My Hometown: Harrow, Ontario

Attracting some 80,000 visitors last year, the Harrow Fair stays true to its roots.

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Full-scale parade in Harrow
Photo: Esther Meerschaut

Harrow, Ontario: A Fair Like No Other

Mention the word “Harrow” anywhere in Essex County, or even beyond, and people will immediately think of the area’s greatest and best-attended fall fair. It’s held annually on the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before Labour Day on the Harrow Fairgrounds at the east end of Wellington. This year, the Harrow Fair will be celebrating its 163rd year, making it one of the oldest fall fairs in Ontario.

It all began as a one-day event in 1854 on seven acres of land on the edge of Harrow. In 1901, the fair grew to two days and, in 1902, the grounds were expanded by 12 acres. By 1930, the event spanned three days, and in the early 1980s, it became the four-day fair it is now.

The popularity of this annual event stems from the fact that it has stayed true to its roots as an agricultural fair. It includes something for all ages, whether you’re from the country or the city. People can view the latest farm machinery, shop in the marketplace, enjoy the Carter Shows midway, or watch demonstrations and live performances. They can also play bingo or patronize the food vendors, including the popular United Church tent with its variety of homemade pies.

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Dog show in Harrow
Photo: Esther Meerschaut

Twenty different committees run the fair. Last year, there were nearly 8,000 entries in 70 competition categories, including livestock, poultry, baking, quilts, preserves, writing, crafts, plants, produce, sewing, artwork, photography and woodworking. Children can enter the lively, loud and highly entertaining “Mom or Dad ‘Calling’ Contest,” in which the kids cry out for their mommy or daddy, and both children and seniors can enter the ever-popular Teddy Bear parade. Youths of 4-H are active participants in the various contests.

Each year has a theme: in 2017, it’s “Sunflowers and Scarecrows.” That theme will be evident everywhere—in the parade entries, throughout the fairgrounds and in the many competitions.

Admission to the fair is $8 a day or $20 for a weekend pass. Children age 12 and under get in free and have many competitions they can enter. Others can pay $8 to enter competitions and in return get a free weekend pass. Prizes start at a few dollars and up. Animal categories have a variety of different entry fees.

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Motor cart race
Photo: Esther Meerschaut

On the first evening, local politicians open the fair and welcome the guests, but the real highlight is the pie auction. Two men auction off most of the pies entered in the pie-baking classes, with the proceeds going to John McGivney Children’s Centre in Windsor. This centre provides education, comprehensive services and family support for all of Essex County. The pie auction alone raises between $11,000 and $12,000. A single pie has been known to sell for as much as $3,000!

Saturday morning offers the area’s best parade. Since this is the most popular day for out-of-towners to visit, cars and people are everywhere. Parade entrants walk or drive from the Harrow Research Station east of town and along the main street to the fairgrounds. Participants include bands, the Shriners, horses, politicians, firetrucks, farm machinery, and floats representing local businesses and organizations. Spectators line the route and children eagerly grab any candy thrown their way.

A day’s admission allows people to watch well-known country performers. Dean Brody, whose album Gypsy Road won Country Album of the Year in 2016, performed here in 2011.

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Arts and crafts exhibit in Harrow
Photo: Esther Meerschaut

Sunday morning, several local churches hold an ecumenical church service, collect- ing food for the local food bank.

Many volunteers help to make the fair successful, and local organizations do their part. The Ontario Provincial Police maintain traffic control during the parade, the Knights of Columbus staff the gates, the Boy Scouts keep the grounds clean, and the Kingsville-Essex Associated Band keeps the public facilities neat and proper.

Visitors to the fair come from both sides of the border, and it’s a popular time for former residents to return for a visit. Everyone knows that when the fair is over, school starts–so lots of fun is had by all.

Two years ago, when a thunderstorm threatened to destroy the opening night festivities, quick-thinking officials moved the event into the main exhibition hall. Last year, the weather was perfect, with record-setting attendance every day. By Sunday evening, nearly 80,000 people had visited the greatest agricultural fair in Ontario.

Harrow must be doing something right, because in March 2017, Tourism Windsor-Essex-Pelee Island declared the Harrow Fair its winner in the “Best Local Festival—Family and Fairs” category.

The 2017 fair takes place August 31 through September 3. As always, everyone is welcome!

Originally Published in Our Canada

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