Chestermere’s annual Country Fair started with a bench competition, that has continued to evolve for more than three decades to remain a community-favourite event.
The country fair started as a way for the community to celebrate the beginning of fall, with the farmers showcasing what they had grown during the summer in the bench competition.
“Part of the fair might be competitions with the workhorses, and competitions that would reflect the hard type of work that people did to see who could do it the best,” Chestermere Historical Foundation President Jen Peddlesden said. “A bench show would highlight the talent and expertise of people doing the things that they needed to do all year long to exist and live in the countryside.”
In 1989, Diane Bell, Ken Fraser, and Helga Dressel organized the first Chestermere Regional Old Fashioned Fall Fair.”
The fair started with the bench show, now called the Red Ribbon Competition, and calf judging, and has since evolved into a parade, a kid zone, mutton busting, bull riding, and now demonstrations from the Chestermere Historical Foundation.
“There are so many things that every age group can get involved in,” Peddlesden said.
The parade quickly became an important part of the fair for residents, because it gets everyone in the community engaged and excited for the day’s activities.
“It got people excited, it engaged a broad range of people, bringing out the school bands to play, people decorating floats, highlighting what they do in the community, elected officials get to ride around and wave at everyone,” Peddlesden said. “The parade added to the fair continuing because people are excited.”
The Red Ribbon Competition started with baking, canning, sewing, knitting, and art categories. Since the inaugural competition, organizers have continued to add more categories to get more residents interested in showcasing their hobbies and passions, such as scrapbooking and photography.
“Now we have all these children’s categories for all these things that kids can do,” Peddlesden said. “The universality of an event like a fair, which appeals to every age group, it’s at a time of year when everyone is back home, and what a great thing to do right after school starts is to have a fair, the kids love to bring their stuff and enter it.”
This year, Chestermere Country Fair Organizer Jamie-Ann Kearns saw an increase in residents entering items into the competition.
“It was better attended than last year, it was really nice to see the flood of people right after the parade to come and take a look at everything,” Kearns said.
Last year, Kearns saw entries for the competition pick up again, as many people were excited to show off the hobbies they learned during the pandemic.
“This year we saw an increase in the volume of people and the entries that were put in,” Kearns said. “It has a good momentum now, especially the children, they are getting really excited about entering things into the country fair.”
The night residents bring their entries in for display is electric, Peddlesden explained.
“It’s so exciting to see people handing over the prized things that they have made to see if they can get a ribbon,” Peddlesden said.
“The morale is really good, the children are out of their minds with excitement, a lot of them want to set up their displays, and people putting their entries in are excited about what they have done,” Kearns said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and conversation about how it came to be, and how they started the hobby. People get together, get excited, and have that connection.”
Each year, the Rocky View Chestermere Agricultural Society works to ensure competition categories highlight things the community is interested in.
“We try to make it better, try to align with some of the options that the schools are doing so we can get more community participation, and make it super fun and relevant for what kids are doing,” Kearns said. “We’re trying to keep in line with what kids and adults are liking to do, it’s building upon itself year after year.”
Without the support of the community, and the volunteers, the country fair wouldn’t be possible or continue to grow every year.
“Chestermere has really powered through. We have younger people now who have really taken the reins to move this forward, and that’s very exciting. This younger group have really jumped in and gone with it, and they are so respectful in consulting those of us who have gone before,” Peddlesden said. “We might have set the pattern for it, but they are creating new interest and new ideas are always being added to the fair, and that’s keeping it alive.”
Going forward, Kearns and organizers are working to find Chestermere residents to judge competition entries and keep growing the country fair.
“We want to create more community buzz, and community excitement about the country fair, it’s a really exciting time,” Kearns said.