Fall fairs aren’t just about rides and junk food. They can also be a great excuse to show off your skill as a baker, artisan, flower arranger, gardener and more. The prizes are minimal, but the fun is enormous.
Entering lets you really connect with the heritage of fairs. The earliest fairs were a chance for homesteaders to show off the finest produce from their fields and gardens, as well as to compare – and buy and sell – cattle, chickens, horses and other livestock.
It wasn’t long before people started showing their other skills, from quilt-making to canning to baking, and asking experts to decide who was the best.
That competition is still a vital part of the fall fairs. It’s not about the prize money – first prize in many categories is three or four dollars. But going into the show building when you arrive at the fair, and seeing a bright red First Prize ribbon on your tray of brownies or vase of hydrangeas is an undeniable thrill.
It’s even more fun when several members of the family enter different classes. Everyone wants to see how their entry did, and share in the triumphs – or critique the judges’ decisions if the ribbons went elsewhere!
Both Huntsville and Bracebridge have extensive competitions, with dozens and dozens of categories. Bracebridge has seven different categories for potatoes alone, nine for squash and a dozen for tomatoes, each one representing a different variety. Severn Bridge fair is a bit smaller, but it too has a few dozen contest classes. There are crafts, potted plants, cut flowers, canning, baking… just about anything that has its roots in rural life, and quite a few things that don’t.
Many categories are very specific – if you want to show off your prize dahlias in Huntsville, there are different categories for one bloom, three blooms, or six blooms. Bracebridge has different classes for mild, medium and hot salsa, so you’ll need to decide where yours falls.
There are a few touches of modernity – one of the baking classes in Bracebridge calls for paleo brownies – but most contests have a distinctly old-fashioned air. Where else can you still win a prize for penmanship?
Part of the fun is just scrolling through the entry forms and deciding what you’d like to make.
Which fair you enter depends partly on your schedule. Baked goods and cut flowers need to be prepared on a specific day, and you’ll need to bring the entries on a weekday – typically the Thursday or Friday before the fair. Most people just enter the fair that’s closest to them, although keen livestock exhibitors will travel a great distance to show their prize chickens and rabbits in different fairs each weekend.
The Bracebridge fair is a three day affair, from September 15 to 17. Entries can be dropped off Thursday evening or Friday morning before 11:30.
The Huntsville fair wraps up Muskoka’s fair season on September 22 to 24. Entries need to be delivered on Thursday, before 12:45.