When organizers postponed last year’s golden jubilee of the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, the hope was that 2021 would bring a triumphant return.
They looked forward to the day this spring, when entertainers, horse and cattle shows, ag education, petting zoos and trade shows that typically draw thousands to Brandon at the end of March, resumed.
COVID-19, however, has had other plans.
Why it matters: The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba, like many organizations like it, is trying to take away some of COVID-19’s financial sting by moving events online.
The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba, the organizing body for three of Manitoba’s largest annual ag fairs, is now 0-4 on its last in-person events, although some form of the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair was hosted online.
The organization turned to virtual event planning and social media to mark its 50th anniversary, carried over from last year.
“This year, we had a little bit more time to put together something virtual so we can celebrate as much as we can,” exhibition president Greg Crisanti said.
The last week of March 2021 saw the exhibition launch a series of virtual trivia quizzes, draws, behind-the-scenes features, daily themes and sold-out drive-through meals in lieu of an in-person fair. “Behind the Barns,” a series of interviews spotlighting the fair’s best-known draws and unsung heroes, such as the exhibition’s longtime announcer or its draft horse and hackney pony shows, were pushed online daily.
Dollars and cents
Last March, the exhibition’s plans for a grand anniversary got sidelined only 10 days before gates were meant to open. That disappointment was followed by the cancellation of both the Manitoba Summer Fair and Ag Ex later in the year, putting significant financial strain on the organization.
After losing their three main income drivers for 2020, the exhibition launched its ‘Love A Fair’ fundraising campaign in January of this year. The campaign, which hosted both a series of smaller fundraising events and a call for local financial support, also includes $100,000 in matched dollar-for-dollar donations from the Winnipeg Kinsmen.
On March 31, the exhibition announced a $5,000 donation from Western Manitoba-based Westoba Credit Union as part of that campaign.
“Another year without the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair is disappointing,” the credit union’s president, Jim Rediger, said. “Even more disappointing would be the Provincial Exhibition not being here when it’s safe to host fairs again. We recognize the impact COVID-19 has had on our city and the entire event industry. Westoba is committed to supporting our community resources when they need it the most.”
The last year has been one for “thinking outside the box and working as hard as we can,” Crisanti said.
The ‘Love A Fair’ campaign has hosted online auctions, 50/50 draws, fundraising sales and outdoor markets thus far.
“All of those side fundraising events that normally would not happen because we’d be focusing on one of our live events,” Crisanti said. “(It’s) kept us alive until this point, along with the support and donations from our community and surrounding communities of people hearing our story and helping us out financially when we need it the most.”