Fair volunteers tough to find

·3 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — The Hymers Fall Fair isn’t just an agricultural fair, it’s a family affair.

The Hymers Agricultural Society, which puts on the annual carnival, is led by first-year president Erin Laforest.

Laforest’s roots go back over those 110 years the fair has been hosted, except for the Second World War, starting with her great grandfather George Hymers taking up the reins in the early years of the festival.

“My grandmother was a Hymers, so it’s actually in my blood,” said Laforest, who has been on the Hymers Agricultural Society board for seven years and has volunteered at the fair since she was 11. “My great grandfather (George Hymers — fair president 1936-40) — he was the one that started the Hymers settlement. I don’t think he started the fair, but he certainly helped out. They say he was a mover and a shaker.

“It’s definitely gone through the generations. (Wesley Hymers) was (George’s) son and he was president at one time (1947-49) and my grandmother Opal Gudmundson (1947-48) and mom Karen Slomke (1986) were both secretaries at one point. I figured it was my turn.”

Putting on a fair of this magnitude takes many volunteers to pull it off. Laforest said they’re going to get it done, but they could always use a few more helping hands.

“We’ve got some areas that are fully covered and some areas where we’re still looking,” said Laforest, who is an administrative assistant with O’Connor Township. “We’re making calls trying to get our volunteers in.

“A lof of people that have been there through and through, they’ll be back for sure. (The COVID-19 pandemic) has definitely given some complications. Some people don’t necessarily want to be out in the crowds and I don’t blame them. It’s nice to see the ones that are coming back and the ones that will return eventually. You have your faithful volunteers, your faithful fairgoers and I’m thinking that we’re going to get there.”

The Township of Gillies Reeve Wendy Wright, who is also the Hymers Agricultural Society second vice-president on the board, echoes Laforest’s comments when it comes to people volunteering after the pandemic.

“There is not as many people volunteering,” said Wright, who was out painting and cleaning up at the fairgrounds last week.

“I’ve heard that from a lot of places. There’s less for sure. I don’t know if it’s people just starting to get back into the swing of things or what’s behind it, I’m not sure.”

The fair will have its usual fare of animal, food, drink and craft contests as well as a deep pit barbecue beef dinner on Sunday and a ham and pierogi dinner on Monday as the main dishes.

There’s plenty of entertainment on a pair of stages, the hilltop and main, on the fairgrounds with the main stage featuring Scott Van Teeffelen, who just played Ribfest this past weekend, The Hoolies, Flipper Flanagan and Southern Comfort.

One interesting contest during the weekend will be the Ms. President cabbage decorating competition where participants will dress up a cabbage in the image of Laforest’s face.

“That was a little prank on (previous president Randy Creighton’s) part,” laughed Laforest. “I’m pretty curious to see how it turns out. I can’t wait to see that.”

The fair will run 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Monday.

Admission to the fairgrounds is $10 for adults, and $5 for seniors (aged 65 and up) and children (6-12). Children five and under enter for free.

John Nagy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal