Friday, August 14, 2009


Once every couple of years we spend the second Saturday in August hanging out with my extended family at the Lougheed and District Agricultural Fair. When friends ask what we do there, I always say we hang out with family. It’s easiest that way. Long ago I discovered that an unjustified description of the daily events tends to leave them a little speechless. There they sit, not wanting to say the wrong thing, trying tactfully to figure out just how serious I might be about my passion for the Lougheed Fair.
We are visitors at the fair, some of the few attendees without at least one job to do—though this year we did spend half an hour keeping Dad Company on gate duty and collecting a few $5.00 admission fees. “Best entertainment $5.00 can buy,” says Dad. Free all-day horse show, free cattle show, free baseball tournament to watch, free visit to the museum and a chance to view all the prize tags affixed to the displays in the curling rink.
For a visitor the day begins at the museum with a pancake breakfast. By 10:00 you need to be standing somewhere along the parade route to be entertained by trucks with company logos, antique cars, horse riders and kids driving quads. Most of the floats throw out candy for the kids. It’s best to stand near children. Some floats throw really good chocolate bars.
By noon all the booths are open. You can get pie and coffee at the curling rink, or a cold plate at the arena. Out on the grounds you the hamburgers and frying and the hotdogs are grilling. There is ice cream and mini doughnuts, so many things to drink. There’s a beer garden too, though I’ve never been there. We who dine on parade chocolate bars usually end up spending most of the day around children.
My nieces and nephews are serving pop from a trailer, showing their horses, passing their kids back and forth, encouraging the next generation to ride. Their mom helps out in the announcer’s booth. At several points in the day we abandon the lawn chairs at the show ring and stroll through the curling rink to revisit the first prize tags on Dad’s woodwork. At one time the carpentry would have been made from new wood, but these days there are recycling categories. He has brought tables and coat racks crafted from waste wood and school desktops that gave service when he was a child. There are baked goods and jams, quilts and flower arrangements, ripe tomatoes, photography and children’s art. T
It’s all on display for us to admire. The judges were here yesterday.
And then there’s the museum, a cluster of buildings from the village and the countryside. When you think of history and exclude aboriginal history, nothing can be very old in an area that was settled in the early 20th century. But the 20th century was a time of rapid change. The museum church is the church I grew up with, the one nurtured by Granny and Mom. The pews are the ones I squirmed on, the kneelers the ones I ached on, the pump organ is the one I played at summer Bible school. One of the schools on the property—yes, there is more than one school—is the country school attended by my father and sister. There are their names on the register. That same school was the community centre of my youth. Never can I walk to the door without recalling how it felt to bite the bottom off my ice cream cone at the annual summer picnic. Why did I bite it off? Well, to understand that, you’d have to understand why I once put gum in my hair. I think I did it because somebody said not to. On fair day I step on to the platform where I performed at many a Christmas concert. I sit on the bench play the piano that is only slightly more out of tune than it was 20 years ago when Mom insisted that the school should be incorporated into the museum.
Fair day ends with a barbecue supper. Nobody can really claim hunger, but everybody lines up for supper. We are a four-generation party of 22. We might have been 23, but one teenager broke rank and ate early with a friend.
Did I mention that Lougheed has a population of 200, that the population of the countryside grows smaller every year as the farms grow larger? It’s only when you think of these numbers that you can understand what a fully participatory event the fair is. All volunteers pay the admission fee. All volunteers pay for meals. All pay entry fees to show horses or woodwork. Dad is right. The day is a bargain. But more than that, it is a commitment to a way of life.

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