Ontario’s agricultural fairs delayed until 2021, but organizers find ways to fill the…

Some event organizers will host online events this year; ‘We’re not trying to replicate the physical fair. It will be a different type of experience, like this whole year is’

September 2020 marked the first time in the Beeton Fall Fair’s 164-year history that the event had to be cancelled.

Nothing – not even the First or Second world wars – led to a cancellation. That is until COVID-19 hit.

It’s a sign of how interconnected urban and agricultural communities have become.

These days, most farm families have at least one member who commutes to an outside job on a regular basis. Farms have become agri-businesses; trade and commerce are regional, if not international; and what happens in Toronto and in other urban centres is just hours away from any other point in the province.

So when the pandemic hit, everything shut down.

The cancellation of the Barrie Fair was announced in mid-April. “I can’t sit here and say that 2021 is a sure thing; we had a lot of momentum coming out of this past year,” general manager Ryan Johnson said at the time. 

Amanda King, president of the Markham Fair, summed it up like this: “Using all information currently available, the board has unanimously decided that the safety of our visitors, volunteers, staff and vendors is our primary concern… Over the last 176 years, the Markham Fair has overcome many challenges and this is no different.”

The Schomberg Fair, normally held in May, not only cancelled its 2020 season, but is now looking at a possible cancellation for 2021, as well.

“We’re sitting on pins and needles,” said secretary Cathy D’Alessandro.

With maximum capacity for outdoor gatherings currently set at 25 people, “I don’t think they’ll be at 5,000 by May,” she said.

It’s not just local fairs, like Barrie, Beeton, Schomberg and the four-day Markham Fair that have cancelled their events in 2020. 

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair has also made the decision to “wait for another year.”

The Royal is a huge undertaking. Canada’s largest indoor agricultural fair, it brings together more than 6,000 animals and thousands of producers from across the country every year.

This is only the second time in its history that the Royal has been cancelled; the last time was during the Second World War.

The Royal began considering closure back in February and March, and made the decision to cancel the in-person format “probably in April-May, when we were watching what was happening with government restrictions… and wanting to let our exhibitors know as soon as possible,” said Royal chief executive officer Charlie Johnstone.

Although it was decided that an in-person Royal would not be safe, organizers found an alternative — a virtual fair experience, online and through social media, that would keep the spirit of the Royal alive during these difficult times.

“We started to really look at that in the June-July timeframe,” said…


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