Rodeos, Reunions, and Hugs as Health Orders Vanish out West

By Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
July 13, 2021 Updated: July 14, 2021

Public health orders were lifted in British Columbia and Alberta July 1 and in Saskatchewan July 11, and many are relishing the chance to travel, see people, and do things they were unable to for 15 months.

After being denied the chance last year, thousands of Canadians are enjoying the Calgary Stampede, which kicked off on July 9.

“The crowd is smaller because of the capacity in the grandstand, but still a great, high-energy crowd and a great experience,” Stampede spokesperson Kristina Barnes said in an interview.

“Stampede Park has about 25 percent more space than it normally does just to give people a little bit more room to run. So a few less rides and food vendors, but certainly keeping all the very best ones that everyone loves the most.”

This year’s event includes some seating areas that offer more space than others to accommodate varying comfort levels of attendees. The chance to take in the event has been a breath of fresh air for Stampede fans, Barnes said.

“It’s been amazing to see … the smiles on people’s faces [who are] really, truly embracing the opportunity to get out and experience something that they’re familiar with, that they enjoy. The return to live events—it’s a pretty big shift but it’s really being embraced, and I think you can really feel the energy here.”

Bareback rider Connor Hamilton hails from Calgary. He has been on the rodeo circuit across many U.S. states since January, but said returning for the Stampede was a must.

“If we didn’t come to it and it didn’t happen again for the second year in a row, it might not be there for the third year, you know?” the 25-year-old said in an interview.

Hamilton is looking forward to competing in the Strathmore and Medicine Hat rodeos later this summer. The Junior A hockey player, who grew up in Calgary, started to compete in rodeos at age 19 and won the novice (under-21) bareback competition at the Stampede a few years ago.

He said this year’s Stampede represents a breakthrough for the whole country.

“For the first event in all of Canada to go off in a year and a half, they’re doing a fantastic job. And it’s just so good to see everybody out, having fun again, and starting to put a smile back on everyone’s faces.”

Fifteen months of restrictions have made normal life seem novel. In Crossfield, an hour‘s drive north of Calgary, Cobi Kristianson said it’s like the pandemic never happened.

“Life is completely open and normal here. My kids are working at a camp. Kids come for a week, stay overnight—regular summer camp. Church is normal—no distancing, no masks required, hugs and singing as usual,” the receptionist said in an interview.

“Anyone can visit anywhere. I attended a funeral with about 400 people. I plan to go to a wedding in a couple weeks. It’s wonderful.”

In Spruce Grove, Alberta, nurse Kim Burrington is glad to be able to have date nights with her husband and fun days with her sons.

“We went for supper and didn’t have to wear masks to be brought to our table. We will be swimming at the outdoor pool in Stony Plain tomorrow. The pool was closed last summer due to COVID,” Burrington told the Epoch Times.

“We met up with a couple of friends at a restaurant—haven’t done that since they stopped indoor visits in homes and restaurants,” she said.

In Saskatchewan, Regina Paratransit supervisor Ken Grey is looking forward to seeing his mother in Saskatoon. Until recently, her care home restricted visitors to 45-minute visits and a two-metre distance from residents.

“To me, it just didn’t seem like a normal visit. I couldn’t hold her hand and couldn’t kiss her goodbye,” Grey said.

“My mom is in late-stage dementia, and really all that we have for communication is touch. She doesn’t really know me, she’s basically non-verbal now, so to sit across the table from her really doesn’t do very much. She’s very tactile. She likes to hold hands. She’s always touching, even my clothes. … That’s how she interacts now.”

“So we’re going to go and be able to touch and hug my mom for the first time in almost two years.”

Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.