Provincial Ex hosts alternative events due to COVID-19

The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba is hoping a lineup of smaller events can help mitigate the financial damage of cancellations

The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba is fighting for its financial life.

The organization has been forced to cancel its entire slate of Brandon-based fairs this year due to COVID-19.

The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba hopes that a rush of small events will help take some of the sting out of losing all three major fairs to COVID-19 this year.

The Royal Manitoba Winter Fair was the first casualty. That was followed by the Manitoba Summer Fair and this fall’s Ag Ex.

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The trio of cancellations have put the exhibition in dire financial straits, president Greg Crisanti said.

“We’re really in an awful position this year,” he said. “We are in the event business and without any events being able to happen because of the pandemic, financially, we are not doing well, like many others across the country.”

In early August, the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (CAFE) said it was asking the federal government for $74 million in aid due to the financial hit from COVID-19.

A release from the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba last month estimated that Brandon had missed out on $18 million in economic impact expected to be brought in by the cancelled events.

Looking for alternatives

The exhibition has since laid out a schedule of smaller events in the hopes of drumming up at least some fundraising this year.

The organization, in co-operation with local businesses in Brandon, rolled out a number of pickup barbecue dinners, 50/50 draws and similar events. Most recently, the exhibition organized a “giant yard sale” outside the Dome Building in the Keystone Centre fairgrounds.

The next such event will also take over the area in and around the Dome Building. The exhibition has announced an outdoor market for the venue to be held Oct. 17-18.

“We’re hoping to have some hayrides, a pumpkin patch, food vendors, things like that — of course, all adhering to the current public health guidelines,” Crisanti said.

Nationally, CAFE has also organized a weekly online 50/50 draw in hopes of drawing support for its members, including the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba.

The province downgraded the Prairie Mountain Health Region’s COVID-19 status back to “caution” as of Sept. 18. The region had been upgraded to “restricted” status in August after a noted spike of cases in western Manitoba. As of Aug. 27, active cases within the city of Brandon had grown to 126.

As of Sept. 18, active cases in the Prairie Mountain Health Region had fallen back down to 38, including 22 in Brandon.

The easing of restrictions included a lift of the region’s mask mandate for public indoor spaces and public gatherings, although masks are still highly recommended. Likewise, caps on public gatherings eased back to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Under “restricted” status, both indoor and outdoor gatherings had been limited to 10 people.

The period of heightened restrictions did scale back the exhibition’s already small-scale event plans during that time, Crisanti said.

The exhibition’s attention now turns to future event planning.

It is unclear whether next year’s Royal Manitoba Winter Fair can go ahead, Crisanti said, although organizers are discussing options should that event also land on the chopping block.

“It’s still uncertain and we’re talking about it lots around our boardroom table, what that event might look like and what we can do in lieu of the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair if that event is not able to proceed,” he said.

About the author

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Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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