If you’re planning to head out on the highway this summer for adventure, consider trying some new routes. The events you can experience may be closer than you think — or take you to a corner you’ve never seen before.
But two things are clear. The definition of fun is as vast as the Alberta landscape, and the tradition of getting together with community for pure enjoyment is older than the province itself.
Here are just a few of your options: quad wars, horse races, running with bulls, tractor pulls, farmers’ markets, and combine demolition derbies.
Who makes all this possible? It’s the 284 primary agricultural societies – made up of 66,000 creative and committed volunteers who are proud of their place, and dedicate an estimated 640,000 hours annually to enrich their way of life and welcome visitors.
While the festivities were created to encourage locals to gather and celebrate, folks from bigger centres are now being drawn to these homestyle activities.
And organizers are beginning to recognize that trend, said Tim Carson, CEO of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies.
“In many cases, they consider them more local events than they do tourism events,” he said. “But many people are actually looking to have a more ‘local’ experience when they are out touring. So attending some of the events going on in the smaller communities is a great way to immerse yourself in rural Alberta.
“It’s a way to not only get your community and what it’s all about out there, but it’s also a great revenue source for these organizations. They put in a lot of time and effort putting on these events, and accessing the larger community around them is always a bonus.”
In fact, ag societies in Alberta generated more than $44 million in revenue, according to a study done in 2009, and that figure did not include events put on by ag groups in the major centres of the province.
“It’s a much bigger impact than most people recognize,” said Carson. “It’s important to not only rural Alberta, but Alberta in general.”
While smaller ag societies aren’t generally tracking where all their visitors are coming from, Carson points out initiatives such as the Growing Rural Tourism conference and Open Farm Days have shown that people are willing to travel to the countryside.
“Ag societies are continuing to look for ways to entertain and stay relevant for their own communities. Because they are being as innovative as they can be with the resources they have, they’re attracting a new group of people to come and take in the events that are going on.”
There are plenty of reasons to make a rural trek this summer, that can satisfy nearly every interest. If it’s nostalgia and old-time machinery that tickles your fancy, there’s lots to choose from, like the Didsbury Antique Tractor Olympics (July 8), the High River Tractor Pull and Model T Ford Race (June 17) or the Model T Races in Bruderheim (July 29). La Crete has an antique parade and equipment demonstration (Sept. 2), Round Hill has a harvest threshing demonstration (Sept. 3), and Airdrie has the Art of the Harvest (Sept. 23).
If playing in the mud (or watching others do so while you stay clean and dry!) is more your thing, you can do that at Bruderheim too. As well, Bonanza has a Mud Bog with its July 14 fair, or head to the Glendon Derby and Mudbogs (Aug. 12), the Quad Wars in Darwell (Aug. 19), or the La Crete Mud Bog (Aug. 19).
Rodeos and horse events abound, along with cattle shows, petting zoos, parades and bench shows.
There are some interesting blends of new and old. For instance, the community of Millarville, just outside Calgary, is well known for its summer farmers’ market, but it’s added to that a half-marathon run on June 17. Plus the Running of the Races at the historic track goes for the 112th time in Millarville on July 1.
With this year being the 150th birthday of Canada, many of the July 1 celebrations are ramping up at places like Rosemary, La Crete, Ponoka, and Irricana. The community of Tomahawk is one that mushrooms well beyond its size, as folks from all over head there to celebrate Canada Day.
More than 20 of the organizations are over a century old, and this year the Benalto Fair and Rodeo marks its 100th Fair and Pro Rodeo on July 6.
Food — oh, the food — you can find in rural Alberta, with steak, beans, corn, and barbecues galore. In the fall, there’s the not-to-be-missed annual Garlic Festival in Andrew (Oct. 14). Pumpkins are featured in Carstairs (Sept. 30) and Eaglesham (Oct. 29).
The Association of Ag Societies has some handy planning tools for you to map out your calendar. You can download a mobile app through the website (www.albertaagsocieties.ca). There’s also an extensive calendar there, which is also shared with both Travel Alberta and Alberta Agriculture’s website calendar.
So whether you’re looking for something to do with visiting relatives, want to glean some new ideas for your own community, or just have a desire to explore a different region, it’s time to hit the road and have some fun in rural Alberta this year.