Saanich fair vows to maintain its 152nd year of operation — by moving online

Organizers of the Saanich Fair, an annual agricultural fair on Vancouver Island, refuse to let COVID-19 interrupt their over 150-year-long streak of operations. 

They've taken the 19th century fair — which has run on Labour Day weekend since 1868 — into the 21st century by moving it online.  

Dave Hamer, president of the North and South Saanich Agricultural Society, says his group is looking at using social media tools to host educational and entertaining activities online while hosting some events on the fairgrounds like a physically-distanced farmers' market.

"We're still in meetings about it," said Hamer. "We're thinking along the lines of a virtual component, maybe a farmers' market, maybe a drive-thru safari. We're still deciding."

The annual fair, which features a midway, agricultural exhibitors, competitions and a market featuring local farmers and artisans, typically attracts tens of thousands of people to the Saanich Fairgrounds. 

"It's very tough decision to make," he said. "Following the provincial government mandate with no large gatherings, we had no alternative of looking at a different way of doing it."

Hamer says this year will also be financially difficult on the society, which runs the fairgrounds. He says the September fair brings in about 60 per cent of its annual revenue.

Saanich Fair Website

COVID-19 has shuttered many summer activities across the province and country, including music festivals, conferences and conventions, professional sports events, parades, and large-scale celebrations. While some gatherings are currently allowed, they must not exceed a maximum of 50 people who are expected to practise physical distancing. 

The government of British Columbia has announced these kind of large-scale events will be reintroduced during Phase 4, but there is no set timeline for that phase. It is dependent on transmission rates remaining low or in decline or the creation of an adequate treatment, cure or vaccine.