“The end of the pandemic is in sight,” says Mark Anderson, the president of the Livestock Breeders Association of the District of Beauharnois (LBA), which organizes the Desjardins Expo Ormstown. Unfortunately, “It just hasn’t come fast enough for the fair.”
Despite this, Anderson explains that after much discussion, deliberation and consideration, the LBA board of directors has decided not to cancel the 2021 edition of the fair. “We realize trying to hold a full-blown event in June is very unrealistic,” he says. “We are going to invest all our efforts and volunteer time into a late-summer fair.”
The LBA is not promising anything more right now, as so much remains unclear heading into the summer festival season. One thing that is certain, says Anderson, is that the board is not going to jeopardize anyone’s health by holding the fair too early.
“It may not be the typical fair,” he admits. “But in times that are anything but typical, we’re going to hold onto hope, that if everyone keeps getting their vaccines as they become available, and we continue to take safe measures and protect each other over the next hundred days, then just maybe we will be rewarded with the green light to put on our country fair.”
The LBA is considering the possibility of holding a limited capacity event in June and the board is talking about the annual car show, horse races, and antique snowmobile show. But, with few details available regarding public health measures and restrictions for the summer, absolutely nothing has been set in stone.
“We’re running in the dark,” Anderson says, “but we are going to plan something.”
No decision for Huntingdon Fair
Similar discussions have been taking place between members of the Huntingdon Agricultural Society, which puts on the annual Huntingdon Fair. For the moment, the board has decided to hold off on cancelling the event. “We haven’t heard anything,” says president Glen Moore, of the government’s position on holding large outdoor events. “We are waiting to see,” he says, while admitting they are not holding out much hope.
“You still have to plan,” Moore says, noting everything is in place and they are ready. “Our fair is not until August, so maybe things will be looking better by then.”
Hope for fairs in 2021
According to Christina Franc, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (CAFE), there is a marked change in the atmosphere surrounding fairs this year after last year’s cancellation of the entire season. “Everyone is a lot more hopeful and willing to try things,” she says, while acknowledging some events have already been cancelled and that many more organizers will be facing difficult decisions in the coming weeks.
Franc says that like the LBA, organizers across the country are looking at planning multiple scenarios. The fact that so many fairs and exhibitions are volunteer-run is also adding a layer of complexity to what is already a complicated and evolving situation. “It is difficult to cancel something, but it is even more difficult to un-cancel something,” she says, noting there are risks associated with pulling the plug too soon.
Last year, CAFE issued a dire statement suggesting the pandemic could lead one in ten fairs to shut down permanently; however, Franc suggests the situation may not be quite so catastrophic. “Thankfully, a lot of them do have rainy day funds,” she says, noting most have been able to simply hibernate. “We are a resilient bunch,” she says. “It may be the nature of our farmers, but we are going to fight for our industry.”
Even better news is that CAFE researchers are finding that there is a pent-up demand for public events. “We are going to see record numbers when we can reopen,” Franc says, citing results from fairs that have already opened to huge crowds in the United States.