THUNDER BAY – The president of the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition says the fate of their annual fair has been clear for some time.
On Wednesday they made it official – the fair will be put on hiatus for a second straight year.
With no end in sight to loosen COVID-19 gathering restrictions and commitments to midway operators and vendors needing to be made, Al Law said the CLE’s board of directors on Tuesday night voted to cancel the 2021 fair and focus instead on 2022.
There was just no reasonable way to make it happen this summer, he said.
“We’re disappointed, but you have to think ahead in regards to the safety of the public, all your volunteers and your staff,” Law said.
“But it’s the right thing to do. The vendors, they have to know ahead of time because you need permits. Then the midway has to know because they have to get certain rides Ontario permits. And then how do you distance? We’d have to triple or quadruple our staff, and even then you’re not guaranteed with distancing and disinfecting.”
Portions of the CLE grounds are also tied up with vaccination clinics, including the Coliseum building which is being used by the Thunder Bay District Health Unit to administer vaccinations. Law said the rental agreement extends through December and could go into early 2022. The Heritage building is tied up through November.
“We knew the writing was on the wall and it’s just that you’re hoping things would change. But with the variants and what’s happening in Thunder Bay, I can’t see anything changing, even into December or January – and we may have vaccines still happening into the new year,” Law said.
Law said he’s hopeful that they can return to larger-scale events next year, with the return of the Spring Home and Garden Show.
Despite the cancellations, Law said the CLE board believes it’s still on relatively solid financial footing, suggesting they’re probably better off than 90 per cent of the 200-plus agricultural fairs across Ontario, thanks in part to year-round tenants and the two vaccination clinics.
The CLE is also home to the Thunder Bay Country Market, and has a lease agreement with SilverCity.
Still, things aren’t all that rosy, either.
“By mid-August we’ll be down $2.5 million, but that’s gross revenue. You have to look at your expenses. It’s hard to figure out what your net income is. In 2020, we had a net loss. The Thunder Bay District Health Unit rental obviously helps and the tenants are paying, but less income,” Law said.
The CLE may also lose out on deposits made to secure entertainment for the 2021 fair.
The board is still on the hook for its utility costs, including power, phone and internet.
Looking ahead, 2022 could be a special year, with the fair returning three years after it was last held in 2019. There could be a lot of pent-up demand among the tens of thousands who annually make the trek to the CLE each August. But then again, a lot of people might not yet be ready for large crowds, Law said.
“You have to be optimistic,” he said.