For nearly two decades, Waterton Lakes National Park has welcomed car enthusiasts from all over Canada and the United States for its yearly Waterton Wheels Show ’n’ Shine car show.
The event is run by a small group of community volunteers and sponsored by Pat’s Waterton Gas and Cycle Rental.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 and 2021 shows, but this summer things were looking up for the 18th annual car show to go ahead.
Due to organizers being unable to agree to Parks Canada conditions for a special event-permit, however, the official car show is unable to proceed as normal for a third year in a row.
Instead, people who were planning on coming are encouraged to still drive their rides into the park this Sunday, Aug. 28, for a Classic Car Day in Waterton.
Pat’s co-owner Ty Wammes says the failure to secure a special-event permit stemmed from disagreeing with Parks Canada’s location requirement.
Typically the show is held on Main Street, which is restricted to pedestrian traffic in the summer, with both sides of the road reserved for car show participants. This year, Parks Canada stipulated only one side of the street could be reserved, leaving room for about 40 cars.
The lowest turnout experienced at a Waterton Show ’n’ Shine was 65 cars; the busiest year was 180.
“We were disappointed, but not angry,” Wammes says. “We disagreed on whether it would be a feasible activity.”
Parks Canada declined an interview request but did offer an official statement saying that special-event permits are required to ensure events are lawful, safe, protect the environment and wildlife, and respect visitors’ experience in national parks.
“Parks Canada recognizes the Show ’n’ Shine is a long-standing community event and has issued permits for it in the past,” the statement continues.
“Several conversations took place with the proponents while considering this permit application. After review, Parks Canada offered the proponent a special-event permit with three location options and standard safety conditions…. Ultimately, the proponent decided to not proceed with the event.”
Though a permit was not granted this year, the statement concludes, Parks Canada is willing to work with the Show ’n’ Shine to hold the event again in the future.
According to Wammes, part of the concerns with having the event on both sides of Main Street was interference with business deliveries and customer access. Emergency vehicle access was also cited as a concern.
Wammes says organizers mitigate delivery issues by holding the show on Sunday and also points out the car show brings more people into nearby businesses. Emergency access has also not been an issue in past shows, with organizers confirming the setup with the local EMS and RCMP.
And although the show could have been moved to another location, such as the townsite campground, Wammes says the event would still have been limited to 60 cars, which was well below the anticipated participation.
“If we couldn’t host everyone, we didn’t want to put it on — we didn’t want to turn anyone away or include some cars and not others,” he explains.
Wammes adds that cancelling the Show ’n’ Shine cancels one of the few community-wide events in Waterton that brings residents, tourists and businesses together.
“I hope the lack of organization doesn’t kill the momentum we’ve built up,” he says. “Once an event takes one year or two years off, it dies off pretty quick. I’d hate to see it die on our watch.”
Still, Wammes is optimistic the informal Classic Car Day in Waterton will have a good number of cars to keep the Waterton tradition alive.
“I’ve talked to quite a few car owners as early as this spring that were inquiring about coming out. They bring a pretty cool community with them,” he says. “I just hope for a good day with good weather, and I hope it resembles what it used to be.”
Participants who decide to visit Waterton will be welcomed by the community, though there will be no organized or reserved parking. Drivers are also asked not to park on the closed Main Street where the Show ’n’ Shine has been held previously.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze