Carp Fair president talks tough decision

CARP – It was the toughest decision the Carp Agricultural Society has made in more than 150 years. Cancelling the 2020 edition of the Carp Fair is a decision that wasn’t taken lightly, and made with many damp eyes and sunken hearts.

Carp Fair 2020 Homecraft President Patricia Boyd spoke with West Carleton Online today (June 17) to talk about the heartbreaking decision to cancel this year’s Carp Fair, the day after the Carp Agricultural Society made the official announcement.

To the best of the society’s recollection, it is the first time the fair has been cancelled in 150 years of its 156-year history.

“I looked back in the history,” Boyd said. “I spoke to Peggy Blair. She wrote a whole book on the history of the fair (Carp Fair: History in the Making). I thought, surely during World War Two, or the depression. But no. The only record of it being cancelled was during The Great Fire. Directors, who have always been farmers, had to re-build their farms.”

The Great Fire struck the Carp Ridge Aug. 17, 1870. Believed to have started due to a railway crew burning brush that grew out of control, the fire spread quickly engulfing Lanark, Fitzroy, Torbolton, March and Huntley townships at one point stretching from Almonte to the Ottawa River engulfing the Carp Ridge but sparing the Village of Carp.

This time the cancellation is due to a global pandemic. COVID-19 is responsible for nearly 500,000 deaths around the globe as well as hundreds of deaths in the Ottawa and Valley area. At present, there is no vaccine.

“It was a tough decision to be a part of,” Boyd said. “Everybody ultimately, wants what’s best for the community and we feel it’s best to hold off. We will continue to promote agriculture and engage the community. It’s still a work in progress on what that will look like.”

It’s a decision that has saddened the West Carleton community – the Carp Fair is the social highlight of the year in West Carleton hands’ down. But it is not a surprising decision.

“Many people are very supportive,” Boyd said of those who have contacted the board since the announcement was made yesterday. “They’re sad but they understand the risks.”

The fourth weekend of September has become synonymous with the Carp Fair, and the board and volunteers are planning to make sure people continue to refer to that weekend as “Carp Fair Weekend.”

“We definitely want to stay in the public’s eye,” Boyd said. “But we’re not sure what that will look like.”

Things change daily with the pandemic. All three levels of government hold daily briefings and press conferences with rapidly changing regulations and recommendations. In early March, health officials gave the impression safety regulations would be in effect for weeks, not months.

“We were optimistic at the beginning of the pandemic,” Boyd said.

For Boyd, the cancellations will really hit home come September. Boyd grew up in Carp, literally right across from the fairgrounds.

“The fair has always been a big part of our family,” Boyd told West Carleton Online in an interview back in February after being named one of two fair presidents along with Ryan Foley. “I did not come from a farming family, but my dad always entered things in the fair competition – veggies, photography. It’s part of your life when you grow up here. I live right across the road, so we were very popular during the fair. I don’t think I’ve ever missed one, ever. You know everyone on the board, and you want to pitch in to help.”

The Carp Fair has faced a number of challenges outside of their control the last several years. In 2018 a tornado ripped through West Carleton on the Friday of the fair. The fair gets credit for saving countless lives of people who would have been in their destroyed homes if they weren’t at the Carp Fair (“It was a blessing,” Boyd said), but the fair took a not-unexpected attendance hit the rest of the weekend. In 2019 the annual spring Carp Fair Truck and Tractor Pull was cancelled days before the event due to torrential rainfall. This year, the pandemic cancelled two of the four Carp Fair euchres, both Men’s and Ladies’ Nights, this year’s truck pull and now the fair – all of these events important fundraisers for the Carp Agricultural Society as well as the many community organizations the fair donates to. The fair itself attracts 40,000 to 60,000-plus people each year.

“It’s quite challenging,” Boyd said. “Everyone is quite concerned about the lack of revenue. But there is funding available and we’re being fiscally responsible. Our fair board and our community is very resilient.”

After the 2019 tornado, the fair hosted a major fundraiser and thanks to community support, raised more than $96,000 for West Carleton Disaster Relief.

“I think we know it’s an uncertain time,” Boyd said. “But we have faith. The fair might not look the same for a few years.”

And that’s in part because of what the Carp Fair and the Carp Agricultural Society does best, which is bring people together.

“We like to gather as many people as possible to build community,” Boyd said, indicative of all the Carp Fair’s events. “This is what we do. Things will look different, but we will make it through this. This is unique. We are a resilient community. We don’t have a choice but to be. I have no doubt this will be a page in history, and we will continue.”

The Carp Fair currently has a fundraising online auction going on filled with incredible items donated by the community and the Carp Fair family (including West Carleton Online). To read our story on the auction published yesterday, and for links to the auction, click here.