What Is The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair?
Toronto, Canada’s largest urban centre, isn’t usually synonymous with agriculture. But every year in November, the country comes to the city as Toronto plays host to the largest indoor agricultural and equestrian event in the world.
The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair has a long tradition in the city. In fact, 2022 marks exactly a century since the event began. If you’ve never been to The Royal, as it is called locally, you might be wondering what it’s all about.
Read on for a full breakdown at what you can expect from this 10-day event.
Quick history of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair
The idea for Royal Agricultural Winter Fair was first conceived by a group of farmers following the end of the First World War. They wanted not just a place to come together as a farming community but an event that would showcase the best of Canadian agriculture to the world.
The idea for the fair was very popular and it received support from all levels of government. It was granted the ‘royal’ moniker by King George V of England in 1920, which was a huge boost.
Toronto, of course, looked much different in November of 1922 when the first official Royal Agricultural Winter Fair took place. While its population had already swelled to 500,000 and cars were a popular sight in the city, there was still a strong connection to the surrounding farming community. It certainly wasn’t uncommon to see horse-drawn carriages ambling down Yonge Street.
For decades, cattle, horses and other animals arrived at the Royal in railway cars from both sides of the country and often from the United States as well to compete against each other for best in show.
Over the intervening years, the fair grew up right along with the city, both becoming larger and more recognized around the world as the decades went on.
Today, the Royal is the largest event of its kind in the world and more than 300,000 people attend the event each year. And while it has expanded to include shopping, food demonstrations and live music, it still has agricultural pride at its core. Winning a ribbon at the Royal is a still a very big deal and something to be proud of — whether it is for show jumping or pickled beets.
The fair has run almost continuously during the last century — stopping only for six years during the Second World War and for two years during the global coronavirus pandemic.
It is safe to say that the Royal has achieved what its originators had hoped for — it has put Canada and Canadian agriculture on the world stage.
What can you see & do at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair?
Much as it began 100 years ago, the Royal is still a fair that showcases all forms of agriculture and crowns champions in all kinds of competitions, from grown produce to products such as honey, jams and pickles.
With general admission, you can access the main fairgrounds where you’ll get to see animal shows like dog jumping, take in demonstrations and food tastings, get a glimpse of plenty of enormous vegetables such as giant, award-winning pumpkins and visit exhibits that feature things you might not see elsewhere, like the always-popular butter sculptures.
You can also expect to see a lot of animals. Organizers have already announced that for the centennial year, the barns will be full of more breeds than ever. You can see barnyard favourites such as chickens, rabbits, cows, sheep and alpacas.
The Royal also hosts a culinary academy component (separate ticket required) where visitors can take cooking classes with notable chefs. And there is always a major emphasis on showcasing and educating people on the importance of locally grown food.
The other part of the fair, however, belongs to the equestrians and the Royal Horse Show, which is ranked as the #1 indoor equestrian event in North America.
To see a horse show requires a separate ticket. More than 1,000 competitors from around the world come to vie for the million dollars worth of prize money and the title of Royal Champion. You can see Olympians and top international athletes compete in show jumping, dressage and other events. There is also the Royal Rodeo scheduled for the last day of the fair, where cowboys and cowgirls compete in events such as barrel racing and trick riding.
The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair takes place at Exhibition Place from November 4-13, 2022. The Opening Ceremony Showcase, hosted by comedian Rick Mercer, will take place on November 2.