The tradition of summer and fall fairs remains in limbo following the cancellation of the 2020 events due to COVID-19. What will 2021 look like? Vince Brennan of the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies sees the glass half full. “We’re going to try our best, but that changes day to day.” Brennan is referring to the shifting pandemic rules and regulations that scrubbed last season for the 212
Ontario fairs. The current lockdown has seen a number of agricultural societies already pull the plug for this year such as Schomberg, Niagara, Haliburton and Maxville, which are traditionally the early events.
Agricultural societies have been trying to be creative and safe when it comes to host- ing an event in COVID. “We’re planning a virtual fair possibly a drive through,” according to Shayla Fraser, President of the Avonmore Fair, who concedes anything can change on a dime in the pandemic. The North Lanark Agricultural Society has can- celled the 162nd Almonte Fair for 2021 for in person events. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months,” says Almonte Fair Homecraft President Cathy Gayton. “We may do a homecraft showcase as things open up. It will likely be virtual.”
Wait and see is what Elizabeth Blair is doing as the president of The Middleville Agricultural Society which hosts the Middleville Fair in September. “We’re just trying to figure out what we can do.”
Blair suggests they are looking at scaling back homecraft classes but confirms there will be no animals this year.
The impact of COVID-19 on fairs had the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions predicting last year that at least 10 per cent of fairs would have to fold permanently. That didn’t happen but its executive director Christina Franc told Farmers Forum that the signals for 2021 are similar.
“I think last year agricultural societies were able to tap into their rainy day fund and provincial funding.” The Ontario government chipped in $5 million in late 2020.
When it comes to the bottom line for agricultural societies, some have a financial advantage to stay afloat. “We’re fortunate that we own the land for the fairgrounds,” said Fraser. Some societies have continued to raise money with COVID- safe events like a drive through chicken barbecue dinner.
The lifeblood of the fair is the volunteers and the countless hours spent making the event a success.
Brennan is a little concerned that two years of cancellations may see the pool dry up. “We need to keep the volunteers engaged so we have a base to work with when we come out of COVID. Sponsors remain very supportive.”