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2021 Saanich Fair makes history with return to Saanich Fairgrounds

Tsartlip First Nation open and close scaled-back fair; crowd enthusiastic despite smaller numbers
Quadra Sound, who headlined Sunday’s musical component of the Saanich Fair, was among an all-locals musical line-up as the Saanich Fair returned after being virtual in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Saanich Fair)

It might have been smaller than in the past, but the 2021 edition of the Saanich Fair over Labour Day weekend was well received.

“It was something that our community needed,” said Kelly Kurta, an organizing committee member with the North and South Saanich Agricultural Society.

An important event on the Saanich Peninsula’s social and economic calendar as an agricultural region since 1868, the scaled-back fair returned to the Saanich Fairgrounds for its 153rd edition after being virtual last year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The pandemic still loomed in the background, as organizers had to limit access to buildings to 50 per cent of their normal capacity at a time as part of the event’s communicable disease plan. Visitors also had to wear masks indoors as part of a provincewide mandate announced days before the Sept. 3 opening.

The highly popular midway contained a smaller number of rides and attractions than usual, and the enhanced cleaning protocols contributed to long waits for some patrons.

RELATED: Saanich Fair return yields family fun, agriculture education

“I’m not going to lie,” Kurta said. “We did definitely get some comments about that. It is unfortunate. There is nothing we can do about the line-ups. You are at a fair.”

This year’s attendance numbers are “definitely lower” compared to 2019, she said, with an estimated 30,000 coming through the gates between Saturday and Monday. “People are still nervous to go out.” The weather also played a role, with heavy rain on Saturday night sending many patrons scrambling.

But this did not dampen the public’s enthusiasm. “We still had a good crowd that stayed until the end (for Saturday’s musical acts). But it was definitely smaller. We are normally jam-packed into that stage area.”

Kurta said historically the fair attracts around 50,000 people, “so we had about two-thirds attendance this year.”

So how does this year’s fair impact planning for next year?

“We’ve got to keep moving forward,” she said. “Everybody has the same feeling. It felt great to be out, to be around people, to have the smell of popcorn and the smell of donuts and the smell of fries and burgers and onions. The feeling is positive. We have to maintain forward movement and we want a full fair.”

Overall, the response to this year’s fair validated its local focus, Kurta said. It will also go down as historical as members of the Tsartlip First Nation opened and closed the three-day event.

“It was the first time that First Nations had come to the fair,” she said. ‘They had been invited before, but this was the first time they came. So that was really special for all of us. I think it is a sign, for the lack of a better word, recovery, whether it was recovery from our history and the mistakes that we have made or moving forward into the future.”

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