Hants County Exhibition celebrates 250th anniversary
Remember the time Mike Duffy raced on an ostrich that could reach 56km/hour?
The oldest agricultural fair in North America is marking a big anniversary — 250 years.
"We're older than Canada. We're older than newspaper, radio and cameras. There's a whole list," said Brian Casey, president of the Hants County Exhibition and Maritime director for the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.
The fair was first held in 1765 and says it's North America's oldest continuously run agricultural fair.
It may be old, but it tries to keep things new.
There are staples such as beef shows and dairy shows, but also car demolition derbies, tractor pulls, headline entertainment and, of course, the midway.
David Coombes has been the fair manager for 50 years. He was brought on to manage the Hants County Exhibition and the Atlantic Winter Fair in 1965.
In the 1960s, Coombes got creative and went to California to make a deal to bring ostriches to the exhibition in Windsor and Halifax. They were a hit, he said.
"We had local people racing these ostriches ... like radio station personalities. And we even had Mike Duffy racing the ostriches when he was working with CHNS," Coombes said, adding he wasn't sure if Duffy won the race or not.
Despite reaching this big milestone, the Hants County Exhibition has had its fair share of challenges, like other fairs in the province.
"A lot of us have been struggling for the last 15 or 20 years. And the only reason that most of them are going, or kept going, is the dedication of a very small group of volunteers at each one of those that live, eat, breath, sleep exhibition," Casey said.
Declining attendance is a big issue.
"I can remember, you know, the kids, all summer you'd look forward to going to exhibition in September. Now, there's probably five or ten things going on in Halifax, Dartmouth or down the valley, or the big music thing in P.E.I. that everybody goes to," Casey said.
Coombes said the number of livestock farmers, and bigger farms, play into this decline.
Where's the beef? It's right here
This year is a bit of an exception, though. Coombes said Hants County will have the largest beef show that's been held in Atlantic Canada for many years.
It's one of more than 20 fairs in Nova Scotia. Two fairs won't run at all this year.
The Maritime Fall Fair at Exhibition Park has been called off because the building has been deemed unsafe due to winter damage.
At the time, the government said it will cost $3 million to repair the roof, and another $6 million for upgrades. Trade Centre Limited said it won't be in a position to buy it back.
"It's a big blow because that's … everybody's final show," Casey said. "It's kind of like the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, but this is kind of like Nova Scotia or the Maritimes' Royal Winter Fair."
Casey says he's hopeful the government will stay true to its word and help get the Maritime Fall Fair up and running again next year.
The Antigonish fair is also a no-go this year because the town didn't get a new floor put into the arena, Coombes said.
Part of the community
In Hants County, the town doesn't own the rink — the fair does.
"We still feel we're a very important part of … the communities and the economy and everything and it all goes back to that old thing: no farmer, no food," Casey said.
They've hit an impressive milestone this year, but that doesn't mean they'll be slowing down.
"We've already talked at board level that once we've finished our 250th celebration," said Casey. "We're really going to have to sit down and look at where we're going."
Coombes thinks the younger generation will play a big role in this, including 4-H.
"To those kids when you see them walk out of there with a red ribbon, it's not the 75 cents or the $20 that they get. It's the recognition they get from their peers and appreciation for all the hard work they've done."
The Hants County Exhibition runs for two weekends in Windsor between Sept. 18 and 20, and Sept. 24 and 27.