There’s a small army of workers and volunteers getting the Saanich Fairgrounds ready for one of the oldest agricultural fairs in western Canada.
And leading that army is Clara Knight, a bundle of energy even at the age of 70-plus, who is making sure that everything is in place for the 149th annual Saanich Fair this Labour Day long weekend. Knight is the president of the North and South Saanich Agricultural Society and has been in that role for more than four years. She has, however, been involved in the Saanich Fair a lot longer. Knight started out as a junior exhibitor at the Fair and, like many others who get involved at an early age, kept coming back for more.
“Not that long ago, we had someone come up with a bale of hay for the hay judging,” she said, “and they had grown up, participating in the junior 4-H divisions. Now, he has his own farm.”
And whether it’s baking, needlecraft, livestock, showing horses or growing vegetables, Knights said plenty of people who grew up around the Fair, often find their way back — even if it’s to simply come to the Fair with their families to enjoy the rides and exhibits. Of course, Knight said, they can always use more volunteers.
To get ready for those families — and for the thousands of people who take in the Fair over three days each Labour Day long weekend — organizers really begin preparations a day or two after the last one ended. Knight said the society and administration of the grounds review each event and learn what went well and what needed improvement, and workon any necessary changes. Each different section of the Fair has its own people making sure it comes together and entries are displayed and judged properly.
To do that, they follow an organizational system that has its roots with people like Knight who have been around the Fair for years. But, she said, they have had to get with the times. For the last three or four years, they’ve turned to computers to handle the sheer volume of entries they get. This year alone, Knight said they are expecting more than 6,300 individual entries. Each one has its own tag and has to make its way to the right exhibit area.
Accounting for hundreds of pies, plants, photographs, chickens, horses, goats, cows, rabbits, mini-gardens, clothing and so much more, is almost a Herculean task. In the Fair’s poultry division alone, Knight said they will get around 550 entries. She said because that division is judged, it’s one of — if not the largest — poultry contests of its kind in B.C.
And of course, they have thousands of ribbons and rosettes to be awarded to the best of the Fair. they’re all stored in boxes, organized by division, and are ready for the judges. The hard work of people like Gina Carrierre and Linda Phillps is certainly representative of all the work done by so many more people involved with the Fair.
Knight led a short tour of the Saanich Fairgrounds. We explored the rooms where the exhibits take place (the baking area was leading the way and almost finished this week), and where the Fairgrounds crew fixes and and stores everything from signs and seats, to foam for flowers and freshly-cleaned picnic tables. It will all get into place in the days leading up to the Fair.
Island Tents is busy putting up and estimated $50,000 in canopies and tents throughout the grounds. The main stage tent is already up, and will be the focal point for music performances this year by Band of Rascals, The Villanovas, Lucille Drive, Montgomery County, Groove Kitchen and more. This year’s headliner is Canadian rock icon Kim Mitchell, who hits the stage Sunday, Sept. 3 at 8:30 p.m.
At the east end, West Coast Amusements midway rides have already started arriving. The set up is all choreographed by Knight and her many helpers, who make sure the grounds — and the volunteers behind the scenes, doing things like garbage clean up — are ready to go.
This, the 149th Saanich Fair, is paying tribute to Canada 150th year of Confederation. Knight said their theme this year is on the country’s heritage — specifically the breeds of animals and seeds of the plants that are either native to the country, or helped pioneer the nation when they were brought over from wherever people came.
Already thinking ahead to the 150th Saanich Fair, Knight said they hope to focus on the Fair’s history — collecting artifacts, posters, ribbons and more, as well as highlighting 10 families who helped pioneer agriculture on the Saanich Peninsula. Knight said with so many people having been involved in the Fair over those 150 years, families might still have artifacts in their homes.
“What’s in your attic?” she asked. “Bring it our way.”
The 149th Saanich Fair goes over the Labour Day long weekend — Sept. 2 to 4. Watch for the special program of events and music performances coming out in the PNR. For Fair details, visit saanichfair.ca.