One hundred and fifty years ago, if you wanted to enter your quilt, heavy horse or watermelon into the competition at the Saanich Fair, the entry fee would have been 50 cents.
A century and a half later, anyone wanting to compete in any of the 28 different departments, ranging from donkeys and mules to best orange loaf, still has to pay an entry fee — and it is still fifty cents.
“That entry fee has never changed and we keep it there as a bit of a nod to our past. We’re very proud of our history,” said Clara Knight, the president of the Saanich Fair.
“This is our 150th year for the fair and, as part of that pride, we’re planning a wonderful exhibition of our past, but to do it we really need the help of the community.”
Knight has put out a call for any memorabilia from past fairs, including catalogues, ribbons, clothing, photographs, newspaper clippings and more –all of which will be incorporated into a 150 anniversary display for the enjoyment and education of this year’s fair goers.
“We already have a lot of the catalogues and some photos and posters from as far back as the 1800s but we would love to get more. The material is just fascinating and really helps to bring the past alive as they consider the great history that our fair has,” she said.
The Saanich Fair, she explained, has a remarkable and colourful history.
It all started when 10 men, all farmers in the area, decided that it was time for their region to host an agricultural fair that would allow them to get together and compare their stock, crops and crafts in a mutually beneficial exhibition that would share information and give the regions farmers some bragging rights about their accomplishments.
“They started out hosting the fair on one of the fields owned by those 10 men. They used to move it around from year to year, from one field to the next, and its popularity just kept growing,” said Knight.
The fair is now the largest of its kind on Vancouver Island and on par with the Interior Provincial Exhibition on the Mainland and encompasses 43 acres of land on a permanent fair site that is the envy of other municipalities.
The fair employs five full-time staff and the 11-member board of directors now oversees the activities of more than 2,000 volunteers.
And, although the 10 men who started the fair are long gone, in many cases the farming families who were there at the beginning are still actively farming the area.
“This year we have Vern Michell and his grandsons opening the fair in recognition that Thomas Michell was one of those original 10 men, without whom the fair might never have gotten started,” said Knight.
“In fact, we invite any of the family members of those original 10 to contact us. Some already have and we’ll have seventh-generation farmers here to celebrate what their early family members got started.”
Knight invites anyone with memorabilia or even memories of the early days of the fair to contact the Saanich Fair by phone or email.
“We would love to talk to people to tap into their memories and memorabilia so we can share that history with the visitors to the fair this Fall,” said Knight.
In fact, Knight’s own memories of the exhibition are significant.
“My son pointed out to me that, since I’ve been coming to the fair my whole life, my involvement spans about half of the years the fair has been around. I felt like giving him a smack,” she said with a chuckle.
“But age is mind over matter and if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. I’ve had a great life and this fair has been a big part of that. I’m proud of the work we manage to do.”
Anyone with materials or stories regarding the history of the fair can contact the organizers at saanichfair.ca.