Calgary's renowned Stampede pulled for first time due to COVID-19

FILE PHOTO: Darcy Flad leads the field home while racing his team in the third heat in the chuckwagon races during the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta, Canada July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Todd Korol/File Photo

(Reuters) - The Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival that is also Canada’s biggest and booziest party, has been cancelled for the first time since the event began being held annually in 1923, organizers said on Thursday.

The cancellation of the signature cultural event for the country’s oil capital of Alberta is the latest in a string of crushing disappointments for the province, after weeks of soaring job losses and plummeting oil prices due to the novel coronavirus.

The decision to cancel was “very, very tough,” Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, told a news conference on Thursday.

Known as “the greatest outdoor show on earth,” the Stampede draws tourists from around the world for its rodeo and chuckwagon races, but much of the action happens away from official venues at parties hosted by oil and gas companies.

“Stampede is such an important part of who we are as a community and it’s hard for me to even imagine what a July without a Stampede will look like,” Nenshi said. “But this year, with this risk, we simply cannot continue to do that.”

The Stampede usually attracts more than a million people and brings in around C$400 million ($284.13 million) to the local economy year-round, according to organizers.

Canada’s total coronavirus deaths rose to 2,028 on Thursday, up 8% from a day earlier, and Alberta has the third-highest number of confirmed cases among all the provinces, according to official data.

Alberta has banned all gatherings of more than 15 people since late March, in an effort to control the spread of the virus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19.

Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Matthew Lewis