It's a reminder of rural Canada, of simpler times when life centred on the family farm. That type of lifestyle may have quietly vanished from the landscape, lost in the hustle and bustle of technology and corporate mergers. But the Great Northern Exhibition endures, providing young and old with a grasp of the hardship and joys of agriculture and farming.
Now in its 151st year, the GNE – Sept. 22, 23, and 24 - continues to focus on its agricultural mandate, even as it adapts to changing tastes and times.
"We try to have something for everybody, and everybody has something there that should interest them," said Bruce Burgess, president of the Collingwood Agricultural Society. The GNE is the Agricultural Society's showcase event of the year.
The GNE launches Friday, with its annual Education Day designed to introduce schoolchildren to agriculture. Burgess says he expects about 3,000 schoolchildren through the gates that day – children that might otherwise be unaware of the contribution of the farm to the economy, and their day-to-day lives.
"Education Day is a fantastic day," he said, jokingly adding, "There's a lot of young people who think milk just comes from Loblaws, or that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. "They'll come here and learn something; they'll see cows being milked, sheep being sheared, pigs, chickens – and we show them where their food comes from."
Burgess noted it's especially important that young people develop an understanding of agriculture, as the urbanization of Canada has resulted in a declining interest in programs such as 4-H.
And it's not just for the kids – even though young people are a big target market for the annual fair. The GNE really does have something for everyone, from agricultural exhibits such as animals, handcrafts, and preserves, to the midway, demolition derby, and tractor pulls. "You know young people, they want to hear the noise," joked the retired farmer, adding that as a young person going to the GNE, he was always attracted to the midway.
There's also an antique automobile show, dog show, English horse show, youth talent show, photography competition, fiddle competition, songwriter's stage, helicopter rides, and the Fair Ambassador competition.
This year's feature performer is Fred Eaglesmith, who takes to the stage on Saturday night. And that is but a small slice of what people can take in over the three days. While it may be a full and busy schedule, Burgess says the fair is a chance for people to slow down, and experience a different way of life. "Without the fair, people would have no idea (about farming)," he said. Because, he said, there may come a time when agriculture becomes important again. "I imagine that things will turn around, and it will be a big thing again," he said.
Admission to the Great Northern Exhibition is $7 per person, or $4 for children ages six to 11 (admission is free for children five and under). A family pass for the weekend is $45 ($20 if purchased on Sunday). For more information, go to www.greatnorthernex.com.
Submitted by Ian Adams