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THE ROYAL AGRICULTURAL WINTER FAIR - A CANADIAN TRADITION
 
(2014 - Fall Issue)

Writer: JOHN RIDOUT



The world’s best strut their stuff at Toronto’s 92nd annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair this November.

Four generations of my family have been taking this annual trip to the big city to partake of the country life. And every year, I’m newly amazed at the freshness of the food, fun and faces. For 10 days at the start of the Canadian winter, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair warms visitors in new and historic structures at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. A great destination for exploring rural culture, it entices more than 300,000 visitors annually who include animal-lovers, foodies and competition junkies.

“The Royal is the world’s largest combined indoor agricultural and equestrian show,” says Karen Poncelet, the Fair’s manager of Marketing Communications and Community Relations. “It is more than just entertainment; it is also a unique learning experience, with 10 education centres offering continuous agricultural programming and demonstrations geared to children, youth and adults.” She points out that guests will find more than 5,000 animals, unique shopping, world-class competitions and five-star dining.

Among this year’s attractions are the Royal Food and Lifestyle Stage, Sheridan Nursery Winter Gallery and President’s Choice Animal Theatre.

The Royal Horse Show

Voted the No. 1 Indoor Horse Show in North America, this event features more than 800 horses and ponies. Olympic-calibre Canadian and international riders will be competing for more than $800,000 in prize money and the title of Royal Champion. Competitions include show jumping, high-stepping hackneys, road horse classes and heavy horse hitches. Amber Marshall, star of CBC’s Heartland, hosts the Ontario Toyota Dealers Rodeo, while National Shetland Pony Racing thrills audiences with speed and agility.

Revving up the excitement is Australian horse whisperer and bush poet Guy McLean, who brings his new show demonstrating even more amazing talents. He gets inside his horses’ heads so they trust him completely, then asks them for certain behaviours that go against their survival instincts. His riveting performance also weaves in humour and bush poetry.

One of the Royal’s special attractions is the rare chance for visitors to get up close and personal with equine stars, their trainers and coaches. Strolling around the historical Horse Palace offers an eye-opening behind-the-scenes look at the care that goes into preparing the animals to perform under the lights of the Ricoh Coliseum.

Fun with Furry Friends

Children are always delighted with the Pizza Pizza Petting Farm, where they can touch and feed animals, including alpacas, chickens, donkeys, goats, llamas, sheep and rabbits. In addition, the President’s Choice Animal Theatre showcases animals at work and play including horses, Goats on the Go, rabbit jumping, and the famous President’s Choice Super Dogs.

Farm animal competitions entertain and educate visitors. They get insider information and rare facts about animals while they view prime examples of numerous breeds. Among the animals competing for championship banners are more than 1,400 cows, 450 sheep, 250 goats, 800 birds, and 600 rabbits and cavies. Some of their owners are young farmers of the future whose careers will get off to a winning start.

Food and Lifestyle

The big news here is the Royal International Chef Challenge at the Royal Food and Lifestyle Stage. Top chefs from Toronto will face off against the best from New York and Chicago. Chef Collin Thornton of Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York—and winner of the Royal Chef Challenge in 2013—will throw down the gauntlet to the top chefs from the Waldorf Astoria in New York City and a star chef from Chicago. eTalk Canada’s Ben Mulroney and Ted Reader, “Godfather of the Grill,” will host the event on November 9.

Local foods and beverages are also among the Royal’s features. For casual dining, the Food Court and kiosks dish up traditional goodies such as rosti, apple dumpling, lamb-on-a-bun and sticky cinnamon rolls. Serving more sophisticated fare to discerning diners are The Royal’s six premier restaurants. These include The Hitching Ring Café and Bar, The Royal Vineyard and Brew House—and the exclusive Tanbark Club.

Food in the raw is overflowing in baskets and crates along the Harvest Path display. On show are award-winning pumpkins, apples, onion ropes, potatoes and more. Not to be missed is the Giant Vegetable competition with more than 60 classes of vegetables competing. Last year’s champion was a 50.8-kilogram cabbage; the Royal record for giant pumpkins is 641.65 kilograms.

Art and Education

The Royal Education Centres offer experiential learning about many aspects of rural life and the environment. Education and creativity are also built into events and competitions. For example, the “sheep to shawl” contest showcases a different kind of art: Teams of six artisans weave raw fleece with other natural fibres into beautiful shawls—all in four hours. And for The Royal Christmas Tree competition, artists and artisans display their creations in the Sheridan Nursery Winter Gallery. 

“There’s no better way to get an appreciation of the contribution that agriculture makes to our world,” concludes Poncelet. “Living the rural experience even for a day is one of the greatest gifts that visitors can take home.”

Travel Planner

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is held at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, from November 7 to 16, 2014. Visitors can park onsite in more than 4,000 spots, or in nearby Liberty Village. The premises are also easy to access via public transit—both GO and TTC stop right at Exhibition Place. For more information, visit royalfair.org.

 
 
 
 
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