2022 chuck wagon drivers with tarps up for auction during the Calgary Stampede Canvas Auction on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS/FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

After two years, the Calgary Stampede Canvas Auction is back.

Canceled due to the pandemic in 2020, then pushed back to 2021, the auction is traditionally seen as a barometer of the city’s economic activity.

As for advertisers looking to get their logos in front of tens of thousands of onlookers, the auction was a welcome comeback.

“I feel there’s a certain energy in this room tonight,” said Steve McDonough, president and chairman of the Calgary Stampede.

In total, the auction brought in $2,105,000, with an average of $77,963 per auction.

Still, before the start there were bets on whether or not the auction would return to the bidding levels seen in previous years. By the end of the night, individual bids surpassed highs not seen since 2013, but also set a record for the past decade of auctions.

“Well, it’s a whole different auction,” McDonough said.

“First of all, it’s the first time we’ve had this kind of environment, but we also have 27 cars this year compared to what we had in previous years.”

Previous years have featured more than 30 wagons at auction.

Auction below centennial highs in 2012

Tuesday’s bidders set records, with the pair bidding $180,000 and more well above the 2019 auction high. Kurt Bensmiller pocketed $185,000 and Vern Nolin $180,000.

“That’s good,” said Nolin.

“$180,000 sounds like a lot of money, but we’re incurring a lot of costs – the price of everything is going up, and feed and stuff is very high this year,” he said.

He said that wouldn’t leave much for some of the other wagon teams given how low bidding this year is. Danny Ringuette took the lowest offer at $35,000, down $2,750 from a 2016 low during the recession and the lowest offer in over a decade.

The canvas auction hit record highs for the Stampede’s centennial year in 2012. Kelly Sutherland topped that year with a bid of $300,000. Bidding remained high until 2015, when it was not uncommon to see winners deposit over $150,000 for a canvas.

The significant decline in international oil prices led to lower bid values ​​in 2016 and 2017. The 2017 bid did not exceed $100,000 at the highest level.

In 2019, the last year the auction was held, the rebound in market confidence pushed prices back up to $150,000 and 14 out of 31 wagons fetched $100,000 or more.

A different auction for 2022

McDonough said comparing this year to previous years is like comparing “apples and oranges”.

“What’s important is that we support these drivers and support the sport,” he said.

There were tempered expectations that this year would serve as a bellwether for Calgary’s economy, as the auctions have done in previous years. With fewer wagons at auction, the Stampede said it won’t break any records this year.

And that is precisely what happened. The final total of $2,105,000 was lower than the 2016 low, but was a direct result of the lower number of chucks at auction. The average bid for that year was about $11,000 more than that year’s $67,016.

Driver Codey McCurrach, who also works in the oil and gas industry, predicted lower overall bid numbers this year. Despite the historical link between Western Texas Intermediate oil prices and canvas bids, he said he was hesitant to say the correlation would continue into 2022.

“I think companies are reluctant to show that they’ve profited over the last couple of years or even just as recently with the unreal oil prices we’re seeing right now,” he said.

He pointed to the past two years of layoffs and corporate spending cuts as the reason companies may not want to be seen spending big bucks on tarps. He also said there is some lingering uncertainty about the economy, although recent trends have been positive in the province.

Auctioneer Rob Bergevin at the Calgary Stampede Canvas Auction on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS/FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Wholesale return under a possibility for 2023

But, McCurrach said, bidders would be back in 2023.

“They want to try a bit, and if they had a good experience, maybe in 2023 they’ll spend that $100,000.”

Kent Stormoen, owner of Versatile Energy Services, presented the highest bid of the evening at $185,000. He said that despite several years of difficult conditions in the oil industry, he felt it was important to continue supporting the Calgary Stampede and the Bensmiller family.

Stormoen said he felt some drivers should have received more for their tarps for the evening, but was impressed with the level of support shown overall.

“There are very good drivers who sold out after [Kurt Bensmiller] who I think deserved a little more recognition than them,” he said.

“This is my fourth year of sponsorship now – we’ve had so much recognition from it, and it’s very important to be a part of it.”

Vern Nolin tips his hat to the crowd after receiving a bid of $180,000 at the Calgary Stampede canvas auction on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS/FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Drivers excited to race again this year

Drivers, sponsors and the Stampede all agree that holding wagon races this year is a welcome return to sport in Calgary.

“It’s my life, cart racing and my family’s life, and we’re excited to move forward,” Nolin said.

“People see it as ‘these guys have a weekend off’, and it’s not. I feed my family and pay my bills – I pay my house payment and stuff with these horses,” he said.

McCurrach said he was excited to return to racing after a two-year absence due to the pandemic.

“But thanks to that, I bought new horses, and I bought more horses, and I’m really excited for the year,” he said.

The Stampede is optimistic about the possibility of holding a full event in July, even if Covid-19 continues to be an issue this summer.

“We learned a lot from Stampede 2021 about what it takes to run a live event safely for our community…we’re not throwing this away because it looks like the pandemic is ending,” McDonough said.

“We are still in a full-fledged pandemic, until further notice, so we will modify our behavior as we did last year,” he said.

McDonough said the Stampede lacked as part of the larger Calgary community and visitors lacked live music and wagon racing.

“I’m happy to say they’re both coming back this year.”

Auction results 2022

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