Why P.E.I. loves craft fairs so much
'It's almost like organizing a small army '
Christmas craft fair season on P.E.I. is in full swing — there are more than two dozen across the Island, with more being added all the time — one at Westisle school has even announced a comeback after 15 years.
Craft fairs are a great chance to get out, see what your neighbours are creating in their spare time or as professionals, and buy some unique handmade gifts.
"I love to support local artisans and enjoy handmade creations!" said Gail Janes in response to a CBC callout on Facebook asking why Islanders love craft fairs.
It's like a family coming home.— David Gallant, TOSH
For community groups and schools, the fairs can also be a major fundraiser, generating proceeds from table rentals, admission, raffles and draws.
The longest-running craft fair
The 55th annual P.E.I. Crafts Council Christmas Fair, happening Nov., 9, 10 and 11 is the longest-running craft fair on the Island.
This fair was held for decades at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, but moved a few years ago to the Delta Hotel.
Daphne Scott, a vendor at the fair for 45 years with Village Pottery, says the fair was the only one on P.E.I. for years, and was really a precursor to P.E.I.'s thriving artisan industry. In the last 30 years, hundreds of stores have opened on P.E.I. offering crafts — some are the same artisans who were regulars at the fair.
"There are so many shows now," says Ayelet Stewart, the craft council's executive director.
This year the show will have only 37 vendors — "the numbers have dwindled," notes Stewart — but she is excited that many of those vendors are new to the show.
Going to this fair is a tradition among many Islanders, which offers artisan demonstrations and live music from P.E.I.'s Singing Strings. The fair's artisans are all members of the P.E.I. Crafts Council and their creations are juried, so they pride themselves on offering higher-quality items.
Young people nowadays appreciate "drinking their latte out of a handmade mug," Stewart said, and although it's had its ups and downs, the Crafts Council plans to continue the fair for years to come. Admission is $4.
Likely the largest
Three Oaks Senior High in Summerside hosts its annual craft fair Nov. 10 and 11 — it's one of the most popular.
This year TOSH's show is bigger than ever, with a whopping 160 vendors and a waiting list of two dozen more.
The school is just finishing up major renovations which has provided even more room, and a little incentive for folks to come check out the space this year.
"It's like a family coming home," said one of the organizers, math teacher David Gallant. "It's almost like organizing a small army here." Students and teachers all help out.
Admission is $3 and kids under 12 get in free. With 6,000 to 7,500 customers a year, it's a major fundraiser for the school.
Gallant said the large number of craft fairs on P.E.I. hasn't affected their attendance, as they have a loyal following — in fact, they barely need to advertise.
Small is beautiful
The York Point Community Centre has what is likely the smallest craft fair with just 14 vendors. It's Nov. 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and there's no admission.
"It kind of makes it more unique," that it is so small said volunteer organizer Mary Carr-Chaisson, who also sells her encaustic paintings and ornaments at the fair. "It's very casual and relaxed."
It's in the quaint little wooden building that used to be the local one-room schoolhouse.
Only slightly larger at 19 vendors, Breadalbane's Small is Beautiful Christmas Craft Fair at the Breadalbane Community Centre is Saturday, Nov. 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
It hosts local artisans from the creative little community including Oceanna Seaplants, P.E.I. Maple and More, and Stanley Pottery and Weaving.
"It's kind of old-fashioned," said organizer Joan Sutton. "People just really enjoy it."
The P.E.I. Weavers Guild will also have an open house at their studio in the basement at the same time — see a real loom in action!
Admission is $1 per person or $2 per family and proceeds go to maintain the community hall, which is an old schoolhouse.
Christmas at the Eastlink Centre started Friday and goes until Sunday. It has 110 vendors including crafts, antiques and food in a 20,000 square foot space.
John MacKay of Dartmouth, N.S., started it in 1988, as a for-proft with his business Media 101, which organizes events like home and RV shows across the Maritimes.
"It's not a bad business, I manage to make a living at it," said MacKay. "I'm not getting rich." Vendors pay $90 for a booth for three days.
MacKay expects about 7,000 customers, depending on weather. Admission is $5.
The popularity of craft fairs peaked in the mid to late 1990s, he estimates, and more people came to them. He used to mount many spring fairs too but finds demand is not there now.
"It's just a change in people's buying habits," MacKay said, noting many people shop online now.
'We try to make them comfortable'
Joanne and Louie Myers run LJM Events of P.E.I. which puts on three holiday craft fairs. They began in 2014 in Cornwall but it grew so big they moved to the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown. They now have shows in Montague and Summerside and plan to return to Cornwall next year too.
Joanne says she started out as a vendor selling Avon at a fair, and heard so many complaints from fellow vendors she decided she could do better.
"We've been learning every year from it — you want the vendors to be happy too," Myers said. "It wasn't just booking in as many as you can. We try to make them comfortable and put them in a spot that suits them."
"If you don't you're not going to get them back," she said. They serve coffee, tea, water and snacks to vendors.
Myers said it's a good business. "We're doing OK." She said if there are two fairs held the same weekend, many customers will attend both.
Their Holiday Craft Fair is at the Cavendish Farms Wellness Centre in Montague Nov. 3, Christmas at the CUP at Credit Union Place in Summerside is Nov. 24, and their Ho Ho Ho Christmas Craft Fair at Eastlink Centre is Friday Nov. 30 and Saturday Dec. 1.
The school fairs
Stratford Schools Holiday Market is being held the evening of Friday Nov. 16 and Saturday Nov. 17 at Stratford Elementary.
There will be 90 exhibitors and admission is $3. Children under 12 are admitted free.
Colonel Gray High School's 26th annual craft fair is happening Friday Nov. 23 and Saturday Nov. 24 and is one of the most popular annual fairs — there were about 5,000 customers last year. Students perform Christmas music live.
They have more than 100 vendors. Admission is $3 and children under 12 get in free. Proceeds go to the school's music department to participate in band trips and festivals.
Taking it outside
Charlottetown's Victorian Christmas Market Nov. 23, 24 and 25 in Charlottetown is the Island's only outdoor market.
Part of Queen Street is closed off and besides crafts and food there are horse and wagon rides, carolers, ice sculpting and fire pits creating a festive atmosphere.
About 5,000 people took in last year's event, organized by Discover Charlottetown, which works to bring tourists and locals to the city to stay and play.
Discover Charlottetown also has a list of some of P.E.I.'s many crafts fairs.