Townshippers adapt to a very different agricultural fair season

·3 min read

Trevor McKinven can't remember a summer without the annual Ayer's Cliff Agricultural Fair.

The Montreal-based visual artist grew up attending the fair, which would have celebrated its 175th edition this year, if not for COVID-19 restrictions.

From the 4-H competitions, to the tractor pulling, the midway, and the sweet and savoury treats, many Townshippers are feeling the void caused by this year's cancellation.

"That being taken away I think is a special sting," McKinven told Quebec AM, adding that the fair gives people who no longer live nearby the chance to catch up with friends.

"It's just really difficult to not have that this year," he said.

McKinven recalls how his father, grandfather, and uncles took part in the event and said he held many fond memories for the fair and its grounds.

Submitted by Trevor McKinven
Submitted by Trevor McKinven

"All those memories are so set in stone, and every time I go to the fair, even these days — except this year, of course — you go there, and just like a magnet you want to go to the barns," he said.

When McKinven's career as a visual artist started to take shape, he started drawing caricatures of fair-goers and selling his paintings, often featuring Townships landscapes and farms.

"I have been referred to as the sketchiest dude at the fairground," he joked.

McKinven said it's disappointing to not experience the "muscle memory" of this time of year, when he often has dozens of people lined up to get caricatures, seemingly works 24 hours a day for four days, and feels the "magic" friendliness of people.

"Once you're there, you just feel like you're in a giant living room," he said.

Richmond shifts to drive-thru model

While the Ayer's Cliff Agricultural Fair was cancelled this year, the Richmond Fair, about an hour north, went ahead as a drive-thru experience.

The Richmond Fair held its very first animal judging contest in 1856 and has been going strong ever since.

Submitted by Trevor McKinven
Submitted by Trevor McKinven

The 2020 iteration of the event will include a drive-thru display of more than a dozen plastic cows, horses, sheep, and chickens, before an arrangement of new and antique machinery.

The evening will end with a fireworks display, said Avery Perkins, who has been president of the fair for eight years.

Perkins said attendees can stay inside their vehicles, or stand outside them, but are not allowed to walk around. They're more than welcome to ride their horse, as long as they stay in the saddle.

The 4-H club will hand out free ice cream, as a replacement for the usual ice cream social event, and the boy scouts plan to offer free popcorn.

"We're going to try to do roughly the same things we do, but not quite," Perkins said.

Brome Fair goes online

The Brome Fair moved online this year over Labour Day weekend, but some local businesses are offering a taste of the fair.

The restaurant Marina Knowlton is hosting live music, vendors are selling their crafts and products, and the kitchen is serving up a signature burger with local ingredients.

Staff is also promising fair favourites, like popcorn, cotton candy, and blooming onions.