Royal Agricultural Winter Fair cancelled for 2020

Near-century-old annual ag showcase put off to 2021

Layne Chantler of Alliston, Ont. brought this show heifer to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in 2019. (Farmtario photo by Jennifer Glenney)

Two years shy of its 100th anniversary, Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair has been called off for 2020.

Organizers said Wednesday the event, which was scheduled for Nov. 6-15 at Toronto’s Exhibition Place, has been cancelled “due to our ongoing concern regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.”

First held in 1922, spearheaded by Ontario cattle producer W.A. Dryden and granted its “royal” designation by King George V, the Royal today is billed as the largest indoor agricultural event in the world, drawing about 300,000 people per year.

The Royal’s agricultural food competitions will still take place in 2020, organizers said in a release, and “virtual programming designed to engage, educate and motivate is currently being explored for this fall.”

Beyond those plans, organizers are turning their attention to next year’s event, scheduled for Nov. 5-14, 2021, ahead of the Royal’s 100th anniversary in 2022.

The Toronto region was allowed to move into “stage two” of Ontario’s pandemic reopening plan starting Wednesday, providing for “small outdoor events, such as cultural celebrations, animal shows and fundraisers… in line with gathering-size restrictions.”

Large outdoor events such as “concerts, large festivals, parades and amusement fairs” are still not permitted in stage two, the province said. Large public gatherings will also “continue to be restricted” in stage three, starting at an as-yet unspecified date.

From the pandemic’s arrival in the province up to Wednesday afternoon, Toronto has reported 14,029 of Ontario’s 34,016 cases of COVID-19.

“Ultimately, our decision is grounded in our commitment to help ensure the health and well-being of our community at large,” fair CEO Charlie Johnstone said in Wednesday’s release.

“We understand and appreciate the time, effort and financial commitment required to compete and exhibit at The Royal and did not make this decision without very careful consideration.”

The Royal has been cancelled on “only one other occasion,” organizers said Wednesday.

The event was suspended from 1939 through 1945, while Exhibition Place’s facilities were pressed into wartime service by Canada’s military and the Royal Horse Palace’s stalls were repurposed as barracks for soldiers preparing to be deployed overseas.

COVID-19 has already forced several major ag events and local, regional and national-level fairs to cancel, postpone or move online for 2020 — including, among others, Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, Canadian Western Agribition, Canada’s Farm Show, Ag in Motion, Grain Farmers of Ontario’s March Classic, the Canadian Beef Industry Conference, the Calgary Stampede and the Canadian Dairy Xpo. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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