Chuckwagon drivers line-up on stage prior to the bidding at the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon canvas auction in Calgary, Thursday, April 13, 2023. This year's Stampede runs from July 7-16. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘A reflection:’ Stampede tarp auction an indicator of Alberta’s booming economy

The amount of money that was flowing freely at the annual Calgary Stampede canvas auction Thursday night was just the sort of gusher that Alberta’s oil and gas industry likes to see.

The event is typically considered a bellwether for Alberta’s energy industry, as many sponsors that pay to have their company names on chuckwagons competing in the festival’s rodeo are players in the energy sector.

The province has traditionally had a boom and bust economy tied to the price of oil. With the price of West Texas crude around US$82 a barrel the sector is definitely in a boom position right now.

Last year with the sport returning after the COVID-19 pandemic the 27 rigs taking part in the event raised $2.1 million or roughly $77,800 per bid.

This year the total hit $2.75 million or about $102,000 for each chuckwagon team.

“We’re delighted that there were a few competitive bids which drove some numbers up and it’s about the families and what they do keeping the sport alive,” said Will Osler, president and chair of the Calgary Stampede.

Osler said there was a lot of uncertainty holding a full Stampede last year with the COVID restrictions coming off. He said the feeling is better in 2023.

“It’s felt pretty normal leading up to this year’s Stampede. We’re encouraged and feel like we are, if not all the way back to normal, then very close.”

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, the Stampede was cancelled for the first time in 100 years. It returned in 2021, but chuckwagon racing was only back last year. This year is the 100th anniversary of the sport.

Drivers Kurt Bensmiller and Kris Molle received the top bids — tied at $170,000 each.

“Last year was a big deal because it was the year after COVID and they let us back in here so it helped the Calgary Stampede out. This year it being the 100th and people knowing what to expect I think people are just excited,” said Bensmiller.

He said the economy has obviously improved as well.

“If the economy isn’t going and our sales don’t do anything … it’s not just us, it’s every team that it goes on. The Flames suffer if the economy’s not doing well. We’re no different.”

Molle said it appears the economy has improved and the extra money is going to go a long way.

“It’s huge for everybody because it sets the tone for the year and helps everybody with expenses.”

The Grey Eagle Resort and Casino spent top dollar to have Bensmiller’s wagon carry its colours during Stampede.

“We’re certainly bullish on the economy improving and we want to continue to invest in it on the hospitality side,” said Tyrone Waite, Grey Eagle’s CEO.

“It really is a reflection (of the economy). Chuckwagon racing really is a reflection. The fact it’s up is good news.”

This year’s Stampede will run from July 7 to 16.