A successful fall fair, the heart and soul of many a rural community, is always the result of plenty of advance planning and hard work. That’s especially true of the 2009 Harriston-Minto Fall Fair, which was 150 years in the making.
“Collections and Reflections” was the theme of the 150th annual event, which continues to draw large crowds in an era when many rural fairs are struggling.
The first official event of the 150th fair, the selection of Harriston area resident Emily Burgess, as Ambassador of the Fair, was actually held in July. Burgess, 17, daughter of Gary and Cathy Burgess, is a Grade 12 student at Norwell District Secondary School.
Blessed with excellent weather on the fair weekend, Sept. 18-20, the event featured one of the longest parades in recent memory, including a massive contingent of antique tractors and equipment, effectively illustrating the evolution of farming in this area.
Officials state attendance at the fair itself was up substantially this year, buoyed, as has been the case for the past 20 years, by packed grandstands for the popular Demolition Derby on Sunday. Margaret Shannon, president of the Harriston-Minto Agricultural Society, said the fair typically draws around 3,000 people, with attendance at the 150th fair coming in at the 3,700 mark.
Part of the secret to the success of the Harriston-Minto Fall Fair has been efforts to keep the event fresh and exciting. In addition to the traditional livestock shows, school and homecraft competitions, new events are introduced regularly to keep the fair in tune with modern interests and trends. Among the new elements at the 2009 fair were an Agricultural Awareness display, homemade wine-making competition and a beefed up section of historical displays in keeping with the 150th fair theme. A classic car show initiated four years ago by Ron Leslie of Leslie Motors and John Caesar of Harriston Motors continues to grow, bringing in over 90 participants and adding another element to the fair.
Getting lots of people involved helps keep the fair evolving and attendance up, said Shannon.
“We source out different groups for different things and that snowballs,” she stated, adding, “We bring in people from all walks of life: retired people, active business people when they have time, and we’re big on bringing in young people to get them involved.
While good attendance keeps the fair on solid financial footing, Shannon points out it’s designed as a community event, not a cash cow.
“Most of what we make at the gate goes back out in prize money,” she explained.
The Harriston-Minto Fair was initiated in 1859, just five years after settlers first arrived in the area, by Joshua Harrison (of the town’s founding family), Alexander Dow and John Holland.
The success of the fair has always hinged on the many volunteers and local businesses that take the event to heart. While the fair continues to evolve to remain relevant to the entire local community, organizers understand the fair is “anchored in agriculture” and continues to reflect local farming traditions.