A Royal Anniversary

There is something extra special about a 100th anniversary.
Very few companies make it that far, most clubs and charities are shorter-lived, and not a single marriage has lasted that long (to our knowledge). But a storied history is not the only thing that makes the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair’s 100th Anniversary so special, “the world’s largest combined indoor agriculture and horse show”. Quite a claim.
After a one-year hiatus, the “The Royal” returns in its hundredth year to celebrate “one time a year when country comes to the city” (to borrow an old tagline). For Ben, this means he is equally likely to run into former high school classmates from Markham and likely some former classmates from his smalltown agriculture college.
What intrigues us most is that in 1920 a group of farmers convinced the City of Toronto to approve the construction of a livestock arena at the downtown Exhibition Grounds with additional approval from King George V to add the royal prefix.
The Royal’s magic is what has changed and what has not. To this day, it is a showcase for the latest and greatest in agriculture and equine breeding, methods, and technologies. Yet, visiting its historic buildings on a cool November day with the sweet wafting aromas of cinnamon buns and horse manure is a Toronto ritual on par with spring Cherry Blossoms in High Park.
Here are some of the things we are looking forward to at this 100th Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, starting Friday November 4th until the 13th.
Agriculture Product Displays and Competition. Giant vegetables, butter tarts, jams, jellies, sheep fleece and maple products all face off in the country’s most competitive field, landing in displays which are entertaining for the whole family. Any youngster or backyard veggie grower can appreciate the magnificence of a giant pumpkin or super tall corn stalk. What is less seen and appreciated, is the stringent judging criteria applied to these categories. Like the equestrian side of the show, judging vegetables and crops is a job for professionals.
Livestock Shows, Large and Small. For city folk, it is important to recognize the significance of showing at the Royal for 4H Clubs and family farms across the country. When enjoying the parade of primped pigs and coiffed cattle, work back to an agricultural setting some distance from Toronto to appreciate the work that goes into getting ‘Royal ready’. We don’t look that good.
The Royal Horse Show brings a unique pomp to the Royal, which separates it from nearly any other agricultural fair. Small historical fact, Ben’s maternal grandfather John Farintosh showed horses at the Royal with some success. For a world that can seem inaccessible to many, the Royal is a great opportunity for the rest of us to learn about and appreciate equestrianism in one of its finest forums. Events start on Opening Night, Friday November 4th at 7pm. Full schedule at HYPERLINK “https://www.royalfair.org/horse-show/” \l “events” https://www.royalfair.org/horse-show/#events
Food. After all, this is an agricultural fair which is about celebrating our bounty of food production. You can go high-brow, such as the Tanbark Club where dress-code observant guests can enjoy pre-horseshow cocktails, catering by Liberty Group, and a post-show after party. Alternatively, you can enjoy the Royal Market where you will find “elevated meals” in a cafeteria-style market. No confirmation yet on whether cinnamon buns are returning, but you will know by your nose as soon as you walk in the door.
The 100th Anniversary Edition of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is running November 4th-13th at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. Buy your tickets and find event schedules at https://www.royalfair.org/.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.