Kamloops Cowboy Festival rides off into the sunset

After two consecutive cancellations due to the pandemic, the festival's organizers have decided to hang up their hats

It appears the sun has set on the Kamloops Cowboy Festival, after its organizers of 20 years have decided to retire.

Mark and Kathy McMillan first got involved in the festival’s third year.

"Kathy and I have said for a couple years that 2020 was going to be the last Cowboy Festival for us,” Mark McMillan said. “We were just going to retire.”

With the 2021 event also cancelled due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions, McMillan decided to hang up his hat, concluding the festival without a final send-off year.

"After 20 or whatever years of doing it, we thought someone else maybe should, and no one else has stepped up," he said.

The plan to retire had been discussed for a couple years, McMillan said, but no one from the BC Cowboy Heritage Society (BCCHS), which operates the festival and benefits from the funds it raises, was willing to take over the reins.

McMillan said another deciding factor was the society's reserve funds having also dried up.

"We always kept enough funding so that if something happened one year we could go into the next year, but that funding is basically running out," he said.

The festival was part of the BCCHS's goal to promote and preserve the cowboy way of life. It did so through a convention-style show that included vendors from all over Western Canada — and beyond — and entertainment, including music, storytelling and dinner theatre.

The event was first held in 1997 at the Stockmen's Hotel (now Delta Hotels by Marriott Kamloops) on Victoria Street. Its other venues over the years include the Calvary Church and, most recently, the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre.

McMillan is currently the president of the BCCHS and said he won't run for that role again but will maintain limited involvement with the society.

In addition to the festival, which was the society's biggest fundraiser, the BCCHS also operates the BC Cowboy Hall of Fame out of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin in Williams Lake.

And that is where McMillan suggested the next festival might take place, should it be restarted by the BCCHS.

The society also offers several scholarships, and McMillan said those scholarships, as well as the society itself, will continue, despite the loss of the festival.

© Kamloops This Week