By Connor Lynch
SOUTH MOUNTAIN — After 13 years of uninterrupted running, the greasy pig event at the South Mountain Fair was cancelled this year amidst an outcry from animal activists and concerns that a provincial grant could be in jeopardy.
The issue erupted when animal activist groups, including one called the Toronto Pig Save, began circulating a video of the contest. The group posted the name, number, and email address of fair president Paul Allan on their Facebook page on Aug. 12.
In the time leading up to the fair, Allan said that he received over 100 emails, 50 phone calls and 30 text messages telling him to cancel the greasy pig contest. Most messages were from the U.S. Even after the fair ended, he was still receiving calls from the U.S. about the contest. “They need to pay attention. We cancelled the show. Stop bothering me.”
Allan said that he also received a call from Blair Harris, a regional tourism advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, on Aug. 18. Allan said he told Harris that he planned to go ahead with the Aug. 20 event. Allan said that’s when Harris called board member Anna Smail, who then called an emergency meeting of the board. The board was told that if they didn’t pull the plug on the contest, the fair could lose its $47,000 Celebrate Ontario grant, Allan said.
Farmers Forum contacted Smail, who said only “As a board, what we’ve decided is that the issue has been resolved and I do not want to make a comment.” Smail then hung up. The board later met and decided not to talk about the matter publicly any more.
Farmers Forum tried to contact Harris. We received an email reply from Denelle Balfour, a media relations officer with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport. “The ministry received a complaint from a member of the public concerning the greasy pig contest,” she said. “Staff at the ministry shared the complaint with fair organizers. The ministry was later informed that the fair’s organizing board decided to cancel the contest. 2016 Celebrate Ontario funding was approved to support a variety of enhancements to the South Mountain fair not related to the contest. At no time was the fair’s Celebrate Ontario grant in jeopardy.”
The Ottawa Animal Defense League issued a press release saying “we are very pleased that the event was cancelled, as it shows there are many caring people out there who do not want to see animals used for such barbaric entertainment.”
Allan, who’s overseen the contest for the last 13 years, said that the event was one of the major draws for the fair. “Every year there’s between 70 and 100 kids doing it, the stands are packed with spectators, parents, families, friends. Lots of laughter. The kids love it.
“The animals to me are fairly well kept as in they always have water, and they’re in a shaded area. So really, the only thing going on with the pigs is they’re being run after by children and their rear legs are grabbed. There’s no torturing going on, and I think a lot of these people think we’re torturing and harming these pigs.”
Allan added that he’s aware of the Ministry of Tourism’s statement that the grant was never in jeopardy. “These are the headlines that I’m seeing and I don’t really understand. Then why is Blair Harris calling me and then another board member who then calls the meeting and puts it out on the table? It had to come from somewhere, right?”
Farmers Forum has offered to be a sponsor for the greasy pig contest if it is reinstated next year.