Catriona McHattie is very busy these days. As the president of the North and South Saanich Agricultural Society, she leads the planning for the Saanich Fair, which officially runs from Saturday, Sept. 3 to Monday, Sept. 5. She also struggles to hide her excitement about the return of a full fair after the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed the 2020 edition online and cut the size and scope of the 2021 edition.
“Everybody is excited to come back together as a community and put on a full fair again,” said McHattie. “Not that it (COVID-19) has gone away, but we have done our best to go on living our lives without restrictions and we are pretty excited that we can put on a fair for all the new people who moved into our community and returning visitors that come every year.”
Creating a sense of community has been central to the fair, she added. “This is where everybody gets to come back and visit friends they haven’t seen in a long time, run into high school friends. This is what kind of happens at the fair. You may not have seen somebody for 10 or 15 years and there they are looking at the dahlias in the flower sections and you get to have a nice visit with them.”
COVID-19 had denied such encounters and there will likely be many over the coming weekend, starting as early as Friday afternoon and evening, when visitors will get a chance to enter the fair’s midway free of charge from 3 to 10 p.m. prior to the official opening the following day.
While the rides themselves won’t be free, this sneak peek, as McHattie called it, proved popular during the last fair pre-COVID.
She said organizers are making this offer to drive excitement for the weekend. “We did it in 2019 and it was very successful and we are opening that by re-instating it this year, it will also be successful,” she said. “It gives the kids something to do Friday night,” she added later.
Along with musical headliners Born Reckless (scheduled to play Saturday at 8 p.m.) and Wide Mouth Mason (scheduled to play Sunday at 8 p.m.), this year’s fair continues its tradition of showcasing local bands and other forms of entertainment aimed at a wide variety of audiences.
McHattie is especially proud of draft horses in the program. “We are going to be the only fair that has draft horses at it,” she said. “We worked really hard to get that.”
Their presence along with the countless agricultural exhibits also points to the fair’s role as a reminder of the agricultural roots from which the Saanich Peninsula grew and as a promoter of the same in the present and into the future. “As more farms are turning into subdivisions, it becomes a struggle every year to make sure that we teach the children what a farm is all about,” said McHattie.
This recognition of the past and concern for the future also appears in the presence of a First Nations exhibition for the first time in more than 50 years.
“We are excited to have them come back to the fair.”
While McHattie said she is not clear what accounts for the decades-long gap, the message is clear. “We are trying to be inclusive of everyone,” she said. “Every culture matters here in Victoria.”
The display itself features First Nations art and artifacts, with various groups and organizations represented.
Elder May Sam of the Tsartlip First Nation will also deliver a prayer and blessing to open the official opening ceremonies on Saturday starting at noon, with a group of First Nations drummers closing the fair on Monday afternoon.
Ultimately, McHattie hopes for an event that brings the community together.
“We like to think we are the heart of the community.”
The Saanich Fair runs 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Monday at the Saanich Fairgrounds, 1528 Stellys Cross Rd. For more information, go to saanichfair.ca.
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