by Cassidy Nunn | photo by Stuart Bryson –
If you sense a buzz in the air around the Labour Day weekend every year on the Saanich Peninsula, it’s most likely the energy and excitement coming from the longest standing agricultural fair in British Columbia: The Saanich Fair. And if you’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the fair, which was first held back in 1868, you’ll know there’s a lot to see and do: from the food trucks; the farmers’ market; horse and dog shows; livestock competitions; baking, photography, and junior competitions; and the rides and games at the midway, to the musical entertainment which begins each day at 9 a.m. and continues through to the evening, it’s an event not to be missed.
This past September the fair saw around 43,000 entrants over the course of the three days; that number doesn’t include volunteers or staff, which the fair is in great need of, in order to continue on in the same capacity that attendees have come to expect. The past few years have been difficult for the running of the fair: 2020 saw it shut down completely due to the pandemic restrictions; in 2021 it was operational but at a much smaller scale and 2022 saw it back to its former numbers in terms of attendance. The volunteers, however, have not kept up in numbers, which is a trend many organizations that rely on volunteers are increasingly seeing. Many longstanding Saanich Fair volunteers are ready to step down after years of service and are looking to pass the reins on to the next generation.
Amber Nelson, an employee with the non-profit North and South Saanich Agricultural Society and one of two employees who organizes the Fair each year from January until September, is working hard to raise awareness about the need for volunteers for the Fair. “The more employees that need to be hired to replace the dedicated volunteer positions, the more likely the fair will have to adapt in the future,” says Amber. Jenna Saunders, Chair of the Saanich Fair Committee, which is a year-round volunteer role, is also spreading the word and trying to generate more interest in becoming involved with the Fair. There’s been a “huge decline in 4H,” says Jenna, who’s been involved with the 4H club for over 26 years. “The cost of owning animals has gone up substantially a lot of people don’t have the land to have these animals,” she says. In past years, the 4H club’s members have been participants as well as volunteers. “We’re trying to figure out how to make it so that more kids financially can afford to be involved ,” Jenna adds.
The Rotary and Lions Clubs have also been instrumental in providing volunteers for the Saanich Fair over the years, but Amber says that both clubs also had to cut back some of their services this past year as they didn’t have enough volunteers.
There are so many logistics that go on behind the scenes in order to get the Fair up and running (porta potties, security, tent rentals, equipment, janitorial, garbage collection, fees for entertainers etc.) and as with everything these days, the rentals and costs of running the Fair have gone up significantly. Volunteers are becoming more important than ever. So, how can you become involved with the fair as a volunteer? There are several options: the catalogue on the Saanich Fairgrounds website shows all the departments of the fair and “if a department piques their interest, they can reach out to the convenor,” says Amber. There are also work parties that happen at the Fairgrounds throughout the course of the year, from gardening to painting, and these parties always include some tasty food as a bonus. Volunteers must be 14 years old, or accompanied by a parent or guardian if younger. Jenna and Amber encourage anyone interested in volunteering to reach out via the website for more information. Volunteers receive free passes to the Fair for the weekend, access to the volunteer food room, plus they’ll be “helping to keep something alive that’s been around all these many years, because of the volunteers,” adds Jenna. For more information, visit www.saanichfair.ca.