Special to the Langley Advance
While some Lower Mainland fairs fear total annihilation, others hope common sense will prevail in discussions to shift the PNE to July.
If the Pacific National Exhibition moves ahead with an idea to change the dates of its annual fair in two years, it would run in July instead of the last two weeks in August.
That include’s the fair in the Langley neighbourhood of Aldergrove. It is currently on this weekend, ad president Karen Long says the date change for the PNE could hit them hard.
Like other Lower Mainland festival and fair operators, Long express concern and surprise that they were not consulted about the possible shift.
The Aldergrove Agricultural Fair and Festival Association is celebrating its 104th anniversary this weekend.
“We feel that the PNE changing the dates of the exhibition to the last weeks of July would negatively impact our fair that is run 100 per cent by volunteers and celebrates our community,” said Long, adding they’d be forced to compete for volunteers, participants and attendees.
“Hopefully when a decision is made, it is more than just the weather that is taken into consideration.”
Idea being floated
Canada’s third largest summer fair, the PNE, announced it is considering the move a couple of months ago because the traditional dates tend to be rainy, but if the PNE decides to go for the shift, it won’t be easy.
There could be major hurdles supplying the midway with rides and concession booths and the move could jeopardize the future of other small local fairs.
The PNE says the earliest it would change the dates would be in 2018, but the shift means the PNE would overlap with the Calgary Stampede and a number of fairs and festivals in the Lower Mainland.
The organization is seeking public reaction with a survey, but some industry experts speculate the PNE midway would suffer because carnival companies – already struggling with fuel costs, falling attendance and fierce competition for entertainment dollars – would be reluctant to drop any of their major conflicting contracts.
The summer carnival circuit in Canada is tight. Companies like West Coast Amusements, which holds the majority of carnival operator contracts in Western Canada, start east and work their way west to Vancouver’s end-of-summer PNE, hitting up some of the big carnivals like the Saskatoon Exhibition, Red Deer, Alta.’s Westerner Days and the Calgary Stampede.
After an expensive off-season spent attending trade shows and buying and repairing rides and equipment, WCA needs the larger events to replenish its coffers, says Stephanie Buttazzoni, who works for WCA and is the granddaughter of company founder the late Bingo Hauser.
It would be a problem to find enough food, games and rides for the PNE midway in July without giving up their other contracts, she said. The formerly Langley-based company provides 17 rides for the PNE.
Hardest on 4-H kids: Maple Ridge
As well, two community fairs held at the same time as the proposed dates – one in Aldergrove, and the other in Maple Ridge – say they would take a major hit if the PNE dates change.
Lorraine Bates, manager of the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Country Fest – which runs in the third week of July – said they’d lose half of the fair because the 4-H club supplies most of the livestock for the agricultural fair.
The young people raise the animals and tour fairs before auctioning them off at the PNE at the end of the summer.
“I honestly don’t know what we would do. We would question whether we could continue,” said Bates.
She said they could consider shifting their dates earlier, but noted there could be logistical challenges booking the midway and with the animals.
Survey results to come
The survey results will be released sometime in the fall, said PNE spokeswoman Laura Ballance, adding the various media and online polls after the announcement seemed positive and that people plan to attend the fair regardless of the dates.
Ballance said the PNE will consult with organizers of other regional events and major suppliers, including WCA and 4-H.
“The reason we’re not considering this change in dates until 2018 or later is because there is a multitude of stakeholder communications and planning that would need to be done.”
Buttazzoni’s mother Wendy Hauser, who also runs WCA, said they would work with the PNE to find a solution, adding that one option may be to lease rides from smaller independent companies.
However, one industry expert believes that idea won’t work.
The carnival industry is waning in part because of skyrocketing insurance rates, low attendance, lack of carnival staff due to required background checks and the high cost of inspections and maintaining a fleet of trucks, according to carnival guru Jim Conklin of Canada’s famous Conklin Shows (sold to North American Midway Entertainment in 2004).
He said renting rides from smaller companies that own just a few rides is not a solution because they are typically booked up through the summer.
“There just aren’t enough of them left. And the independents that are left are locked in to other carnivals. No one is going to buy new rides and equipment for one show. The economics are just not there,” he said.
He also believes the weather is not a good enough reason to move.
Brenda Medeiros is the vice-president of Shooting Star Amusements, a B.C. company that provides the midway for Maple Ridge and Abbotsford.
She said as a small company it is difficult to compete with the big supply companies like WCA, so when the PNE is on, they head to Vancouver Island and up north to Smithers.
If Shooting Star got a contract with the PNE, then the date shift could be an advantage, she said, but then the smaller fairs would have no midway.
Small community fairs are struggling more than larger events like the PNE because they rely on volunteers, according to Karen Oliver, executive director of the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions. Young people, who may have been quick to volunteer in the past, are spending their summers pursuing other forms of entertainment, she said.
Both the national association and the B.C. Association of Fairs and Exhibitions said anecdotally attendance has been steadily declining over several decades, largely because of competition for entertainment dollars. Oliver disagreed with Conklin that the industry is dying, but agreed attendance had dropped over 30 years as fairs compete with summer music, book and art festivals, concerts, craft beer, wine and food festivals.
“I think (fairs) have stayed strong despite reduced attendance. And I think that’s partly due to the real experience you don’t get at other events. It’s a genuine family experience.”
She said if the PNE goes ahead with the shift in dates, there will be a spinoff effect. And while some vendors will adapt, others will find it difficult and go elsewhere.
“I’m sure the PNE is aware that the midway companies already have their routes established in the summer and vendors who have established roots might have some issues. And I’m sure this is a decision they won’t make lightly … without a midway an exhibition just isn’t the same,” she said.
“Overall, I think people are starting to take fairs for granted and I hope that changes. If you don’t attend fairs, maybe they will be gone in 20 years.”
In a twist, Abbotsford’s Agrifair, which is held the last week in July, welcomes a date change for the PNE. Like the PNE, the owners want to change their dates over weather woes.
The last two years, the weather has been scorching in the Fraser Valley, forcing the fair to cancel rides because the machinery got too hot.
Fair spokesman Ernie Silveri said he’d rather deal with the rainy weather at the end of summer than the heat.– Tiffany Crawford is a reporter with The Province • Click here to see other stories from The Province
Source: PNE Annual Reports