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All's fair
By Tom VanDusen - AgriNews Staff Writer

The Capital Fair continues its gradual transformation into the iconic Central Canada Exhibition (CCE) by another name, not a bad thing since the Ottawa Ex as we knew it is gone for good.

The 10-day Capital Fair occurs Aug. 21-30 at Rideau Carleton Raceway, a slot in the summer schedule similar to the one occupied by the old Super Ex. It employs World's Finest Shows, the same midway provider used by the Ex, and is always looking to boost its agricultural component, same as the Ex did although not always successfully.

As many will recall -- although it's starting to get hazy -- after years of squabbling, financial woes and searching for a new location, the 122-year-old Ex evaporated in a cloud of controversy back in 2010, apparently never to return.

I say "apparently" because there were some bold words from board members at the time that this was only a hiatus, that, like Arnold, a somewhat reduced Ex would be back and slowly rebuild to its former glory.

The board pointed to a chunk of unserviced land it owned near Rideau Carleton as its eventual new home. That land is now for sale; the signs have been posted, and the board is considering dissolution.

"The reality is that hosting another Ex at a different location isn't financially feasible," says Lynda McCuaig, a long-time member of the Central Canada Exhibition Association board of directors.

Let's face it... when you're gone, you're gone. Glorious comebacks such as Arnold's in The Expendables are few and far between and this won't be one of them.

The Ex is done. It's... expendable. Not only is there no financing available to resurrect the onceproud tradition, there's no stomach for the work that would have to go into such a project, and no need for an Ex-type event in Ottawa these days.

The CCE was generally seen as one of the finest agricultural gatherings in the land when it was opened in 1888 by Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and Governor General Lord Stanley. Unfortunately, it didn't go out with a bang , but with a fizzle, barely missed by area residents.

What the diluted Ex had to offer, the public was no longer buying. What it had left to offer in 2010 was only a hint of the excitement the event promised in its heyday when Ottawa was closer to the soil and there weren't as many distractions, electronic and otherwise.

With all the idle chatter about starting afresh at a new site, the Ex didn't get the fond farewell it deserved. With talk of returning still in the air but fading fast, nothing has been done -- as far as I know -- to adequately commemorate its history at its one and only home, Lansdowne Park.

Now we have the Capital Fair. While it surprises many, the Capital Fair, which replaced the 40-year-old Gloucester Fair last year, is operated by a full-blown agricultural society.

Along with Metcalfe, Navan, Richmond and Carp, Capital is one of five official agricultural fairs situated within Ottawa city limits. Unlike the other fairs, Capital has no livestock competitions or home craft displays.

A key organizer with Gloucester, now Capital Fair, is general manager Harley Bloom who has pledged to incorporate more agriculture, starting with 4-H club shows and competitions. At one point with the Gloucester Fair, there was a 4-H presence, but it fell away.

To give Bloom credit, he tried hard to get 4-H beef, dairy and horse shows into the fair this year but received limited response, says McCuaig, who's also a prominent Eastern Ontario 4-H organizer.

"We started trying to pull 4-H interest together in June," she explains. "The lesson learned is to get going much sooner for next year."

The main problem, she explains, is that since the Ex pulled up stakes, 4-H has made other arrangements for its regional shows and won't be easily persuaded to relocate to the Capital Fair.

Meanwhile, the Fair's emphasis remains on stunt dogs, arm wrestling, demolition derby and "Monsters on a Mission". That might be about monster trucks because there's already a "Zombies have taken over the fair" feature.

Under a generous interpretation, western horse shows, petting zoos and birds of prey might qualify as agriculture-related.

But the Capital Fair is trying. As McCuaig says, she's always willing to work with a group interested in promoting 4-H. In this case, it's a city venue where urbanites can be reached about the realities of farming.

It's incumbent upon 4-H and the agricultural community in general to respond positively.



Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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