Online fair not real thing … but it’s something!

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A column by Tom Van Dusen

An online farm fair with no sights, sounds and delightful smells! It obviously won’t be the same… but at least it’s something, says the Spencerville Agricultural Society which simply refused to completely knuckle under to COVID-19.

Recognizing the importance of the fair in the community and the happiness it brings, the society has decided to ‘’offer some stability during this time of uncertainty’’ by going virtual for the 165th edition, Sept. 10-13.

Meanwhile, the St. Lawrence Valley Agricultural Society which sponsors Canada’s oldest fair at Williamstown is investigating staging an “alternative fair” later in the year with plans to be announced.

In charge of marketing and promotions for Spencerville Fair, Tammy Ferguson says the virtual version, while very scaled-back, will try to recreate some components of the real-life fair such as competitions and live entertainment.

Participants are invited to sign up on the Spencerville web site for such tried and true favourites as the baby show and pet show, the sheep show and dairy goat show; homecrafts and produce judging will also take place.

As Tammy says, at least it allows the show to on if in a different format. This at a time when it’s looking like some Ontario agricultural societies were forced to jumped the gun in cancelling their 2020 fairs early into COVID-19. No matter the dates, the calendar was wiped clean for this year.

Yes, early summer fairs were out of the question. However, the way so-called normal life is bouncing back, it may have become possible to run a typical 3-4 day farm fair by the end of August. Almost everything relevant to a fair is reopening in Ontario at the end of this week.

To be sure, dancing and singing are still banned in Ontario, the province that fun forgot. But eateries are reopening, patios have already done so, open air events are good to go. Much of this applies to fairs, and social distancing and mask-wearing when necessary could have been worked into the mix.

A couple of 4-H dairy show competitors at the Stormont County Fair in 2018. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Of course, I’m looking at this in retrospect. Back in March, April and May, when nobody knew how COVID was going to play out, the societies simply couldn’t take a chance.

Even with most of the organizational work done by volunteers, committing to the expense of a fair that, in the end, couldn’t be staged because of ongoing COVID restrictions, might have busted a lot of budgets, even leading to the demise of some venerable Eastern Ontario fairs.

My personal love of farm fairs started with jumping the board fence as a kid to get into the long-gone Aylmer Fair where we (Van Dusen siblings) often entered the pet show with our ducks, dogs or rabbit Harold, and proudly admired our handiwork tacked up in the exhibit hall for all to see.

That love never let up and I’ve attended four or five fairs every season since the 70s, from Williamstown to Lombardy and Perth, and almost all of them in between. Over the years, I’ve been asked why go to so many when they’re almost all the same. That’s the whole point: It’s that sameness that fair fans crave, from the livestock competitions and handicraft displays, to the demolition derbies and tractor pulls.

Fairs deliver a heaping helping of nostalgia, rural lifestyle, community values, and agricultural awareness; they’re educational along with entertaining and the perfect tool for informing city slickers that there’s lots of good life going on beyond the fringe.

No fair board wanted to cancel. It simply isn’t in the DNA. These volunteers, generation after generation, stand by the slogan the show must go on. Yes, there have been interruptions during Wartime and sometimes for specific reasons such as being unable to hire a midway provider.

But mostly, as if by magic, the fair returns year after year, decade after decade, century after century … and it’s reassuring to know with certainty the real-life version will bounce back again in 2021.

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