THUNDER BAY, ONT. — The Canadian Lakehead Exhibition (CLE) Home and Garden Show is making a comeback this spring after an abrupt halt to plans three years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judy Anderson, chairperson of the show and vice-president of the CLE, is excited to welcome both new and former exhibitors and remains hopeful to see more than 100 exhibitor booths back at the event.
“This would have been our 25th year,” Anderson said. “We started out in one building.”
The annual home and garden show has grown over the years to take up three of the buildings on site as well as the surrounding exterior grounds where more industrial-type exhibitors are found.
Anderson says currently things are in the preliminary stages as she is in the process of reaching out to participants.
“We always go to the people who’ve been with us for years and invite them first, then if they aren’t going to participate, we open it up,” she said. “We are very accommodating and we will move exhibitors to buildings that they think will suit them better.”
She pointed out that they always wind up with a waiting list for booth availability and that list is already starting to fill. Exhibitor fees and admission fees help offset the cost for the CLE to host the event.
“We’re all volunteers,” she said. We do have some maintenance and office staff, so that’s why we have to raise money.”
Anderson described the show as something that they originally saw that Thunder Bay needed.
“At first it was all gardening but we’ve branched into the home (improvement) part of it too,” she said.
Over the last few years, a shortage of lumber and building supplies that hindered homeowners from building decks, fences and structures, seems to have tapered off and Anderson doesn’t think the shortages should impact the exhibitors’ goods and services.
Overall, the CLE made a strong comeback from the pandemic closures and restrictions in 2022 with a full plate of successful events highlighted by the annual fair.
“That was the best fair ever,” Anderson said.
Al Law, president of the CLE, agreed.
“It was a great crowd, great weather and we did really well,” Law said. “It definitely was outstanding. We got a lot of people from out of town — you couldn’t get a hotel room. Economically, it’s huge for Thunder Bay. The economic impact on the city was upwards of $8 million.”
The CLE emerged from the pandemic in 2022 with the Benjamin Circus last April and organizers are working on a return this spring.
The annual Rib Fest returned last summer with an influx of patrons lining up to taste the competitive rib recipes. Thunder Con saw hundreds turn out at the CLE grounds to see their favourite superheroes and take part in the festivities.
Winding up the season was the Central Canada Mining Expo which saw more than 100 international exhibitors visit Thunder Bay to network and explore the developing northern mining sector.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit continues to offer the COVID vaccination program in the Coliseum building and has been flexible to alter its location for other CLE events.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal