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Bonnyville-area summer events on the chopping block

BONNYVILLE – It’s shaping up to be a quiet summer in the Bonnyville area after announcements start to trickle in of events being cancelled or postponed.

These declarations came after the provincial government announced on April 23 that the current restrictions regarding social distancing and gatherings of 15 people or more being prohibited would apply to events such as arts and culture festivals, agricultural fairs and rodeos, major sporting championships and industry conferences.

The statement put a wrench into a number of organizations' plans, including the Town of Bonnyville’s Canada Day committee.

According to Coun. Elisa Brosseau, who sits on the committee, they have yet to make a decision on how to move forward.

“We want to be able to come to council with a couple of different proposals of what we can do with the funding that we do have allocated for this year,” she told the Nouvelle. “Do we put it towards next year? Do we host something in the winter? We’re not sure, so we’re going to meet as a committee and come to council with a few proposals.”

Since some events weren’t slated until later on in the year, organizers were cautiously optimistic the restrictions would be lifted and allow them to continue. One of them included Extreme Mudfest.

“Our hope was that once everybody self-isolated for a few weeks and the case dropped, they would slowly start to open up restaurants and so on and so forth,” explained Mudfest executive producer Billie-Jo Aasen. “So by the time we hit July, we would be back into the full swing of things. That was obviously very optimistic on our behalf, but I think that COVID-19 took everyone by complete surprise of how long this shut down has taken.”

While Extreme Mudfest postponed their 2020 event, which was slated to take place Aug. 13 to 16, there still might be a chance to salvage it this year if the province eases back on the restrictions in place.

“If we can run a small mudding event or our baseball tournament with a small beer garden in September we will, but unfortunately in Alberta, we’re given some pretty tight timeframes on weather,” Aasen noted. “If we do fully need to move it into 2021 with everything, we’re doing our best to work with our artists and reschedule the same line-up.”

Aasen said the postponement has “a significant impact.”

“We’re a small family-run business, and there’s pros and cons to both. The pros are that we’re a very small business so we can run really lean, the cons are that we don’t have that big financial account built up to sit on for a year. We’re financially prepared to move forward, Mudfest isn’t going anywhere but I would be hard-pressed to say this isn’t affecting us in a significant way.”

The Bonnyville Ag Society is also hoping their events later may still be salvageable later in the year. According to president Mitch Michaud, the rodeo and chuckwagons, which were supposed to happen July 23-26, along with the ag society's September fall fair, are postponed until more is known about the situation.

“I don’t want to cancel anything just yet for the simple fact of we don’t know what the future holds,” he stated. “Our events are planned for the end of the summer… so cancelling them, I think, is a little premature for the simple fact that everything’s changing every day.

The local chuckwagon event will already see some changes, after the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA), which was set to return to Bonnyville July 23-26, announced the cancellation of their 2020 season on April 29. There has yet to be an announcement regarding the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA), scheduled to come to town July 24 and 25.

If they’re forced to officially cancel their upcoming events, Michaud said it would “be a huge disappointment for us.”

“Not only financially but mentally. You plan for so long, for a year trying to get your events up and running, our sponsorship and stuff like that, and all of a sudden we’re cancelled for lack of a better word. We’re told by the government that you can’t do this and you can’t do that. It’s kind of heart breaking.”

The decision has already been made to cancel some major events in Cold Lake, including the Cold Lake Air Show.

“In order to respect the recent direction on social gatherings by Alberta Health Services it is imperative we continue to align our actions with those of the Government and take additional precautionary measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” 4 Wing said in a statement.

The planning committee has already switched their attention to the next show, which is scheduled for 2022.

In response to the Cold Lake Air Show’s cancellation, the City of Cold Lake “is taking steps for the orderly cancellation of the associated Full Throttle Festival, as well as other events such as Canada Day and Aqua Days.”

“Of course we all want life to get back to normal, but with the government signalling a lengthy course of physical distancing and limitations on gatherings, we are taking action to ensure that summer events are cancelled,” Mayor Craig Copeland said in a press release. “The cancellation of summer events across the province will, of course, be devastating for the economy but to continue to plan for these events when their continuation is unlikely would only serve to put public dollars at risk.”

Other events cancelled in the area include the Bonnyville Gear Grabber’s Show and Shine along with their Airport Drag Races, and the Glendon Derby and Mudbogs.

Robynne Henry, Bonnyville Nouvelle

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