Agricultural fairs a wonderful celebration of rural heritage

The bustling crowds wandering through the exhibits at the Manitowaning Fall Fair this past weekend brings to mind the important role that such fairs play in celebrating our rural and agricultural heritage.

For 141 years the volunteers of the Manitowaning Agicultural Society have dedicated countless hours to organizing each year’s edition of the venerable fair, cataloguing and judging entries of jams, jellies, pies, breads, fruits, vegetables, knitting, crafts and a host of other items that fill the exhibit halls. They are one example (we avoid the word ‘just,’ out of deference to the effort involved) of the many groups across Manitoulin. The Providence Bay Fair may be the largest, but from the Central Manitoulin Public School Fall Fair (the only remaining entry in its class in the province) is a treat for all involved, the Sheguiandah Fall Fair is a resurgence of the genre in the Northeast Town and the Wiikwemkoong Fall Fair helps celebrate that community’s long and storied agricultural heritage.

Fall fairs, agricultural fairs if you will, permit a slight expansion in semantics, bring an opportunity for young green thumbs to shine along with great auntie Thelma’s apple pie or her arch rival’s pickled beets. Encouraging youth to take an interest in the rural arts is the surest way to maintain the nuances of our history and culture into the 21st century. They are skills worth nurturing for their own sake, but they also provide a valuable opportunity to engender pride in who we are and where our families come from.

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It was a mere couple of generations ago that most families lived in rural communities and the occupation of farmer was among the most common to be found on census taken throughout the nation. Understanding the lives of those who came before can begin with following great Auntie Thelma’s heritage recipe to produce an award winning apple pie (that’s if, of course, she spilled the beans on her secrets to her family before heading on to that great bakery in the sky).

In this hurly burly world where everybody’s gaze seems to be intently focussed on the screen in their hands there is great value to be found in rolling up your sleeves and engaging with a rolling pin—or maybe pickling spices if you are a progeny of Auntie Thelma’s arch rival.

Sadly, too many communities have let these wonderful connections to the past slip through their fingers and fade from memory. Thankfully, and thanks to so many dedicated volunteers, the community fall fair remains a vibrant and popular experience here on Manitoulin.

We encourage everyone to take the opportunity to step out and take part in the fall fairs happening near you this autumn or the harvesting workshops provided by the likes of Debajehmujig or the folks at the Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative and Kenjgewin Teg. It is an experience well worth the time and effort—make sure you take the kids, grandkids or niece/nephew with you when you go.

Bring a pickle or a pie.