While the Ponoka Stampede is fiercely proud of the past and preserving the tradition of cowboys and rodeo, it also has great vision for the future and always moving Canada’s Largest 7-Day Pro Rodeo forward.
Both directions are being celebrated as the 83rd edition of the Ponoka Stampede gets underway.
The first performance is dedicated to long-time Ponoka Stampede member and past-President Dr. Gary Harbin, who passed away in March. His vision, guidance and service is being honored with a special ceremony.
But with his son, Bruce Harbin, at the helm of the organization this year, a big step of growth for the Stampede is being marked with the opening of the impressive new Wild West Suites in the infield, offering sixteen luxury suites, including an impressive rooftop grandstand viewing area.
Allison McWilliam has been working with the Stampede board in the planning process for the past two years, serving as the Director of Suite Operations and Sales now.
“We’ve had the same eight suites for twenty years, and they’ve been the same eight suite-holders,” she explains. “There wasn’t really any opportunity for growth, for new sponsors or even just rodeo families to come in. So it was important to build a facility.”
There were careful efforts to ensure the demand was there, and then to scale plans accordingly. Last June, sales were launched and the whole suite program was revamped, looking at suites and programs in other facilities like Rogers Place or at the CFR, to make it an exclusive experience for guests.
The positive response was immediate and early commitments enabled the $3 million construction project to move forward. For McWilliam, equally important was ensuring the premium look and accompaniments to make suite-holders’ extra investment worthwhile, including a full-scale catering team. Perks even include a new Wild West campground exclusively for suite-holders near the drive-in tunnel.
Another big new feature fans from all angles will appreciate is a gigantic new jumbotron screen, which will bring all the action and replays into full view.
As the Ponoka Stampede begins, all weekly suite rentals, both in the Wild West Suites and in the regular grandstand, were fully booked. The Stampede has one Wild West suite it’s using for special guests, plus making some daily rentals available to give opportunity for others to have the suite experience.
President Bruce Harbin is over the moon about this one-of-a-kind rodeo facility, which keeps the Ponoka Stampede tradition of ‘bigger and better’ in full swing.
“It’s brought huge corporate hosting capacity to Ponoka, which should invite new clientele, which brings new people and expands the fan base. New guests bring new guests, and hopefully they become repeat patrons,” says Harbin, who remembers his Dad’s own enthusiasm for the chute grandstand and suites built at Ponoka twenty years ago. McWilliam agrees about the importance of always attracting new fans.
“We need to keep growing. We need to bring in new people, and this venue gives us the opportunity to do that.”
She is excited about the entire project, but a favorite is the rooftop view of the entire infield and even into town.
“It’s stunning,” she says. “The whole building is amazing but that rooftop really takes it to the next level.”
“For sure this has been a passion project. I have been coming to the Stampede since I was a little kid and I love this event so much. I’m so invested in the town, the people, the sport of rodeo, it’s been amazing to watch this thing come to life.”
- Total prize money and sponsorship for the Ponoka Stampede and chuckwagons tops the one-million-dollar mark for 2019, with $363,500 of that dedicated to rodeo.
- New sponsor The Horse Park has added a $3000 cash prize to the Bucking Stock of the Stampede Awards.
- For the second time in Ponoka Stampede history an Alberta Premier will serve as Parade Marshall when Jason Kenney participates in the 3-Mile-Long Parade on Friday.
- Legendary retired WPCA chuckwagon drive Rick Fraser has found a new seat with reins, as he pilots the Ponoka Stampede Stagecoach into the arena during every performance
- Longtime show announcer Dr. Lynn Phillips of Oklahoma isn’t able to attend the first several performances for medical reasons, so eight-time CPRA Announcer of the Year Brett Gardiner of Sylvan Lake will be at the microphone for the first performances.