With a lot of work and a little luck, "the greatest fair in the Ottawa Valley since 1853" may return for its 168th edition of the after COVID forced the cancellations of all major events across the Valley last year.
It is hard to find anyone from the Valley who doesn't circle the five days in September when thousands of residents make their way to the Renfrew Fair to meet old friends and take in the surroundings, but there will be changes, according to organizers.
“September is a long way away and you just don’t know where we will be [when it comes to the pandemic], but if we get the green light from the province, this year’s edition will be like no other we have staged," said Judy Dobec, longtime manager of the annual classic. “If the province says 'yes' then we will get to work with the local health unit to take all steps necessary to hold the fair and make it as safe as we possibly can for our visitors.”
Dobec said the length of the fair will be reduced from five days to four. The elimination of the Wednesday night means the biggest change for regular fairgoers.
“We are not cancelling the demolition derby," she said. “We are holding that as a separate night for the simple fact the derby attracts thousands of visitors and even though a lot of people will have had their second vaccination by then, a lot of them won't, and the board decided to hold it away from the fair dates. Last year the Rotary Club hosted a one-day sale of back bacon to hundreds of folks who stayed in their cars and did drive-thru. And they raised thousands of dollars for local causes.”
Under the current restrictions, outdoor fairs are allowed to operate in Ontario at 25 per cent for attractions. Reservations are required for seated events and amusement rides must allow for physical distancing, except in certain circumstances, including payment.
Dobec said all the volunteers who provide key services that go with hosting a fair of this size are anxious to continue the regular version of the fall classic. She said whether it was selling tickets at the gate, picking up garbage or fixing up the barns and other buildings, the volunteers are anxious to help out anyway they can because they are used to setting aside the month of August to help out.
One of the biggest obstacles has been the unknown.
“Last year was frustrating because it seemed things changed every week and we never really knew how bad it would get,” she said. “Once the other local fairs announced they were cancelling, our board of directors really had no choice but to cancel. One thing, like last year, is it almost impossible to book performers and others because of the unknown. But, if things stay the same and we get these variants under control, then we just might have a fair again this year.”The Renfrew Fair is tentatively scheduled September 9 through September 12.