Royal Winter Fair
by Gary McWilliams (aka Festival Nomad)
For me, there has always been great delight in attending the Royal Winter Fair. That’s the name I have always called it, but when you go to their website, the actual name is “The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair”.
Those really intimate with it just refer to it as “The Royal”! Whatever you call the fair, it has to be one of the most comprehensive agricultural fairs in the world. It offers just about everything that one could want when attending an agricultural fair and then some! Without naming all that you can see or attend, here are a few: sheep shearing, Superdogs, cooking shows, horse bred demonstrations, cow milking, farm products, tractors, Cowboys and Girls, Equestrian Events, farmers, antiques, “Green Presentations”, clothing for sale and, of course, my favourite a Rodeo performance. So here we were again, a trip to “Hog Town, Toronto” to Winter Fair. It was a cool overcast Friday when we arrived at the Exhibition Grounds. Believe it or not, getting to the grounds was easier than the drive through the grounds. I think that every available school bus in the GTA was there. They were parked and double/triple parked everywhere.
Bring Toronto children to the fair is an obvious outing. Where else is a city kid going to see a cow milked or a sheep sheared. As great as their attendance might be, it didn’t up us manoeuvre through traffic easier. Once we finally made it to the parking area, it was jammed! It was a Friday! It was a workday! Why were there so many people here? We had chosen a weekday just to avoid large crowds! In the end it really didn’t matter, after all, here we were at Fair, ready to be wowed, entertained and amazed…
The Horse Palace…
The rain came, just as we had parked the car and started for the main entrance to the fair. Fortunately it wasn’t raining too hard so our clothes didn’t get too wet on our trip from the car to the entrance. We had arrived just as the kids were leaving (lucky timing!?). By using the Heritage Court entrance as its main entrance, the fair is making a statement that they are “The Royal”!
The Heritage Court is the connecting corridor between the new Direct Energy and the old Coliseum Building (now the Ricoh Centre). The ceilings are high and sparkling with light, while the north wall radiates the warmth of the original brickwork.
The Heritage Court is fairly long and narrow and for the fair is filled with luxurious vendors and attractions. We had purchased our tickets to the fair on-line (we save $2.00 each), so we didn’t have to stand in line to purchase tickets. Entering was very easy, we just presented our print out tickets to the ladies at the entrance and we were officially in the fair. Before exploring the Court, we decided to enter the Ricoh Coliseum.
This is where all the Equestrian Jumping Events take place. The only excitement taking place inside the ring was water being sprayed on the dirt floor. From the arena we walked upstairs. The upstairs had been turned into “Equimania”. The whole area had been set up as a display for kids to educate them all about horses.
I can only imagine the pandemonium that must have taken place when all the children emerged on the second floor! From the EquiMania display, we crossed over to the Horse Palace. In year’s gone by, before the new Direct Energy Centre was built, the Horse Palace was the centre of the fair. Today, it seemed empty and lonely. The stalls were occupied and owners and riders had set up their areas with chairs, ribbons, photos and blankets, but the excitement and charm was not there, as least for me.
A number of years ago, Judi and I had a fine art booth at the Royal Winter Fair. Our booth was located on the upper mezzanine floor. It was a Saturday evening. The whole building was alive with excitement. The Duchess of York (Fergie) was in the house and she and her entourage were scheduled to pass by our booth! Suddenly there was a low murmur from the vendors around. Fergie was close by!
She had stopped at one of the neighbouring booths to make a purchase. Of course, we all wished that she had stopped at our booth. As quickly as she had come, she was gone, off to watch the Royal Winter Fair Horse Show…
We left the nostalgia of the Horse Palace and walked back to the Coliseum. We passed EquiMania and went down the stairway to the main level. At the foot of the stair the fair had set up the Hitching Ring Restaurant and Bar.
The restaurant’s name was apt, because it bordered a “hitching ring”. Restaurant patrons could enjoy their meals while viewing activities within the ring. Another unique feature was the “take out window”. Vendors and participants alike could order their food and take it back to their booth or stables. From the Coliseum we re-entered the Heritage Court.
It was superbly set up with elegant restaurants and displays. On our way through, we passed an artist working on a piece of art at the opening of a restaurant, further along; a cooking show was in progress. All this added to the charm of the Heritage Court. We turned left from the Court and entered a completely different world…
Lower East Annex…
The Lower East Annex was brightly lite and bleating sounds came from every corner of the building. We had just entered the “Sheep Zone“! And believe me there were sheep everywhere!
The whole room was filled holding pens and there were lots of sheep in each pen. Have you ever stood by the edge of a pond on a warm summer’s night and listen to the intense sounds of frogs and crickets? The sounds in this building were even more intense!
We started walking up one of the rows of pens. On one side was a pen full of sheep, on the other side there was a pen with those who had been sheared. The difference between the two was, of course, night and day. The shearing of sheep is all very necessary, but quite undignified for the sheep both during the shearing process and the after effect of being “woolless” (new word!) in front of the whole world. Mind you, the thought of not having any wool and perhaps having no clothing, makes me think the “naked” sheep look pretty good! With that thought stuck in the back of my brain we moved further into the “Sheep Zone”. Towards the back of the building we saw a crowd gathering around a show ring. Lined up in the ring was a straight row of about 10 black and white sheep with their handlers. They were all waiting to be judged. The judge walked up the line looking at each animal very closely, probing here and patting there. Each animal took the inspection stoically and waited for the ordeal to be over. Finally the judge completed his inspections, thanked each of the competitors for participating. He then walked off to make his decision on who the winner and runners-up would be. After some time he came back to announce who he had chosen and why.
His explanations were very clear and detailed. I am sure that most of the onlookers understood his explanations perfectly. They went right over my head! It made me wonder if the kids who had been there earlier understood the judge’s explanations any better than I had. Then I remember the big game show rage sweeping North America, “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” I am pretty sure, in this area, I would have lost! So now it was off to the Education Ring to learn more about what I didn’t know!
The Cows Are NOT in the Field…
We were about to leave the Education Ring area when I noticed a number of artists sketching and painting some of the animals. Judi and I walked over to take a closer look. The artists were very good.
There were so many of them we assumed that they must have been part of an art class out doing field work. The subjects (pigs) that this group were very cooperative, even lying down on the job! After admiring the artists’ work, we moved on to the next building.
There were several rows of cow, all kinds of cows, different shades, shapes and sizes! It was fascinating. Even though we had lived on a farm property for several years, the fascination and beauty was still there. The whole building was a beehive of activity. Cows were being milked, groomed, probed, and walked. Again, artists were in this building sketching and painting. The whole animal area was an artist’s paradise.
We hovered around one artist watching as he completed his masterpiece. So much to see and so little time! It was time to move to the next building. The transition from the animals to the exhibits was dramatic. We left bright lights and “mooing” to subdued lights and the murmur of people as they walked by the different exhibits…
What Weighs 1272 Pounds, Is Orange and Is Almost as Big as a Shed…
… a giant, award winning pumpkin, of course. The Royal had one. It was stuck back in a corner with other large fruits and vegetables, but we found it. After we had left the cow area we started to explore the exhibit area. Most of the exhibits we saw were related to agriculture and the farm life, tractors, western wear, cattle products, livestock pens, horse trailers, cowboy boots and fruits and vegetables.
About halfway through these booths we spied a big “FOOD COURT” sign. We headed for it. It was way past our lunch time. The Food Court was an eclectic mix of country and ethnic food. One booth had pizza, another souvlaki. There was fried chicken and Chinese food.
You get the picture. There was a lot to choose from. We made our individual choices, purchased our food and then scrambled to find an empty set. After standing around for a little while two chairs became available. We grabbed them. It wasn’t the most way to eat (we could have done that in the Heritage Court), but it was food and we needed it.
We gulped down our food and then were off for further adventure! We passed the “Green” audio visual presentation and then headed towards the end wall. Everything seemed burred as we made our way through the crowds.
Our final destination was just a short distance away. We could see the sign high on the wall, “Spirit of the Horse”…
The Spirit of the Horse…
The stands were full of people watching as the elegant black horse and rider performed together as one.
The Spirit of the Horse equestrian area is devoted to informing Royal Winter Fair attendees about the different breeds of horses found in Ontario. This section of the fair includes a demonstration ring and an exhibit area. The whole equestrian feature was developed, in conjunction with the fair organizers, by the Ontario Equestrian Federation.
The Canadian Cowgirls came out smiling and hooting and they came out on foot! No horses this time! Why, you might ask, after all they are Champion Horse riders. They have performed at the Kentucky Derby for goodness sake! No they didn’t forget their horses. This was going to be a demonstration of how they train to learn their routines.
You know the expression, “You have to walk before you can ride!” (I think I just made that up?) Besides, they were going to involve some of the kids in the audience. Sure the kids would love to ride a horse, but would the Cowgirls insurance company like them to? I don’t think so! Everyone (Cowgirls and Kids) lined up and were directed by Team Captain, Terry Jenkins, on what to do. She had them do a practice run through and then the “real” thing. The audience loved the performance, especially when one of the moms was asked to ride a stick horse! After the show Terry was asked all kinds of questions from the audience.
Over near the agricultural area was the “Ring of Excellence”. This was where competitors were showing their prize cows, each hoping to win a ribbon. It was now time to leave The Royal and go home. Unfortunately the cold wet weather had not disappeared, so we bundled up and headed across the parking lot to our car. It was going to be a long traffic filled drive home.