Reformatting the fair
By Chad Ingram
2016 will be a year of changes for the Haliburton County Fair as organizers alter its format.
The fair will be held earlier than usual this year, on a single day in June, rather than over a weekend in August, and hopefully the changes will make the event more sustainable.
According to the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies, fairs throughout the province have seen declining attendance in recent years.
While sad, this makes sense.
Country fairs are becoming things of the past, relics from a reality that doesn’t exist anymore.
Most of Ontario’s fairs trace their origins back to the 19th century – the Haliburton fair celebrates its 152nd anniversary this year - to a time when the majority of Ontarians were rural.
According to Statistics Canada, in 1861, 1,137,899 Ontario residents lived in rural areas while 258,192 made their home in urban centres.
That’s 82 per cent of the province’s population living rurally, versus 18 per cent in cities.
In 2011, there were 1,806,036 rural Ontarians and 11,045,785 urbanites.
That’s 14 per cent of the province’s population living rurally, versus 86 per cent in cities. That’s essentially the inverse of a century and half before.
Functioning farms once covered the Ontario landscape while today farmers are nearly as elusive as Big Foot or Haliburton’s sidehill gouger.
As the agricultural backbone of fairs started to suffer sclerosis, fair organizers had to diversify and modernize to continue to bring people through the gates.
Think of some of the province’s largest and most successful fairs and it’s their midways and grandstand entertainment, not horse pulls, that are the main draw.
In a scene that was a living metaphor, last year at the Kinmount Fair I watched as horses paraded for no one behind the stage where country band Doc Walker was playing for thousands of people.
For fairs that can’t afford flashy midways or mainstream headliners, it’s more and more difficult to draw crowds.
But there’s hope.
By condensing the Haliburton fair to a single day, the Minden Agricultural Society should be able to save some money on operating costs.
And a growing local food movement throughout Ontario may mean that a renewed interest in things agricultural is on the proverbial horizon.
By refocusing the fair on its agricultural roots, organizers may be able to capitalize on this growing trend.