Norwood Fair Review - The Intrepid

Monday, October 13, 2008

Norwood Fair Review

Cotton candy, carnival rides, and baby animals, oh to be a kid again. Many rural towns and villages in Ontario have fairs. However, on Thanksgiving Day weekend, only the sites and sounds of the Norwood Fair evoke a near tangible sense of nostalgia. Sure, there are bigger fairs in Ontario with more rides and attractions, like the CNE or London’s Western Fair. What makes the Norwood Fair a fun slice of Southern Ontario rural life is not the rides or vendors, which can be found at every last one of Ontario’s 203 fall fairs, but the community touch.

As a cultural institution, the Norwood Fair has had a long history. The fair first began in 1868, and has taken place every year there after, except between 1939 and 1947 due to Second World War. A list of the Fair’s historic achievements is available on the Fair’s website. Some of these historical achievements are a little more significant than others. For instance, in 1954 the fair added a baby show to the list of events. 13 babies entered, but according to the website, no spectators showed up. Not exactly riveting material. However, the website’s history section does provide a sense of how the fair has evolved and expanded over the years. For a village of only 1300, the continuation and continued expansion of the fair is an impressive achievement.

Ever since I can remember my parents loaded my siblings and I up in the car for Thanksgiving with our extended family in Norwood. At that age, the highlight for us was always the fair. Even in its current iteration, very little about the fair has actually changed. Sure, there are more vendors, rides cost more, and the auto show is larger than ever, but the most of the rides from my childhood are still there, as are the animals, and the Saturday parade always remains the same.

Of the various events, the parade has changed the least. The Saturday parade, which is held on the opening day at noon, always has the same people and vehicles. The firefighters throw Candy, the Legion plays the bagpipes, and that guy with the car modeled after the Flintstones always shows up. The floats and themes change from year to year, but the message is usually centred on agriculture. This year’s theme: Harvesting a Greener Future. Past themes have included “Farmers Feed Cities” and the slightly socially conservative “Our Rural Roots.” The best part of the parade is that anyone can march and children are encouraged to dress up and do so. As a child, I often marched in the Parade, but for selfish reasons. I wanted the dollar and two ride tickets promised by parade organizers, which at the time felt like a small fortune.

The Fair excels at providing activities for children where they can win tickets and even a little money. Games in the old arena can range from hammering contests, to something as simple as blowing bubbles. Apparently, when I was young, I was also greedy. Like the parade, I entered contests just for the money and tickets for participating. I once even entered the bubbling blowing contest without even the slightest inclination of how to blow a bubble. I just stood there on stage happily smacking my jaws with my ride tickets and dollar tucked away in my pocket. Children’s talent contests are also held in the old arena. These can range from entertaining, to cute, to downright bizarre. This year two sisters did a hip-hop style, booty shaking dance to O’Canada. Weird.

The petting zoo is also timeless. Baby chicks and ducks are always cute and fun to feed, though some of the animals seem to get sick of the feed constantly thrust in their face. The barns at the Fair are also used for judging the animals and the cattle auction. While the judging is done before the Fair opens, the auction is conducted during the day. The auction is actually surprisingly quite entertaining. I was wowed the first time I heard the professional auctioneer launch into the fast talking high-angry style that you usually only see on tv. Even though it can be hard to follow at times, there is some fun in seeing how much each cow eventually goes for. Although, I have no idea why Home Hardware bought the winning steer last year.

Though perhaps dull sounding, the school exhibits are somewhat entertaining. I might have grown out of greedy phase. But, I seem to have grown up into a jackass, as I find some of the schoolwork absolutely hilarious. Most of the work is good, and the kids who participate should feel proud of their accomplishments, but every once in a while there is just one lazy entry. This year, my favourite entry came from the Social Science section of the display. The kids were tasked with labeling and coloring a map of Canada, but one kid just gave up halfway through at Manitoba. Only half the province was coloured and the label read “Manitob.” In another section, kids were asked to make a poster with an environmentally friends message. The best one: Don’t Shoot Pandas! A fine environmental message if I ever heard one.

At the fair, the Midway consists of carnival rides, games, merchandise vendors, and various food stands. While the rides were once my favourite part of the Fair, they don’t seem to have stood the test of time as well as some the Fair’s other attractions. Perhaps it’s the prices, the sleazy Albion Amusement carnies, or the fact that rides haven’t been updated since the 1980s, but I found the rides off-putting this year. The Bumper Cars are still fun, but even time allotted felt a little short.

The rest of the Midway is nothing special. Overpriced carnival games, chip trucks and knockoff sunglasses are hardly spectacular. The homemade taffy is a treat though and well worth the price at $0.25 a stick. What is interesting, and perhaps a little disturbing is some of the merchandise available at the various vendors. While there are lots of off-colour t-shirts and posters with blatant sexual messages, there are also lots of items emblazoned with the Confederate flag. While it would be normal to find these kinds of items at a fair in the Southern U.S., what are they doing in Southern Ontario? Does anyone buy this stuff?

Another low point is the extreme lawn tractor races. Introduced only a year ago, this sport is inane and looks and sounds like a Nascar race, complete with dangerous crashes. The horse and pony events are a little classier and the antique tractor pull and show is a lot more enjoyable to watch. For automotive enthusiasts, the car show garners a fair amount of attention and usually sports quite a quite a collection of classic cars. Even a number of working Model-T’s are present.

The Fair is also a place to see local politicians, and even the occasional party leader. This year, Stephane Dion made a stop at the Fair to encourage Peterborough riding residents to vote for Betsy McGregor. Incumbent Peterborough MP Dean Delmastro also made a stop, as did MPP Jeff Leal.

The Norwood Fair is a community institution with an undeniable folksy charm. While the Midway resembles every other fair in Ontario, the entertainment, animal shows, and exhibits are unique and a large part of what make the Fair special. Even as I grow older, the Fair still has a certain power to take me back to my childhood. I can still remember losing my two front teeth on a ride called the Hurricane, entering a speaking contest and nervously delivering a speech on the Trojan War, and riding my trike in what felt like grandest parade there ever was.


moeberrigan said...

Hello there,

Lovely post about the fair. I just thought I'd mention that I was also at the fair on Saturday, all day. It was a perfect day for the event -- my favourites were the horse competitions, the poultry barn and the table selling hordes of apples!


Emily Berrigan
Green Party candidate, Peterborough