BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
The Royal Manitoba Winter Fair trumpeters single the entrance of Karen Cudmore into the show ring on Saturday evening during the MTS Grand Prix Cup.
With the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair landing on the Easter long weekend, attendance was down slightly with 106,000 visits through the gates of the Keystone Centre.
Easter is always a "wild card" for the six-day event, according to Karen Oliver, CEO of the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba.
"Friday was a very good day, but Saturday was not so strong, people were taking off for the long weekend, doing family activities and so on," Oliver said.
It was still a strong attendance for the fair, she said, despite the 8,000-visit drop from last year.
"Every area of (the Keystone Centre) was busy and in the big picture that is not a big difference."
Though the fair’s attendance throughout the day for matinee shows has proved successful at attracting young families over the past few years, Oliver said it has been at the cost of attendance at the main arena for the evening events.
"It’s been a real popular addition to have afternoon shows, but some evenings the stands are not quite as full as you might like, because our crowd is now divided into two," she said.
The show’s mainstays, including the petting zoo, were popular as always, drawing in huge crowds throughout the week. Oliver said those experiences for children last a lifetime.
"Those sensory experiences are what is going to stay in their memory long after what they saw in the show ring is gone," she said. "And that’s the connection we’re trying to make with our audience, that it’s all about experiencing the fair."
The Keystone Centre’s ongoing construction was an expected challenge for fair organizers and the facility’s roof was showing its age with some leaking during the warmer times of the week.
Every day is about facing challenges, Oliver said.
Organizers solve problems big and small, which could include a lost VIP attendee who needs to be escorted to the right area, to driving a judge to Winnipeg in the middle of the night to catch a 6 a.m. flight.
"It’s a million details like that, that the public doesn’t see and would be really surprised to hear about," she said. "It’s also what makes our jobs interesting. If everything ran smoothly, they wouldn’t need me, would they."
The fair not only acts as a homecoming for competitors and visitors coming from as far away as the southern United States and the Canadian coasts, Oliver said there was many new families which have never attended the fair before.
"There was lots of folks saying ‘we’ll be back next year and bringing my friends,’ which is a sign of optimism and makes you feel confident that the fair’s on the right track."
Numbers haven’t come in yet from the food drive to benefit the Samaritan House, which was a new addition to the fair this year, but Oliver said she was very pleased with the amount of donations she saw throughout the week — she said even rations from CFB Shilo came in.
The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba also donates the winning hogs from the pork quality competitions and the pigs from the pig scrambles to the Westman Food Bank.
The greatest thrill for Oliver is watching over the main arena, and seeing the thousands of people and hundreds of volunteers make the fair so successful.
"When you’re on the organizing end of the fair and you stand in that arena and see 6,000 people having a good time, and you know it happened because sponsors came on board, volunteers showed … it’s all stuff that you can’t really measure," she said. "It’s a genuine love of the event from the community."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 1, 2013