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Highlights from the 2012 Royal Winter Fair

Posted by Robyn Urback / November 8, 2012

toronto royal winter fair 2012It may be called the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, but this year's event seems more "of the city" than the land. Now in its 90th year, The Royal 2012 boasts hanging chandeliers, gourmet coffee roasters, and a showcase of brand new hybrid vehicles, along with the usual rooster coop and milking-a-cow educational display. Consider it a juxtaposition of the most basic divide.

This was not my first visit to the annual November fair, but it was the first time I noticed just how much it caters to the Toronto urbanite. There's a petting zoo mere metres from Exhibition Hall F (which is filled with rows of sheep, cattle, and more), a Subway Sandwiches stand right next to a vendor selling pure maple syrup, and a setup for Toyota's latest line of hybrids set beside a row of Bockmann utility trailers. What?

toronto royal winter fair 2012You can sense the division right from the parking lot. Some spots are occupied by the usual Toronto-prevalent mid-sized sedans, while others host SUVs (alright, we still see a lot of those in the city anyway) and pickup trucks with bumper stickers reading, "A woman's place is on a horse." Heh — my mind finished that bumper sticker before I got to the end. In any case, the urban/rural divide is clear right from the get-go.

This year's fair includes a couple of new exhibitions, including an extended chef competition hosted by Padma Lakshmi and Curtis Stone. The stage, strangely enough, is surrounded by sophisticated lounge seating and modern bistro tables, though I can still hear the clucking from the poultry competition nearby. Next to the competition area is the Royal Court Restaurant, which is bordered by a perimeter of faux hedge green. One of a couple restaurants on the fair's grounds, Royal Court features black hanging chandeliers, covered tables, and sparkling wine glasses, along with just the faintest hint of that unavoidable barnyard smell. You get used to it.

Trying to shed by city-girl skin, I decide to abandon the stalls of poutine and fine jewellery, and venture to the "barn" area where sheep are being prepped for their show. Bypassing the six lounging cows and a group tiny piglets piled under a heat lamp (I think a pang of bacon-guilt made me sweep by more quickly), I went to check out the sheep to see if I could try to deduce which were the stars of the flock.

royal winter fair 2012These sheep, however, were covered with tarp-like smocks, some with holes cut out for the eyes and ears. I absurdly first concluded it was some sort of ghost Halloween getup, but was immediately shamed when a farmer told me it was to keep the sheep clean before the show. Point taken — I'll stay off the farm.

Next, I went to check out the rural-geared shopping, including fly sheets for horses (some, interestingly, available in Zebra print), saddle equipment, and custom leather boots. And while it seemed to me that the Der Dau stand was mostly being perused by the equestrian-minded, something tells me it would have done just fine offering its "niche" product to any number of sophisticated Toronto communities.

Before leaving I, of course, had to check out the food stalls, which included chains such as Pizza Pizza and Subway (I think I counted two of each), and many independent stalls by rural operators. Some offered barbecue classics such as pulled pork, burgers, and hot dogs, while neighbouring stalls went the roti route, others with teriyaki, and bowls of lo mein. I suppose in food courts, as in life, such parallels can serve side by side.

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is on now until Sunday at Exhibition Place

Photos by John Elmslie and PLTam in the blogTO Flickr pool.



Nerves / November 8, 2012 at 11:30 am
I went with my kids on Saturday. It was a lot of fun, but make sure to buy your tickets in advance. The lineups to get tickets were really long and poorly organized.
mike in parkdale / November 8, 2012 at 11:58 am
It's a fun event, but you really need to take in one of the shows to make it worth a repeat visit.
lovetheroyal / November 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm
I agree, it's great to time your visit so that you can catch a show or better yet some of the livestock judging. Can't wait to go this weekend!

Jim / November 9, 2012 at 08:53 am
Went to the Rodeo on Sunday and had a great time. I didn't even know that you could see a live Rodeo in Toronto till a friend told me about it.
Marc / November 9, 2012 at 09:05 am
I have to say that after not going for a few years I found this show (2012) to be a massive disappointment for the most part. The main exhibition hall was 'hijacked' by salesmen of every stripe with the most horrendous smell of frying foods to ever accumulate under one massive roof! Could not agree more that the 'country' aspect of the Fair seems to be long gone aside from the showing of animals. This year's fair compared to the one I saw (I believe it was 3 or 4 years ago) is sadly lacking in anything that a 'city dweller' might find interesting in the real science behind today's farms. What happened to the wonderful contribution the University of Guelph made to the fair? And this might be a personal bias but you could count only one farm implement vendor (Kubota) that had any equipment on the floor; that massive hall could have done with a few less commercial vendors and a whole lot more showings of the type of equipment vendors that a modern farmer needs to survive. Those booths that tried to show a little more of the 'science' behind farming looked tired, beat up and 'cowed' (no pun intended) in the small dark areas of the main hall enticing to no one. You will find more fruits and vegetables in your local grocery store than you will find displayed at this year's fair. No shortage of 'watering holes' for the horse set I noticed but the other farmers seemed to be content to socialize nearer their animals with no one I found being very welcoming to 'city folk' showing interest in their livestock. And last but not least, anyone taking the TTC or GO to the fair better be prepared for a very, very long walk from the TTC stop to the main ticket booth at the Direct Energy Centre entrance. Would it have killed them to have one dedicated door/ticket entrance for TTC & GO customers closer to the exit from the streetcar stop? And finally, when you are taking out the 'trash', throw out this year's website, too.
Joanne Stewart / November 9, 2012 at 10:30 am
I have to say that there were vendors there this year that have no part of a "Country Fair". I was there on Wed and it was very busy with all of the school trips that were there showing all the kiddies the animals and farm life. However, I don't think that the exhibitors need to be standing with their livestock drinking beer and mixing whatever in there "red solo cups" The men standing in the isles of there dairy cows were an absolute disgrace to the the hard working farmer ! I understand that they maybe are there for the entire week showing off their livestock but at least be respectful like the horse show people and keep it in the stall you have rented ! Kids don't need to see alcohol being a part of farming. Any yes, I agree about the website this year, it is not user friendly at all and needs to be redone. Im heading back Saturday and looking forward to the horse shows.
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