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Sunshine and smash-ups at Orillia Fall Fair

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

The Orillia Fall Fair is trying to change with the times, and if the past weekend was any indication, people are responding.

“It's a great turnout,” said Bob Bowles, president of the Orillia and District Agricultural Society (ODAS), as he toured around the south parking lot Saturday afternoon. The one at the north end, he said, was already at capacity.

After a slow start Friday, people came to the fair en masse Saturday and Sunday, as organizers were graced with a near perfect fall weekend for the 167th edition.

The usual programing - the livestock shows, tractor pulls and demolition derby - all remained, while the midway was unceremoniously dumped, thanks to the service provr going out of business. In its place were a collection of inflatable attractions which had line-ups throughout the afternoon.

“We're trying to change things up, trying to mix children and adults,” explained Janine Wood, one of the ag society's directors, about 50 feet away from the new beer tent, which offered great views for the tractor pull. “You still have to encourage people.”

One thing that isn't changing about the fair is that it is a place to both showcase your skills and discovery new hobbies and habits that can be cultivated into new competencies. With the children's fair under her purview, Wood sees this first hand.

Amy Pattenden got that experience in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 cheering fans, as she took part in the demolition derby Saturday afternoon. The 2004 Dodge Neon she was driving took a beating in the qualifying heat, but was one of the three cars to move on.

There's no secret to having a good derby car, she said.

“It's all about picking your shots,” she said. “Kind of picking you car, what you want, but then you just go out there and it's all about luck, really.”

At 22, Pattenden's been behind the wheel of derby cars since she was 18.

“My dad did it when I was younger, so I grew up around it,” she explained. “I got into about four years, seemed to like it and just kept going at it.”

Ian Speare Sr., and his son, Ian Jr., spent part of Saturday at the fair exploring a new hobby they're participating in together: model train building.

The younger Speare was wide-eyed and enthusiastically listening to members of the Midland District Railroad Club explain the ins and outs of the models they had set up inside the Rollerskating Palace.

“He's at that age where he wants to do trains, so I don't mind doing that,” Speare Sr. said. “He's right into Lego; he's more the creative side. I bought him dirt bikes and everything, but he just doesn't have any interest in that. So, keep him interested in whatever he's interested in.”

Still, the fall fair is an agricultural event and now can be used even more so as a learning tool for the area's increasingly urban population.

“I think a lot of people need to know where produce comes from; it doesn't come from the grocery store. You can grow a garden, you can grow things and enter them into the fair,” Wood said. “We were talking at meetings about how some fairs have gotten away from animals? But where can you see a rabbit up close or a cow that's all trained that they can actually pet?”


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