By Connor Lynch
LOMBARDY — The Lombardy Fair board has cancelled the popular pig scramble — an event in which young children chase pigs until they touch one — because of “pressure” from emails, phone calls and an online petition. The board says it wanted to relieve fair-goers of stress from seeing protestors at the fair.
The board says it might bring back the cancelled pig scramble next year, if fair attendees raise more noise than the protestors. The small rural fair, south of Smiths Falls is Aug. 4 to 7.
A mere eight protestors showed up at the fair last year and promised a larger protest this time. A 500-name petition last year included only about five Ontario protestors. This year’s 5,000-name petition included more local names.
An online petition opposing the event was started by the Toronto Pig Save, which updated the petition to read “Victory!” after the cancellation was announced.
The animal activist organization also rallied against the greasy pig contest at the South Mountain Fair, which was cancelled last year.
One of the Lombardy Fair’s directors, John Joynt, posted a cancellation notice on the fair’s Facebook page. “The people who are objecting to our pig scramble know nothing about livestock and are just caught up in another reason to demonstrate,” the notice read. “We invite these concerned protestors to come to our fair and learn more about livestock and farm life before they expose themselves further as ignorant, uninformed, supposedly concerned citizens.”
The notice added that “We are not taking this action because we are threatened by this group of uninformed individuals, but rather because we don’t want our fair-goers to have to deal with the stress of meeting demonstrators at our fair entrance.”
Though the notice was later taken down, Joynt told Farmers Forum that he stands by the principle of what he wrote.
Co-founder of the Toronto Pig Save, Anita Krajnc — who was exonerated earlier this year after being charged with mischief for giving water to pigs on a transport truck hauling them to slaughter in Burlington in 2015 — told a news website: “I’m not going to call anyone names; what I’m interested in is ethics.”
Fair president and dairy farmer Melanie Chisholm told Farmers Forum that some of the animal activists contacting her had plenty of venom to share. “They said they were ready to lock us up in trailers, chase us around, beat us — what they envision is being done to our pigs. How we’re destroying children. They want to inflict pain on you because they think you’re inflicting pain on the pig.”
Some animal activists are polite, she said. “Others are fearless behind a phone or a computer. Telling us how we should teach kids respect for the animals, slinging insults at you; respect for people is not what they care about.
“They don’t present their arguments. They just sling insults and criticism,” Chisholm said. She said that for three weeks she was getting up to 30 emails a day, and a handful of phone calls, along with Facebook postings.
Joynt echoed that. “They’re not just protesting. They’re being really, really nasty about it.”
Last year, there were about eight people that stood outside the fair, holding up signs and handing out pamphlets, said Chisholm. “It was harassing for people coming who just want to go through the fair,” she said. Another Eastern Ontario country fair faced protestors a few years ago but carried on with the event and the protesting stopped, said Chisholm.
She agreed that the board fled from the conflict, but said she was concerned that the conflict had become too personal and could follow her to her farm and her young family. “I know that my animals are treated well but these (activists) twist stories,” she said. “They are extremists. If you don’t share their belief, they attack you.”
Reaction to the cancellation has been mixed.
Perth town resident Don Adams has attended the Lombardy Fair for the last 35 years, but not this year, he said. “To see the executive of the fair cave in to this political correctness incensed me. I’m suggesting boycotting the Lombardy Fair. The people who signed the petition aren’t even coming to the damn fair.”
Adams said he’s not alone in his anger. “I just happened to see it on CBC. I lifted right off my chair.”
Chisholm said she stood by the fair’s practice of the pig scramble. “(We) never dragged pigs, never greased hands. (The scramble) operated with fairly small children. Once the kids put their hands on a pig, that was a catch. We had two groups of pigs, so they weren’t run more than once a day. We felt that we cared for the pigs well, and were proud of the way we ran our pig scramble.”
The pig scramble had been a popular draw since it started about five years ago. Up to about eight children get in a pen with an equal number of pigs. The event usually lasts about five minutes and within another five minutes the pigs are usually asleep, Chisholm said. “If I suffered trauma, I wouldn’t be asleep in five minutes.”
She will not be the fair president next year and a new board will consider bringing the event back. People have come forward to volunteer their children for the event, she said. One local business offered the fair $1,000 if the board re-instated the scramble this year. Farmers Forum has offered to help sponsor the event should it return next year.