Blue Rodeo immortalized them in the 1990 song What Am I Doing Here, singing: “I stand in front of this Ferris wheel…and all the drunks just stumble by.”
For most of us, fall fairs recall goat bleats, cattle smells, cotton candy, and guys with ponytails and big voices, working the midway games. Remember feeling like the impossible might happen? You could actually win that hula-hooping contest, enter the prize-winning carrot, or burst the balloon and strut around with an enormous stuffed animal on your shoulders.
A rite of passage, fall fairs mark the changing seasons just as they mark a transition into adulthood. Ontario boasts more than 230 annual fairs, many dating back to the 19th century. The Williamstown Fair in Southeastern Ontario—the longest-running annual fall fair in the country—celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.
Fall fairs offer a cornucopia of harvest competitions for all ages and aptitudes, whether you’re a skilled vegetable sculptor, an intrepid cow milker, or just lucky enough to resemble the family pet. So when lying lakeside loses its appeal this fall, it’s time to swap your Tilley for a Stetson and check out a few of the more unusual events.
Then you can decide for yourself if the guys from the song really are stumbling drunk or if they just got off the Zipper.
Straw Bale Turkey Competition
Lyndhurst Turkey Fair, Lyndhurst, Ont.
Sept. 15, 2012
Every year, organizers distribute up to 20 two-metre-tall round bales throughout this tiny community, where local competitors transform them into oversized turkeys, complete with beaks, wattles, tail feathers, and dryer-hose gullets.
Rooster Crowing Contest
Bobcaygeon Fall Fair, Bobcaygeon, Ont.
Sept. 29, 2012
Really, there’s only one rule to competitive rooster crowing: “It’s people that do it. Not roosters. People only,” says fair secretary-treasurer Margot Brown. Held as part of the annual talent contest, this event usually attracts between 10 and 15 competitors and is arbitrated by three local judges. Best part: It doesn’t require an ounce of experience. According to Brown, “Some of them really sound like roosters.”
Celebrity Seed-Spitting Contest
Port Elgin Pumpkinfest, Port Elgin, Ont.
Sept. 29 and 30, 2012
Despite the festival dropping the underwater pumpkin-carving competition (the local scuba club took a break from participating), Pumpkinfest’s 60,000 annual visitors still get a thrill watching local politicians blow more than just hot air. In 2010, town councillor Taun Frosst spat a pumpkin seed 10.3 metres. “They practise. Yes, they do,” says event coordinator Sally Hunt.
Hot Diggity Dogs Flyball
Norwood Fall Fair, Norwood, Ont.
Oct. 7, 2012
Flyball involves a racecourse with four jumps, a box that shoots a tennis ball when pounced on, and two teams of four dogs—anything from chihuahuas to greyhounds—running in a head-to-head relay. The competitors can be full of surprises, occasionally abandoning the course in favour of someone’s french fries. “Of course, the crowd loves it,” says flyball club president Natalie Cornell, “but we’re mortified.”
To find more great events taking place at fairs across Ontario cottage country, check out The Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies’ website, 400Eleven.com, and this Ontario event calendar.