'Community event of the year': Oro World's Fair opens

There are literally thousands of fall fairs across the country, but only one of them is a "world’s fair."

And it kicked off Friday in Oro-Medonte Township.

“The Oro World’s Fair is the community event of the year,” said Ed Campbell, vice-president of the fair. “There are folks who have attended the fair every year for 30, 40 or 50 years or more. Some of them have even moved away, but they come back just for the fair.”

An hour before the official opening and school parade, the county roads leading into the Oro Fairgrounds resembled the iconic closing scene of Fields of Dreams — vehicles lined up and stopped, waiting for their turn to enter.

Inside the fairgrounds, located halfway between Barrie and Orillia at the intersection of Line 7 North and Sideroad 15/16, it looked like the entire community took the afternoon off to celebrate the 169th edition with friends and relatives.

Entire families, three and even four generations deep, wandered the grounds, enjoying antique displays, games and a huge variety of deep-fried and sticky sweet goodies. They laughed aloud and chatted about all things local.

In that way, it probably wasn't that much different than the first Oro Fair, which was held in 1852 at Rix’s Tavern, then located on the northwest corner of Lot 15 on the First Concession.

Throughout its infancy, the fair bounced around from location to location until 1869 when it settled into a permanent location at Township Hall at the corner of Line 7 North. Oro council had purchased the property the year before with the intention of building a community centre.

In 1878, in an act of incredible bravado, the Oro Agricultural Society opened the fair to all residents of the Dominion of Canada, believing the produce of Oro could compete with the best in the world.

It’s a belief many in Oro-Medonte still have.

“That confidence is alive and well, absolutely,” said Lori Hutcheson, an Oro-Medonte councillor, as she surveyed the flower exhibits. ”We celebrate our diversity and our uniqueness and this is an excellent example of how we do it.”

In 1954, a couple of years after the fair’s 100-year anniversary, it moved to its current location at the north end of the fairgrounds. In 1974, it went from being a one-day mid-week event to its current two-day weekend event.

Throughout its history, the fair has had a solid working partnership with the township, relying on council for support when needed, not only through funding, but also through participation. Every year, township council participates in the opening parade — a continuous thread in the township's ever-changing world.

While the parade is a big attraction on opening day, the highlight of the fair for many visitors, Campbell said, is the annual tractor pull, taking place Friday night, followed by the demolition derby on Saturday.

“The tractor pull is scheduled to go on until 11 tonight (Friday), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went a little longer,” he said.

The fair opens early, at 8 a.m., on Saturday with the singles horseshoe pitching tournament getting underway at 9 a.m. Buildings open at 10 a.m. and registration for the doubles horseshoe tourney is at 12:30 p.m. The demolition derby begins at 3 p.m.

Admission to the fair is $10 for adults. Elementary School children and preschoolers are free.

Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BarrieToday.com