This is the Life: All’s fair at the fall fair

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The nights are cool, mornings are warmed slowly by the rising sun and the air is clear, the usual summer haze having dissipated. The kids are back in school, summer holidays and the Labour Day weekend are now memories. It’s time to get back to some of the more important things in life, like fall fairs.

Is there any better way to celebrate our rich agricultural heritage? Or to congratulate local handicrafters, artisans, bakers and preservers on their persistence in maintaining some of the traditions that our forefathers did out of necessity? I can’t think of any.

This weekend is a rich one for residents of the Creston Valley and East Shore. Volunteers have been busy for months, organizing other volunteers, promoting the fair to potential entrants, arranging for displays and entertainment. It’s an extra special time to celebrate in Crawford Bay, where East Shore communities are celebrating their 100th fall fair. Clearly, fairs that acknowledge the importance of agriculture, harvest and self-reliance are a terrific way to remind us of who we are and where we came from.

I remember our early years in Creston, when Angela and I would go through the booklet and decide what we could enter. Woodwork was a hobby for me and Angela has always enjoyed crafts, so we would pack up our latest accomplishments and deliver them to the fair. What a good feeling it was to be participating in something with such a long history in our community. It seemed astonishing to witness the amount of effort some entrants put into their quest to be major winners, whether it was baking dozens of recipes or wheeling enormous pumpkins into the rec centre on dollies.

When those fairs opened there was an air of excitement around town — would Dr. Dave Catherall once again triumph with his famous apple pie? Dave was as good as anyone at promoting the fall fair, issuing challenges to one and all, inviting competitors to try to knock him off the winner’s pedestal. I wonder how many hundreds of people made a beeline to the baked goods section to see what colour ribbon graced his pie each year.

Like most annual events, the Creston Valley Fall Fair has had its ups and downs. A decision to eliminate cash prizes — which don’t seem to amount to much — dramatically reduced entrants one year. It turned out that many of the bakers, especially, counted on their small winnings to help pay for the groceries they needed to make their entries. In some years, volunteers have been difficult to find. It’s not a large number of people who run the fair now, but they are a dedicated lot that somehow gets everything ready and organized. And they deserve our thanks. It’s no small task to co-ordinate the displays, arrange for the necessary manpower and to fill the community complex with everything from livestock to table settings, quilts to cucumbers, woodcarvings to tractors.

My favourite time at our fall fair is the time before it opens to the public. For several years I have been convenor of the wine and beer section and we are the only category that arranges for judges to rank the entrants on Thursday night — it seems more reasonable to be sampling alcoholic products in the evening rather than the following morning. The rest of the judging takes place on Thursday morning and I enjoy watching the volunteer judges go through the displays, checking for the ripeness of tomatoes, sampling the baked and canned goods or assessing the characteristics of chickens. Judges invariably take their responsibilities seriously, trying to be fair and thoughtful in their decisions. They, more than many, seem acutely aware of the efforts that go into creating each entry.

This weekend I’ll spend hours at the fair and enjoy the chance to wander around to chat with folks I don’t see regularly. I’ll also drive up to Crawford Bay for the opening celebrations because I want to help support the Kootenay Lake fair, too. At both I’ll enjoy the sights and sounds and the connections fall fair make to our past. The reminders of where we came from and how we got here are important and, for a couple of days each year, it is great fun to be part of the fairs’ wonderful traditions.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.