Fall fairs and exhibitions on Vancouver Island are either keeping the doors closed this year or offering a much different version of their event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Well, our inability to host over 45,000 people with the COVID-19 pandemic makes it fairly impossible for us to run an event of this size,” said Dave Hamer, Saanich Fair president.
The Saanich Fair is the longest-running fall fair in western Canada dating back to 1868. It’s been hosted every year except one because of the First World War.
“With the limits of 50 people, there’s just absolutely no way we’d be able to host the event,” added Hamer.
Preparations would be in full set up mode by now but instead, the grounds in Saanichton were quiet Saturday.
The fair is still having an online portion for kids 3 to 16 years old with a focus on art and the country market at the fairgrounds will go ahead on Saturday.
Other fairs like the Alberni District Fall fair are offering a more virtual experience, instead of the real thing.
“We have some entertainment that’s being live-streamed and we have some 4H competitions that are being live-streamed as well,” said Ann Siddall, Alberni District Fall Fair Administrator and vice-president of BC Fairs Association.
There is also an online draw for $25,000 cash.
“We would be celebrating 75 years of the Alberni Fair this year and I don’t think it’s ever been cancelled before,” she added.
The Comox Valley Exhibition is celebrating its 146th year and will go ahead as scheduled next weekend, albeit with limited attractions and strict entrance rules.
Only 50 people will be allowed on the grounds at a time with a time limit of one hour.
Many of the normal attractions won’t be there this year including West Coast Amusements.
“Here is a staycation all within the protocols that they can enjoy and still continue the tradition,” said CVEX president Mike Trimble.
Admission is free as sponsors cover most of the costs.
The Vancouver Island Exhibition in Nanaimo is offering a “virtual” fair and the Cowichan Exhibition is going ahead with an “Un-Fair” in order to “honour the tradition of the Cowichan Exhibition that has been a part of this community for the past 152 years.”
Ultimately the future of many fall fairs is in jeopardy.
“Even all across Canada, there are probably a lot of little fall fairs that are very old, 120, 125 years old that probably won’t survive,” said Siddall.