gates at this year's event — less than half of the attendance of the past two Stampedes but still a substantial crowd for one of the first mass events in Canada since COVID-19 struck.
The decline is not a surprise, given the smaller-than-usual event and restricted admittance that came on the heels of the Alberta government lifting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
In total, 528,998 guests attended the 10-day event, which wrapped Sunday.
"The Calgary Stampede has been a trailblazer throughout our 109-year history, but never more than this year," the organization said in a release Monday.
"Thank you for joining us to Stampede your way, and to celebrate the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth."
The most recent regular editions of the festival attracted 1,275,465 visitors in 2019 and 1,271,241 in 2018. The 2019 edition was the second-highest attended Calgary Stampede since 2012, when the Stampede celebrated its 100th year.
The event was cancelled in 2020 for the first time in almost 100 years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings.
That cancellation resulted in the festival losing an unprecedented $26.5 million in 2020 — a far cry from the roughly $150 million in annual revenues usually pulled in by the event.
Stampede president Steve McDonough said Sunday the 2021 edition had been a "wild ride" — contending that the festival represented a safe return to live events that should serve as a model for Calgary and Canada.
"Success is also the local businesses getting a much-needed boost and our economy a kick-start," McDonough said.
"No matter how you measure it, Stampede 2021 is a success."
Organizers said they were confident that new safety measures adopted by the festival — like cutting daily attendance in half, implementing enhanced cleaning and introducing public sanitation stations — would essentially see the Stampede function like a blueprint for other mass gathering events scheduled this year across Canada.
Such an event, paired with the province lifting almost all of its public health restrictions shortly before it started, had raised consternation among some infectious disease experts, who worried about the potential for an uptick in COVID-19 cases driven by the more infectious delta variant.
Nashville North — the popular 18-plus, live country music venue — saw 60,000 visitors enter the tent, 73 per cent of whom showed vaccination proof.
Under modified rules, patrons had to show proof of at least one COVID-19 shot two weeks prior, or agree to have a negative rapid test result at the entrance to the grounds or the door of the tent.
Organizers said fewer than 18 COVID-19 cases were caught at the doors.