Every year after harvest season in Ontario, communities across the province come together at local fall fairs to celebrate all things rural. For urban dwellers in Toronto, The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair brings the country to the city, showcasing the best of agriculture, local food, and equestrian competitions every November for almost a century. Held at Exhibition Place, it is the largest indoor agricultural and equestrian show in the world, welcoming over 300,000 people each year.
For many visitors, animals are the stars of the Royal, from a friendly petting farm, to entertaining dog shows, to a range of livestock competitions that showcase some of the finest animals in the world. The Lieutenant Governor’s Cup, the beginning of which is marked by the viceregal’s arrival in a landau, is one of the main attractions at the Royal Horse Show, an indoor equestrian event where world-class riders and horses compete at the highest level in show jumping, indoor eventing, and dressage. In 2019, the renowned RCMP Musical Ride performed with a full troop of riders and their elegant black horses, delighting the crowds.
Farm to table
Some say food is at the heart of the fair, where the iconic butter tart now competes alongside craft beer. With a greater focus on quality and sustainability, a new local food pavilion invites visitors to taste and take home some of the most innovative dishes in the province. It is an opportunity for entrepreneurs from all regions of Ontario to promote their products and recount their journeys from farm to table. Guests are keen to meet the people behind those journeys and learn more about their agribusinesses. They chat with artisans from the North about their unique handcrafted products, and they learn from celebrity chefs, who introduce diverse cuisines at a fair located in the world’s most multicultural city.
A place to grow
The Royal is also about education. Generations of schoolchildren enjoy hands-on experiences learning about agriculture in Canada. They meet rural kids their own age who are working to achieve coveted 4-H honours. Students of all ages hear educators from the University of Guelph talk about discoveries in science, technology, the arts, and entrepreneurship, all of which are changing the way we grow and consume food. They discuss how interactions with the environment, animals, and ingredients can make us healthier, create high-tech jobs, and protect our natural resources. For 98 years, The Royal has brought people together to share stories of their farming past and to dream big about the future.
My roots in rural Saskatchewan and experience with 4-H make The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair a very comfortable place to be. The fair also has a long history of welcoming members of the Royal Family, Governors General, and Lieutenant Governors, and was granted the Royal moniker by King George V in 1922.
Every time I have had the good fortune of attending The Royal, there has been something new to learn or marvel at, particularly initiatives in economic development. There is so much more to farming and food than meets the eye. From meeting with the Iroquois Cranberry Growers, who specialize in decadent chocolate covered cranberries in 2016, to Campaign for Wool events supported by Prince’s Trust Canada in 2017, I have always left with a renewed sense of just how fortunate we are in this province to have access to such talent and innovation—which ultimately nourishes us all.
Today, nearly a century since this fair’s inception, such opportunities for education and appreciation, with a diversity of regions, practices, and people coming together, are more important than ever. This is an experience that fosters mutual understanding and empathy.
The Royal’s enduring commitment to strengthening the pillars of sustainability is something in which we may take pride. Long may its cornerstone of tradition continue to bring us together and showcase the best that Ontario has to offer.Sustainability