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Fairs Key Contributors To Local Economies

“They’re still a good attraction.”

– DORIS FLETCHER, PRESIDENT, MANITOBA ASSOCIATION OF AGRICULTURAL SOCIETIES

CAFE study highlights Source: Canadian Fairs and Exhibitions Economic Impact Study 2009

Combined impact of all Canadian fairs estimated

at $1 billion annually. – Large fairs contribute $386 million to local economies; medium fairs $51 million; small fairs $569 million

Average small fair in Canada has $750,000 impact on local

economy. – Economic impact derived from spending by non-locals and fair operations

Small fairs support local

employment. – Average small fair supports 8.4 full-year positions in a region

Agricultural education

important to attendees. – Agricultural education programs (at medium-size fairs) have potential to reach 28.5 million consumers per year

– Educat ion content enhances experience for majority of fairgoers

High demand among fairgoers for locally produced

food – 92 per cent said they’d prefer to purchase locally produced food

– Small fairs enjoy a unique position to showcase local products to consumers

To view the entire report log on to:

www.canadian-fairs.ca

Afamiliar scene is unfolding across rural Manitoba: parades, halls filled with canning and artwork, spectators blissfully sunburning while taking in a horse or cattle show.

Mid-July is the height of fair season, with three or four taking place every weekend.

Most fairs have reached well past their century milestone, ranking them now as one of the most enduring of all rural traditions – one no one seems to tire of.

Fairs continue to draw hundreds, even thousands of visitors. They’re unofficial homecoming weekends too.

“They’re still a good attraction,” agrees Doris Fletcher, president of the Manitoba Association of Agricultural Societies (MAAS), which represents this province’s 59 ag societies. “They do bring a lot of people into the community.”

Cash, too. The Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (CAFE), representing fairs across Canada, released a report this spring showing a combined economic impact of all fairs and exhibitions in Canada at over $1 billion.

LOCAL ECONOMY BOOST

Canada’s eight largest fairs generate the most per fair (a combined $368 million), but little fairs are bringing in big money too. The study reports Canada’s smallest fairs – 759 in total – contribute a combined $596 million to their local economies. That’s an average of $750,000 per fair.

CAFE’s findings are drawn from a survey of six small fairs that would still be considerably larger than Manitoba’s smallest, but the findings remain relevant by scale.

CAFE’s study also documents why visitors and home-comers keep showing up year after year. The vast majority of 16,400 Canadian fairgoers surveyed for the study say fairs remain an important tradition, and continue to appeal to all age groups, a finding emphasized most strongly at the country’s smallest fairs.

Fairs are also highly valued as an event for the whole community, unlike sports and arts events which cater to specific groups.

The study was conducted by Enigma Research Corporation, surveying 20 large and small fairs.

CAFE’s findings aren’t just a message to funders and sponsors, but are fuel for a fire that at times burns low among those who continue to support ag societies.

And ag societies aren’t getting any richer. In fact, they operate on shoestring budgets, and their volunteer numbers aren’t growing either, Fletcher says.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

MAAS is encouraging local ag societies to put concerted effort into recruiting new volunteers, she said. “We’re trying to create more activity in that area,” she said. “Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.”

It did in Kelwood. At age 25, Lise Munro is this small town’s new ag society secretary, and really enjoying her new role. She was one of three under 30 who joined the ag society after posters were put up appealing for help.

They joined simply because the fair’s important to them – and to their community, said Munro.

“It was getting to the point where if they didn’t have new members, it was starting to get a little bit scary that the fair might not continue.”

An additional infusion of young energy for Kelwood comes through the Harvest Sun Music Festival, held in conjunction with the fair. Owners of the local café by the same name invite roots and folk entertainers to perform in Kelwood the same weekend as the fair.

“It works good,” says Munro. “The ag society has the fair at one end of town and the Harvest Sun festival is at the other end. It circulates people through the town.”

Other towns have pared down their fairs. Many no longer have a midway.

“Those are nearly out of reach for the small fairs now,” says Bonnie Kaspar, secretary of Gilbert’s agricultural society. Gilbert doesn’t have a midway anymore, but it still has its reputation as one the biggest little fairs going. It now concentrates on its dance and rodeo, and other must-have events such as the light horse show, heavy horse show and pig scramble, says Kaspar.

The home show, with its array of baking, canning, art and homecrafts, is still well supported every year and visitors are always keen to see that, says Kaspar.

125 YEARS AND COUNTING

Kim Stewart, secretary for the Souris Glenwood Agricultural Society, agrees it’s a struggle at times to keep an ag society going. But reaching 125 years, as their society does this year, is a big milestone, says Stewart.

“I’m hoping we’re able to keep it going for another 125 years,” she says, adding that if predecessors did through two world wars and a Depression, then why not?

Fletcher says she thinks the future for ag societies lies not only in recruiting new folk to carry on, but in finding new ways to do things the old way. Some places may have to give up the big – and costly – entertainment and turn to recruiting more local entertainers, she says. It may mean playing up the traditional aspects of fairs, and promoting them as places the whole community can have some fun, says Fletcher.

“I think we just have to do country stuff that attracts city people.”

The CAFE report backs up what she’s saying. With fairs so prized as a tradition and a community gathering place, “marketing campaigns and sponsorships highlighting these themes would be highly successful,” it says.

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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