While many activities were cancelled last year due to COVID-19, many were hopeful this summer would look different. As case numbers continue to rise and vaccination rollout across the province has steadily slowed down, fair games and the sweet smell of fried foods might have to sit out for another summer.
James Gibson, president of the Rainy River Valley Agricultural Society (RRVAS), said running the RRVAS annual fall fair, known to many as the Emo Fair, will all depend on whether enough people are vaccinated in the region.
“Last year we couldn’t do [the fair] because we couldn’t have that many people together and at this point, we still can’t,” Gibson said.
Gibson said they have been planning the fair all year and are ready to go but are now waiting to see what will happen.
Anyone who has been to the fair knows that there is a lot to do. From the beef cattle sale, exhibition hall full of different vendors from handmade crafts to homegrown vegetables, food booths, the parade and of course the fair queen and the mini king and queen.
Another large attraction is the midway which houses rides, shows, games and also food booths.
Jim Mills, president of Select Shows which runs the midway, said he is unsure what will happen but if restrictions are not lifted, there will not be a fair.
Mills said they will know more by the end of the month but that larger cities across Ontario like Thunder Bay, have already cancelled their summer fairs.
Mills said if they cannot operate this summer, it will be a very difficult year for them, adding that they have had to take out huge loans to keep going.
“I can’t go two years without making any money,” Mills said. “But right now it looks very unlikely that we’ll be traveling into Ontario. If we move, it won’t be in Ontario.”
Mills said they have received very little help from the government in terms of funding and their only saving grace was not being charged by the ride inspectors in Ontario, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority’s (TSSA) and the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) for the last two years.
The cost of safety, truck permits and ride inspection by the TSSA, will put them out more money than if they were to stay closed, Mills adds.
“If we don’t have all the fares, we can’t go in there for a few small ones,” Mills said. “It costs about $25,000 to do the safety and equipment in Ontario.”
Last year was supposed to be an exciting year, Mills said as it was the Manitoba company’s 50th season running. Mills said they invested in new equipment to mark the year but have not been able to use it.
To put it in perspective, the cost in Ontario to set up the midway is much more than in Manitoba which would cost the company around $2,000, Mills said.
Mills said they are staying hopeful but that they need time to prepare in advance if they receive the go ahead, otherwise, it might not work out.
Gibson said 2019 was a successful one for the Emo Fair with around 8,000 people coming through the fair grounds.
The RRVAS is in good financial shape because of that year, Gibson said, adding that going another summer without the revenue might pose a different story.
Gibson said they are relying on the fair financially because they recently built new buildings and redid the floor in the old exhibition hall. Gibson adds that while the buildings are paid off, they still have to pay for the amenities to keep it running.
Gibson said they are trying to stay positive but if the fair is cancelled again, they hope to have the beef cattle sale, fair queen and mini king and queen still happen like last year.
By Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter