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Big crowds show up to down-sized Renfrew Fair

“People just needed to let loose and get out and do something, just do anything,” said long-time volunteer Vera Smith.

It's a bit unusual for the Renfrew Rotary Club’s food booth at the Renfrew Fair, home of the world-famous Back-Bacon-On-A-Bun, to be closed on the last day of the fair because it ran out of food.

COVID or no COVID, the people of the Ottawa Valley came out in droves over the weekend to make a scaled-downed 166th edition of the Renfrew Fair a roaring success.

Judy Dobec, who managed her 32nd edition of the fall classic, said a lot of things happened to make the fair a success.

“Despite the size of the fair almost cut in half, our entry gates seemed to have long lineups all weekend,” she said. “This year was certainly a challenge of COVID and only hosting a virtual fair last year, and yet the people kept coming and I think the choice of entertainers helped. The fair was reduced from five days to four after the Wednesday Demolition Night was cancelled and I can’t remember our fair blessed with no rain for the duration and I think that was one of the biggest factors.”

When veteran fairgoers arrived, many were surprised to find out the Armouries would not include more than 50 vendors as usual. Instead, the hall was transformed into a modern concert hall when two cover bands (an Eagles and AC/DC cover band) were booked under the condition musicians played inside the hall and the outdoor bleachers remained vacant in order to reduce the number of patrons.

This same reasoning led to the postponement of the popular Demolition Derby, an event that attracts more than a 1,000 guests alone inside the fair grounds. It will be held at a future date as a stand-alone event.

Vera Smith, a longtime volunteer who worked along Dobec inside the chaotic fair portable office, summed up her explanation for the large crowds in the middle of a pandemic.

“People just needed to let loose and get out and do something, just do anything,” Smith said. “Most of us have been cooped up for 18-months and the fair was a chance to get out and perhaps meet old friends they have not seen in more than year.”

The fair board instituted several safety precautions in order to host the event. Among them was the reduction of attractions and a reduction in the entry fee; limiting the number of patrons by selling advance tickets to the two concerts; and encouraging the use of masks.

Even though mask-wearing was not compulsory, close to half of fairgoers wore a mask and took them off when eating a meal or snack.

Unsure of exactly how many would show up, or if the fair suddenly had to be cancelled due to another COVID outbreak, Dobec purposely requested Robertson Amusements to bring along extra food vendors along with the midway rides.

It was a good thing they were ordered as the Kinsman Booth did not open this year. The Presbyterian Food booth meanwhile has remained shuttered since early 2019 when the health unit pointed out several repairs and upgrades that were needed before they were granted a licence to operate that year. The booth has not reopened since that inspection.

Not only did the Rotary booth close before noon on Sunday because they ran out of food, but Jesse’s Backyard BBQ (Jesse Walsh of Douglas) also put up its "closed" sign late Sunday morning as they also used up all their food items.

Despite the food shortages and far less vendors and midway rides than previous years, it was rare to hear people complaining at only one of a handful of country fairs being staged this year in Eastern Ontario. Perhaps talking to guests and participants, it quickly became evident that people were anxious to finally be able to return to some type of normalcy.

The Renfrew Fair, with all its familiar landmarks including non-profit food booths, teams of horses competing in the annual horse competition or single riders taking part in the equestrian competition, or the sight of local teens being awarded Champion Awards on their cattle during the Saturday night auction, the fair drew the largest crowds seen in Renfrew since March 2020.

For a brief period, fairgoers seemed to forget the world is in the midst of a global pandemic. A pandemic that has claimed a number of Canadian fatalities numbering well over 20,000, and climbing. None of that seem to matter. That feat alone should garner the Renfrew Fair a Grand Champion Award.

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