Exhibition grounds a great value to the community

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My Thoughts – Rob MacLellan

My earliest memories of the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition (NSPE) grounds are as a small child going with my brother and my parents to the exhibition held in August each year.

Rob MacLellan, left, is the current president of the Golden Age Auto Club, which has rented/used space at the NSPE grounds to host our annual show and shine during the first weekend of June the last few years.

What a wonderful affair it was. Crowds of people milled in all directions. There were rides upon exciting rides. Tantalizing scents of cotton candy, candied apples, popcorn, hotdogs and hamburgers filled the air, while callers beckoned us forth to play their various carnie games.

It was hard to know in what direction to turn first; although, I must confess the rides were what I gravitated toward. In those days, ride favourites were the Ferris wheel, the Scrambler and the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Touring through huge barns full of prize livestock, 4-H projects and a multitude of crafts gave us a more free diversion that extended our visit at this great fair. While fair days in August tended to be hot, the barns always provided a measure of coolness and relief from the hot sun outside.

I grew up on a small farm out in the country. Besides chickens, the most populous animals on our little spread were ponies with a couple of horses thrown in. As a got a bit older, some of our ponies were entered in the exhibition pony events and parade. I was little, too young to be riding the ponies in their events, so we had friends put them through their paces. I don’t remember how well we did in the events, but it was very exciting to watch our animals compete for the prize ribbons.

Fast forward 50 years, give or take, I’m sure the August provincial exhibition is no less exciting for the young lads and lassies of today. I can’t say for sure, as I have not attended this event in many years; the bloom being off the rose for me. What I have come to learn, that I didn’t know when I was young, is that the exhibition grounds are home for so many other events besides the August exhibition, notable among them horse races, gymnastics, dog events, sports events, music festivals and in recent years an antique car show.

And then, there was trouble. We learned that the NSPE was deep in debt, struggling to pay its bills with the future of horse racing at the track in jeopardy. Managers and board members came and went, and while successive NSPE commission management spoke optimistically of climbing out of its financial hole and getting back on top again; this did not become a reality.

 Finally, the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board called in the $422,000.00 debt owed to it by NSPE. At this point, the commission had no other cards to play.

Enter the Municipality of Colchester, which offered to pay off this debt in return for assuming ownership of the facility.  I have a lot of respect for our mayor and county councillors, as I have been relatively satisfied for the most part with the service they have provided to county residents over the years.  I’m sure that they were of the very best intentions in making this offer in order to preserve this great facility for the continued use by the people in Truro and Colchester County.

I have heard more jaded voices speak of this offer as if the county was swooping in on a fire sale, attempting to acquire a facility worth in the range of six to seven million dollars for less than one-half million dollars. There are a couple of ways to look at this, but I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole.  In any event, it is a moot point, as the province stepped in and assumed ownership of the facility on the heels of the Farm Loan Board calling in the NSPE debt.

On Feb. 12, I attended a NSPE users and stakeholders meeting at the Agridome boardroom, hosted by Minister of Agriculture Keith Colwell. I was there in my capacity as the current president of the Golden Age Auto Club, which has rented/used space at the NSPE grounds to host our annual show and shine during the first weekend of June the last few years. 

Colwell spoke of the NSPE as being not only important to the citizens of Truro/Bible Hill and Colchester County, but also of its importance to the province. He assured the audience of users and stakeholders that while the province has stepped in and assumed possession of the facility, the province has no intention of running it. Further, he shared with us that he would be setting up a three-person interim board to oversee the affairs of the NSPE, and he was ordering an audit of its accounts. Lastly, he spoke of the desire to return the NSPE to profitability, and that the generated profits would be poured back into the NSPE to improve its facilities.  This newspaper has featured stories of the minister’s follow-up on these commitments.

After Colwell made his comments, he opened up the floor to the audience. Most of the attendees’ questions centred around three major points: The continued availability of the facility as an event venue, the need for current and ongoing maintenance of the facility and its buildings, and of greatest concern, the rising fees that groups/organizations booking space at the NSPE were being asked to pay.

I rose to speak of the ever-increasing high fees our club has been asked to pay to rent the site for our event. We’re a small club dedicated to promoting an interest in the preservation of antique, classic and collector vehicles for safe and lawful motoring as a sport. The fees we collect during our event help us to defer the cost of putting on the show and we return a portion of any profits in a given year to select charities in our local community. High rental fees mean that we struggle to accomplish these goals.

Wearing my Tide’s Turning Consulting Services business hat, I stated that it is difficult for me to recommend the NSPE site to my non-profit clients for their events given the high fees charged for the site rental.

In addressing the minister, and the attending audience, I reminded him that NSPE does not operate in a vacuum, that there are other facilities in the local area capable of hosting both indoor and outdoor events. I stated that it was encouraging to hear of his plan to return the NSPE to profitability, and I urged him to structure the NSPE rental fees so that they are more competitive in the local market. Reducing the rental fees would attract more business, and would reduce the financial burden on those organizations that have traditionally used the NSPE facilities. I further stated that one has to crawl before one can walk, that achieving sustainability of the facility would an intermediate step to profitability.

The NSPE site is of great value to our community. It is my fervent hope that the province and competent NSPE management can create a phoenix that soon becomes debt free and more accessible for groups and organizations in our county.

 

Rob MacLellan is an advocate of adult education, an advocate of non-profit organizations and a resident of Alton.  He can be reached by phone at 673-3269,  or by e-mail at rob@nsnonprofitconsulting.com

 

Organizations: NSPE commission, Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, Golden Age Auto Club Turning Consulting Services

Geographic location: Colchester County, Truro, Alton

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