The Emo Fall Fair marked the end of summer vacation.
It was held every year the third weekend in August. I’ve been told it’s a weird time to have a fair. In Southern Ontario, they usually take place in late September or October. But when you grow up in a place where there’s often snow by Halloween, the Fall Fair is in August.
With school being a week away, it meant that we could wear some of our new back-to-school clothes. Mom and Dad often made the 3 ½ hour drive into Winnipeg every August so we could to back-to-school shopping at Polo Park Mall. And with lots of people at the fair, much time was spent putting together the perfect outfit.
Everyone comes home for fair weekend. Stores in town close early and those who have moved away from Emo or have family in town, come back and visit during this time. Older people like to sit in the covered area in front of the Exhibition Hall to visit and people watch. And for the younger crowd, it’s a chance to meet new people and have some drinks. It’s a fun time of year that brings everyone together.
The best time to go to the fair was a Friday or Saturday night.
The place felt packed as you wandered through the crowds. Music was pumping from every ride and game tent. Couples walked around, with the girl carrying a large stuffed animal under her arm (I so wanted to be that girl…) Men crowded around the gambling tables and the grounds were filled with colourful lights from the fair rides. It felt alive.
The best ride was a metal pod that had a door on the side. You and a friend could squeeze inside, sitting side by side on the little bench. The guy working the ride would slam the door shut and shove the metal lock down into place with a clunk. At night, the guy would usually grab the pod and give it a spin as we squealed inside.
The pods went around in a circle like a Ferris wheel. Through the metal mesh windows, you could see the fairgrounds from up above. Once you reached the very top, if you pulled back hard on the metal handle and didn’t let go, you would come back down to the ground upside down. So much fun.
Mom and Dad paid for our fair rides. They were a big part of the fair being an exciting time of year for us. They would drive by the fairgrounds in the days leading up to the fair, just so we could see if the white trucks with the rides had come yet.
The fair was fun for the adults too. There was an area near the 4H booth that was surrounded by a tall, white picket fence. You could barely see through the slats but knew that the adults were inside sitting at picnic tables and visiting with friends (with a beverage). Every once in a while, my brother and I would stand near the entrance, hoping to grab the attention of someone inside who would tell our parents we were there. We needed a little more money for rides and food.
Where Friday nights were exciting and busy, the fairgrounds felt like a different place on Saturday morning.
Saturdays were a time of tradition. A person started the day sitting in the grandstands watching the logging competition. Local loggers were timed as they cut large pieces of wood or created children’s chairs out of a log with their power saws.
Saturdays also meant a trip to the 4H booth for fries, the Oddfellows trailer for an odd dog (corn dog), and then to the milk booth for a milkshake. This continued to be a tradition for gram and I; something we would do together before I went back to school (university) or back to teaching.
Saturdays were also the day to slowly wander through the Exhibition Hall. When I was a kid, I used to enter pieces of art from school, handwriting, and when I got older, photos I had taken. Mom used to enter her knitted sweaters. She won every time.
The Exhibition Hall had a distinct smell. It smelled of hay and stale air – a place that was only open for one week a year. It had creaky wooden floors and green wooden display cases with chicken wire to keep people from touching the items on display. There were vegetables. Flowers. Baking. Knitting. Photography. Quilting. Children’s Art Work from schools in the area. We would walk around to see what everyone made and read the tags to see who won. Little ribbon stickers were attached to the winning tags.
On the Saturday of the Fair, a parade would wind through our small town and end in front of the grandstands. I don’t remember being excited about the parade. It was a lot of pick up trucks and flatbed trailers with a few homemade decorations on it. It was no Macy’s parade.
Each of the fair queens had a float. They were young teenage girls from the district who competed against one another for the title of Miss Emo Fair Queen. Their photos and bios were shared in the local newspaper in the weeks leading up to the fair. They wore banners with their sponsor’s names and sold buttons with their faces on them as a fundraiser. A talent show was also a part of the competition and a fashion show.
I remember my family trying to convince me to run in the Emo Fair Queen contest. My Mom had been a runner up when she was a teenager and my grandma’s best friend, Dorothy Bonot, was one of the organizers and volunteers. It was a big no from me. I wasn’t going to stand up there in a dress or do some fashion show. I wasn’t a Barbie. I also wasn’t going to spend my summer bugging people to buy fair buttons. (No offense to those who did. It just wasn’t my thing.)
I did, however, make an appearance in the Mini Queen Contest. Families in the area could sign their little ones up to compete. They basically dressed you up in a cute outfit and put you on a stage. You stood in front of a crowd of people who oohed and awed at you, until it was your turn to walk up to the mic and answer a few questions from the MC…
What is your favourite thing to do at the fair?
Where is your Mom and Dad?
Mom said that she put me in the contest twice. Each time I refused to talk (I was too shy.) The upside was that everyone got a little toy (usually a doll) for participating, but I never wore the red cape and crown.
By Sunday, the fair winded down. Family and friends were getting ready to leave town. Some were recouping from the night before. The trucks slowly packed up the rides, getting ready to drive to the next fair. The food booths closed up their windows with wooden boards and garbage was collected from the cans.
It was weird to walk the fairgrounds on a Sunday. It was too quiet. As we walked across the grounds to pick up our stuff from the exhibition hall, it was hard to believe we were in the same place. And yet, we knew we had something to look forward to next year.
Note from Lainie:
This summer we took the kids to the fair for the first time.
In just a few minutes, I ran into Tammy – a friend from elementary school (who I haven’t seen since high school). I saw Bob’s parents in front of the Exhibition Hall (a friend from high school). We talked to my Dad’s friend, Schultz, and saw my cousin Willie in the arena (I haven’t seen him in over 10 years). We saw Mavis, and Mom’s cousins (the Anderson’s)… see what I mean – everyone comes home fair weekend. It’s like a big reunion.