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Bearspaw country fair enters second half-century

Organizers of the Bearspaw Old Tyme Country Fair are hoping the decades-old tradition will continue in coming years, despite the continual struggle of recruiting volunteers.

Established in 1969, the Bearspaw Old Tyme Country Fair will celebrate its 51st rendition this year, Aug. 16 to 18 at the Cochrane Agricultural Society Grounds. The event offers artisans and craftsmen in Rocky View County (RVC) the chance to showcase their talents as builders, growers, woodworkers and craftspeople. 

“It helps build the social fabric of society,” said John Piera, secretary for the annual event.

Last year’s fair saw more than 500 artisans from Cochrane and RVC selling their wares, according to Piera – whether it was food, jewelry, textiles or anything in between.

“There are benefits to society when people have the opportunity to appreciate the skills of others,” Piera said. “They may not even know their neighbours have these various skills, in terms of producing things.”

Apart from the vendors, the event featured activities for kids, including a petting zoo, a treasure hunt and zucchini races – sticking wooden dowels and wheels through a zucchini and racing it down a wooden plank.

“The whole thing is a country-fair atmosphere,” said Julie Trites, president of the Bearspaw and District Community Fair Association (BDCFA).

But while the Bearspaw event remains popular and fairly stable – according to Trite, one of the event’s founding members, Jim McPherson, is still involved – similar community fairs have fallen by the wayside. The Airdrie and District Agriculture’s Fall Fair Horticulture and Bench Show was discontinued in 2018 due to a lack of volunteers, and according to Piera, an event in Kelowna was recently discontinued, as well.

“I think the trend is for them to disappear,” he said, adding volunteer recruitment is one of the main issues when it comes to keeping such community events alive.

“Volunteers may not have the same level of expertise as people who are professional event organizers – the events are not as well advertised and organized as they could be. Because they tend to be volunteers, if you run into a situation where there’s a person doing a lot of work and they resign, it’s very difficult to fill that gap.”

That was the case for BCDFA this year, according to Trites. She said a few long-time members of BCDFA’s board of directors stepped down after the 50-year celebration in 2018.

“I think part of that is just we’re all so busy,” she said. “It doesn’t come down to the organization, per se, it comes down to how many ways you can split yourself into at the end of the day.

“When I took on the presidency, I wanted to make sure people wanted to come to meetings, that they look forward to seeing fellow volunteers. Not president, secretary and treasurer, but friends and members of their team.”

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