This weekend, members of the Haliburton County Fair board will get together for their annual general meeting.
Among the topics of conversation will be the future of the fair itself. With a need to replenish about half its membership with new (read young) blood, the board has questioned whether the Haliburton County Fair – 153 years old – has reached its best-before date.
The answer, sadly, is maybe and the reasons for that extend beyond the fair itself and have ramifications for other events and organizations as well.
But let’s look at the fair first.
When the Haliburton County Fair was first held in the 1860s, the majority of Canadians were rural people, living in rural areas, doing rural things. They were farmers. Many of the families in and around Haliburton County owned farms and the fair was an occasion not just to bring one’s finest livestock and produce for competition, but also to socialize, to buy and trade equipment and animals and perhaps learn some new tricks of the trade.
It was an opportunity to “network,” although it’s unlikely many 19th century farmers used that term. With most of the country’s population now urbanized, county fairs have become culturally irrelevant, an increasing number of them going the way of the horse and buggy.
The most successful of Ontario’s remaining fairs are successful because of their midways, demolition derbies and stage shows, not because of the quality of their cattle.
The rural way of life is dying out in this country, in this province and even within rural communities such as Haliburton County.
Look not just at the fair board attempting to rejuvenate its membership, but at curling clubs constantly trying to recruit new players, at hunters and trappers, spinners and weavers looking for youngsters to pass their skills on to.
Often there is no one to receive the proverbial baton. Young adults, 20- and 30-somethings, people my age, often don’t participate in this stuff. They also don’t join service clubs in the volume their parents and grandparents did.
Technology of course has a role to play, first the advent of television and now the Internet beaming all kinds of potential pastimes into a small community.
Lack of time is likely also a factor. Just because you live in a small community, doesn’t mean you actually spend much time there. Most families now require two incomes, perhaps with some sort of side hustle on top of that, to make a household tick. A good job close to where one lives, or the ability to afford a house near where a good job is located, is often not possible, so many young adults spend hours and hours commuting each week, hours that are not spent with the Rotary club or at the curling rink or with the fair board.
Those duties continue to be left to their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.