34 Ontario fairs cancelled due to COVID-19

Community safety and financial risk cited as reasons not to run in 2020

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Many agricultural societies across Ontario have cancelled their 2020 fairs due to continued concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Vince Brennan, manager with the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (OAAS), says that as of April 29, 34 of the 214 fairs that are members of the OAAS have officially cancelled their events for the year.

Why it matters: The cancellations create a large economic loss for fair operators and the loss of family traditions for Ontarians.

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“Thirty-four that I know of for sure have cancelled in Ontario. I know unofficially there’s more, they just haven’t made the announcement yet. Others have picked a date when they are going to make that decision — they are just waiting it out a little bit longer,” said Brennan.

For most associations, safety of volunteers, participants and attendees is of utmost importance but there is also concern about the availability of funds.

“Will there be trust in our communities for any events with any kind of gatherings? Will there be the funds there, the disposable dollars, to spend to go to events, not just fairs?” asked Brennan.

The uncertainty of disinfectant protocols for large gatherings and social distancing requirements are key factors in the decisions whether to hold the fairs or not.

Norwood Fair, which takes place on Thanksgiving weekend, is one of the furthest fairs out to cancel. The decision was made at the end of March.

“The most important thing the board and myself discussed was our volunteers. We were reluctant to put any of our volunteers at risk. We didn’t want to put them in a situation where they would be involved with a lot of people,” says Paul Quinlan, general manager of the Norwood Agricultural Society.

The fair didn’t want to be responsible for a second outbreak in the small town of Norwood.

Judge Brent Howe talks to 4-H dairy exhibitors at last year’s Western Fair.
photo: John Greig

Another big reason was to protect the fair’s financial resources.

“If we didn’t make this decision when we did, we would have been investing money, possibly with no chance of recoup. It would be spent and gone,” says Quinlan.

Also a concern is whether the government will even allow large events to take place come autumn.

“It was a very tough decision. There is an economic impact to these unknown times. The money that it brings to this community is just unreal,” says Quinlan.

Brennan says COVID-19 will benefit the fairs in the years to come as civilians head back to their roots and reconnect with the reasons agricultural societies have existed for 200 years.

“I think they are going to refocus on the home crafts, the exhibits and those types of things. I think (fairs) are going to see a growth in those exhibits. I think we are going to see a growth potentially even with volunteers because they’ll realize the importance of having those types of activities in their communities,” says Brennan.

The Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, which represents 700 events across the country, has called on the federal government for support as it says some fairs may not survive the forced closures.

About the author

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Jennifer Glenney

Jennifer is a farm reporter who lives in Cayuga, Ontario.

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