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'Celebrating the next 100 years': 2024 Calgary Stampede canvas auction doesn't disappoint


The Calgary Stampede canvas auction marks the official countdown to the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

It's also seen as a gauge of the city's economic health.

This year's canvas auction didn't disappoint.

Former Rangeland Derby champ Kurt Bensmiller fetched an impressive $175,000 on Thursday night.

In fact, four of the first five drivers brought in bids well over $100,000.

But the crowning moment went to Kris Molle, another past Rangeland Derby winner, who took in a whopping $210,000.

Graf Mechanical came in with that bid.

Twenty-seven drivers in all hauled in more than $3.115 million, easily surpassing last year's $2.75 million.

Thursday night's canvas auction was held at the Big Four Roadhouse, where bidders registered to stake their claim as a tarp sponsor.

"Last year, we celebrated 100 years of chuckwagon racing, and this year, we're celebrating the next 100 years," said Kristina Barnes, manager of agriculture and western events for the Calgary Stampede.

"We have a very strong group of bidders tonight. It's a very diverse group of companies -- everything from technology, construction, tech, oil and gas of course. ... We hope to see a very good result, economically."

Last year, a total of 27 bidders raised $2.75 million to support chuckwagon drivers and their respective teams as they competed in the world-famous Cowboys Rangeland Derby.

Bids in 2023 ranged from as low as $50,000 to as high as $170,000.

Two of the top three bids came from First Nations groups (Grey Eagle Casino and the O'Chiese Business and Investment Centre).

The 2022 total was $2,105,000, marking an increase in funds of $645,000.

"Right now, 77.3 per cent of businesses are optimistic, which is incredibly high and far above the national average," said Ruhee Ismail-Teja, vice-president of policy and external affairs with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

"We look a lot at how businesses are doing and in particular, how large organizations are. There are businesses in the city that are above 100 employees, so the largest businesses -- 95 per cent of them -- have the access to capital that they need, which really tells us that they've got a reasonable amount of money in their pockets to be able to support things like the Stampede auction."

Historically, Calgary has been quite focused on the price of oil, and when those prices are higher, they do correlate with higher bids at the canvas auction.

Ismail-Teja says a number of other industries, however, are growing in the city.

"We look at hospitality and tourism in particular -- about 86 per cent of those businesses are seeing higher revenues than they were a year ago," she said.

"So that's good news, but also when we look at businesses across different sectors that would be supporting the Stampede auction, their revenues are higher as well."

Anupam Das, an economics professor at Mount Royal University, says more diverse growth across different industries is positive, but there are still concerns.

"At the same time, we'll find out more with this auction because there is a little bit of cautiousness as well related to the potential future of inflation," he said.

"So that might make people a bit, you know, careful before spending money.

"It's not necessarily (that) there is a one-to-one relationship with the amount of money people (spend at) this event and the city's economy, but I think what we will see here is that it'll give us a good indicator about what the immediate future forecast of our economy would be."

Chuckwagon drivers excited for big auction turnout

It's safe to say Dayton Sutherland has chuckwagon racing in his blood, representing a third generation of his family's legacy on the track.

The up-and-coming 26-year-old will make his debut at the 2024 Calgary Stampede and has been looking forward to this big event for his entire life.

"It's everything. Like, it's quite literally everything, not only for our tarps obviously, that's the side that I deal with the most, being the driver, but you know, even for the shows to go on," he said.

"You're looking at the raw, you know, advertising, dollars of companies. ... And I just think that, you know, if it's a strong sale, it's usually a good indication of people's willingness to spend money at least at a corporate level in the economy."

Driver Chance Bensmiller says the event allows many competitors to keep going through the entire season.

"This is a big stepping stone for us. ... It's a big part of our budget and this sale is our biggest one," Bensmiller said.

"Now that the Stampede has split this up, allowing the opportunity to sponsor a single night of the event helps split it up and brings in a lot of smaller companies. It really helps get their name out there." 

With files from Camilla Di Giuseppe, Damien Wood Top Stories

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