As the leaves in our fair province turn, so do our thoughts turn to fall fairs. We are so lucky to live in an area where we can easily take advantage of a number of them!
Fairs have existed literally since time immemorial. The earliest records date back to 500 BC in the Middle East. Originally they probably started out as the main way people could gather to buy and sell goods; religion and worship were also part of it. Besides commerce, there was entertainment, featuring everything from jugglers and musicians, to plays, besides music and dancing, games and drinking. In Roman times, they took place on holy days, and the word itself comes from the Latin “feriae” for “festival” or “holy day”. In the Christian era, the church actively sponsored them. By medieval times, fairs took place all over Europe. In 12th century England, towns started organizing annual multi-day fairs sponsored by the king. By the 18th century the British created a cross between these traditional fairs and agricultural improvement societies, and country fairs as we know them now were born.
Early British settlers brought this idea to North America. The first Canadian agricultural society was organized in Nova Scotia in 1765. The Agricultural Society of Upper Canada started in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1792, was Ontario`s first. Its aim was to educate farmers in new agricultural techniques and make the agricultural sector more prosperous. In the first half of the 19th century, the societies grew and spread in popularity, and farmers could socialize. Fairs related to them also grew in most Ontario communities and 1820 legislation gave monetary help to the societies and their events. Fairs gave contact to the bigger world too, besides entertaining with such events as horse races and ploughing matches. It was the fall fair which was most important, allowing the harvest to be exhibited and sold. From Ontario, they spread out west.
Some of what went on was captured in a poem about the 1829 Ottawa fair:
“Twas not to buy or sell they came;
They all assembled, wild and free
To have a ranting, roaring spree!”
The drunken brawls ended in a few years of its cancellation.
Country fairs today have become an important part of our lifestyle and culture. Many try to bridge the gap between urban and rural lifestyles. They now are organized through the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (OAAS) which aims to promote agriculture and the rural lifestyle, and has celebrated its 175th year recently.
Planning to go this Year?
Today Ontario boasts more than 210 country fairs to attend. These include the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, now over 100 years old, and the Canadian National Exhibition, which started as a travelling agricultural show in Canada West (as Ontario was then) in the 1840’s. Most fairs have themes. Here are a few to consider in our own backyard!
BOLTON FALL FAIR
This fair is held annually at the Albion Bolton Fairgrounds in Bolton, in September. Besides agricultural exhibits, it has rides, live entertainment, a craft beer festival and food vendors, exhibits and a demolition derby. For children there are pony rides, a petting zoo, and a kiddy pedal pull, as well as a pedal car raceway. Other fun events are dog watersports, an arm wrestling competition, a pet show, sheep shearing demonstrations, milking competition, tug of war, spaghetti eating contest and baby show, plus a pancake breakfast. The Society began in Bolton in 1857 with a balance of $4.77 and bought the land where it stands now in 1868 for $250.00!
ERIN FALL FAIR
The Erin Fall Fair takes place around Thanksgiving weekend in October at the Erin Fairgrounds in Erin. Celebrating 173 years now, it calls itself “Ontario’s preview to the Royal Winter Fair”. Great with kids’ entertainment all weekend, there is lots to do like seeing many kinds of animals, besides horse and cattle shows, food and crafts vendors, apple dumplings and a beer tent, with a midway. There are also truck and tractor pulls, and a lawn and garden pull.
BRAMPTON FALL FAIR
This fair is mid September. Besides the livestock shows, they also have home crafts, food, and a demolition derby. Of course, there is a midway too! The latest addition is a rodeo. It all happens on the Brampton Fair Grounds and there is family fun for all ages. This fair has been in existence since 1853.
ORANGEVILLE FALL FAIR
The early September fair at the Orangeville Agricultural Society grounds just north of town features fun kiddie events like a messy labs workshop, petting zoo, children’s tractor pull, face painting and a clown. There is also the truck and tractor pull (as well as a lawn tractor pull), a classic car show, midway, demolition derby, vintage snowmobile show and swap, craft exhibits, stage entertainment, and dog, horse and cattle shows, besides vendors and food.
FERGUS FALL FAIR
The 186th Fergus Fall Fair takes place in mid September. One of the oldest in Ontario, it began in 1836 and takes place in the Centre Wellington Community Sportsplex. Fun events include dog agility and herding, stage and music entertainment, an extreme stunt show, raptor birds, classic car show, farm animals, chili cook-off, farm products market, agriculture tent with children’s activities, truck/tractor pulling, demonstrations, a baby show and beer gardens.
Mid September is the Shelburne Fair which will celebrate 156 years. It is as old as Canada, having started in 1867! Besides Shelburne, it is also the fair for the Town of Mono and the Townships of Amaranth, Melancthon and Mulmur. Events include some livestock shows, a pie eating contest, a baby show and a dog show, along with an evening demolition derby. Local first responders are there with displays. Children’s events are potato sack, egg and spoon, and round bale races as well as a pedal tractor pull and face painting. A fun zone and climbing wall, and inflatables are there for kids too. Do not forget the Saturday pancake breakfast!
ARTHUR FALL FAIR
Earlier in September this fair is near the Arthur Arena and it starts with a beef barbeque supper. A pancake breakfast is also held. There are various livestock shows, including horse driving and western horse shows, as well as a sheep shearing demonstration and dog lure courses, besides exhibits. For kids, there is a power wheels demo derby, pedal tractor pull, clown, pet show and frog jumping contest, and activity centre. Other entertainment includes inflatables, a sandcastle contest, bingo, a baby show and magic, juggling and comedy show, and outdoor family movie night. There are exhibits to see. An “Ag Café” and a chili cook-off will please appetites.
Further afield are Grand Valley, Acton, Beeton fairs, and beyond. The bottom line is these fairs continue an important tradition for farmers, and a good way for urbanites to meet the country and see where their food comes from. They are family friendly events reflecting past and present, but do check about bringing any pets with you first.
Go and have fun!
For an interactive Google map of OAAS Fair locations, please visit www.ontariofairs.com
WRITTEN BY: DIANA JANOSIK-WRONSKI