After a two-year hiatus, organizers of the Virgil Stampede are gearing up for a spectacular celebration of the May long weekend.
In March, 2020, the events were planned, entertainment booked, and members of the Virgil Business Association were geared up to put on what always promises to be a great three-day event — one they learned had to be cancelled due to COVID lockdown.
This year, members are more excited than ever, pleased to be able to give back to their community with a crowd-pleasing event. It’s a tradition that goes back 56 years, when an annual family fireworks display for locals taking place in Virgil grew to become first a popular two-day celebration of the long weekend, and then eventually to three days, drawing families from across the region.
Each year organizers try to blend a mix of the favourite attractions with something new, but this year may be a little different, says VBA president Richard Wall. There will be the usual number of amusement rides, the same great food concessions, there will be games and entertainment, and the always-spectacular fireworks display Monday evening at dusk.
But because of the late decision made to go ahead with the stampede, once the lifting of COVID restrictions made it possible, there may be some changes, says Wall.
There will be no demolition derby, but that’s due to lack of space. What used to be the corral area for an annual horse show — hence the name of the stampede — is now home to the skateboard park. It opened in September 2020, with a $150,000 donation toward its cost by the VBA, and will be available for enjoyment throughout the hours of the stampede.
Also, the decision was made by VBA members this year to limit the entertainment to what can be held outdoors, says Wall, so there might not be as many performers as
While there are no activities planned inside the arena, the Kids’ Pavilion will be back, although at this point Wall can’t say definitely what entertainment will be offered. He can say the popular air-brush face painting that kids love will be part of this year’s
stampede. It is offered by a family of artists who do their best to make sure the line-up is never too long for youngsters to wait.
There will also be free pony rides for the kids all three days.
The Miniature Horse Show couldn’t be organized in time for this year, but plans are to bring it back next year.
And the nickel sale will also be put off for this year. It requires licensing, many volunteers, and has traditionally been held inside the arena, so with the possibility of restrictions changing, the decision was made to wait for next year.
Amusement rides are being provided by Albion Attractions all three days, with bracelets for all-day rides. Although rides were traditionally provided by Homeniuk, a family-owned business, one of the family members passed away recently, but Randy Homeniuk who has been onsite for decades of stampedes, is partnering with Albion.
Bracelets will be available at Phil’s Independent in Virgil at a discounted price until Friday May 20, at 9 p.m.
The event will wrap up with the traditional Victoria Day fireworks, Monday at dusk.
Wall says he has memories of the stampede since his early childhood, and says the goal of the VBA has always been first and foremost to create a fun family event for the community. Consideration of costs has always been to make the event affordable for families to enjoy, and whatever funds are raised are also put back in the community, usually for a specified project, and that philosophy continues.
Wall wasn’t born when the VBA was formed, or for the earliest days of the stampede, but he does remember family conversations with his father, Dave Wall, who was one of the founders of the VBA, its first president, and very proud of its accomplishments.
Richard recalls the story of the year the VBA was formed, and a fundraising committee was created, of which his father was also president. The goal was to raise money for the Centennial Arena. There were people who thought the arena was too ambitious a project for a small town, he says. “There was push-back from a small group of people, but the vast majority of the community was behind it, and the VBA was the driving factor.”
The fundraising committee raised $158,000 in 1967 to add to federal and provincial grants, and Dave received certificates from both levels of government for the biggest centennial project per capita in the country.
Over the years the VBA has donated more than $1.2 million for a long list of facilities, playgrounds, schools, and other projects, including the Crossroads accessible playground.
But perhaps the proudest accomplishment, says Wall, is the Sports Park.
The vision of the VBA was always to create a multi-generational park, and the purchase of the former Kallaur property, once peach orchards where outfielders would search for hard-hit home runs, allowed for the expansion.
When that property was still an orchard, the VBA had the vision of one day adding it to the sports park, and members approached the Kallaurs to ask for right of first refusal when they were ready to sell. When the time came, the VBA “spearheaded the sale,” says Wall, approaching the town to talk about their vision.
A significant amount of taxpayers’ money went into the purchase, along with $50,000 from the VBA.The park now extends from the ball diamonds to Loretta Drive, including the soccer fields, and the park has become a place where a young family can have one child playing baseball or soccer, others in the splash pad or on playground equipment — both of which the VBA made a significant donation to — and most recently, older kids enjoying the skate park, the second one the VBA has helped to fund.
The first, a simple structure, was built in the mid-90s, also with VBA support, and served local kids until the town decided, about 10 years later, it would be replaced by a relocated skate park.
The park also has washrooms in two different areas, two pavilions, and people of all ages using the walking path or the pickleball courts. “The whole concept has that multi-generational feel we were looking for, a family-oriented park that is well-used. That was our mission, and I think we accomplished it,” says Wall.
And a park where 56 years later, the Virgil Stampede continues to be held for families to enjoy, and to give back to the community.
This year, with so much uncertainty, the VBA has not yet committed funds to a specific project.
Gates are open at the Virgil Sports Park Saturday, May 21 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday, May 22, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Monday, May 23 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Gate admission is $5 for adults Saturday and Monday, free to kids under 10. If a wrist band is purchased in advance, entry is free. There is no gate fee Sunday.
There will be enhanced security on the property, and security guards will be checking bags as people enter, “to ensure we continue to have a great family event for everyone,” says Wall.