Going to the exhibition has been a tradition for many Nova Scotia families. Exhibitions reflect the communities that surround them. They hold traditional connections through the cultural roots that have been established and nurtured in the community.
Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, I've certainly spent my share of time at the fair. We had a herd of purebred Ayrshires on our farm and my dad was a keen showman and cattle breeder. The local exhibition was always the last week of July so there was a mad scramble to get the cattle ready for the Ex after the hay crop was finally in the barn.
My dad was also involved in the exhibition commission so he was always busy the few weeks leading up to the exhibition getting ready for the show. In addition, he spent a lot of time persuading fellow farmers to come and show their cattle.
This all cumulated in the Ontario Royal Winter Fair in October. This is where is best of the best in livestock and 4-H went to show their stuff.
On two occasions, my dad helped assemble a group of the best Nova Scotia Ayrshires to the Royal, once by train and also by truck.
That was the nature of the exhibition up to 20 or so years ago.
The public was almost secondary to the breed shows. Farmers brought their cattle to the show in order to compare them to their peers. Rate of gain, milk production and conformation of livestock was compared and the best animal in the ring reflected those production values.
Carney rides, fast food, horse pulls and other parts of the exhibition are still a tradition, although as many have said the challenges of competing with other types of entertainment are numerous. It's still pretty good value for all there is to see and do at the Ex, however.
In a number of fairs there are no longer breed competitions for livestock, particularly the cattle shows. They have been replaced by display herds where farms agree to display their herds so the public has an opportunity to get up close, ask questions and understand agriculture.
It's certainly a shift from the farmer competitions for first prize. Much of it is about linking food and the farm for people that no longer have that connection.
One of the challenges for many exhibitions has been financial. The main focus has been putting on a show for five to seven days once a year. With such a large infrastructure, usually in the middle of a town, it has been difficult for many exhibitions to meet the financial challenges with income from one week of activity with a high weather risk thrown in for good measure.
Many have diversified. Winter storage of recreational vehicles, for instance, has been a positive low cost way to make some extra income, and others have taken the plunge developing facilities such as the Agridome in Bible Hill to even out the cash flow and at the same time providing needed space for the community.
There are 14 exhibitions throughout rural Nova Scotia plus eight community fairs and the 4-H Provincial Show, which will be held in Bible Hill this year. It is estimated that there are over 300,000 unique visits to exhibitions in Nova Scotia per year.
For me, the main interest is still the livestock and the 4-H. It's where people show their talents and it is a unique part of Nova Scotia that you won't find anywhere else.
The carney rides are fun, as is the food on offer especially from the volunteer organizations that use the exhibition as a fundraiser.
But the opportunity to showcase rural Nova Scotia agriculture and talent is the defining role of the exhibition tradition in Nova Scotia.
TAGLINE: Henry Vissers is the executive director of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. He lives in Valley.