The Alberni District Fall Fair has won a national award for its innovative 2020 virtual fair. And the fair organizing committee will look at a repeat performance for 2021 as B.C.’s provincial health officer is discouraging large events for a second summer due to COVID-19.
The committee began making alternate plans for the annual four-day fair shortly after postponing the 2020 event in mid-April last year, administrator Ann Siddall said.
“We researched doing drive-in movies, drive-by safaris and having a drive-by food concession for at least one day. As it turned out, it was going to cost a lot of money to make very little in return or our hands were tied because of COVID-19 restrictions, so we scrapped these ideas,” she said.
They concentrated on their cash prize raffle—switching from a vehicle draw to a cash prize—and a virtual fair so they could still give something back to the community. Instead of hosting 4-H kids with their animals in the fair barns they promoted agricultural awareness online.
“Our fair is fortunate in that we own our own grounds and are able to take advantage of winter rental storage in our buildings,” Siddall explained. “However, we will still be carefully monitoring our budgets so when we are able to resume the fair we will be in the position to have the startup funds to bring the community a great event.”
The big coup, though, came from the University of Victoria in the form of students Braiden Cutforth and Bryce Edwards. Cutforth grew up volunteering at the fall fair. Now a graduate in software engineering, he and Edwards—who is studying marketing—approached the fair from a different perspective. Their forward-thinking ideas earned the Alberni District Fall Fair the 2020 Innovation Award from the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.
They beat out large exhibitions like the PNE in Vancouver and the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.
Cutforth, Edwards and their teams met over Zoom and Facebook with fall fair committee members, discussing what their needs were. The duo interviewed numerous people involved with the fair, including volunteers, vendors, sponsors, entertainers, exhibitors, agriculture producers and more. Their small team donated their services.
“We created a small platform where local businesses could set up a ‘virtual’ booth with the intent of allowing others to view these virtual booths as if they were at a home show,” Cutforth said. “The platform facilitated connecting people with businesses through their existing social media platforms.
“Many booth holders also held small livestreams through their Facebook pages to get a more interactive experience with the public.”
The Grocery Shopping Game was back—online, of course—and that helped support agriculture producers. The raffle draw was held live.
The learning curve was steep but successful, Siddall said. “We now know we can take what we learned and incorporate it into future fairs.”
The 2021 fall fair will also be virtual. “There’s no way we’re going to be able to do a great big fair,” she said.
Planning is already happening: the fair will take place Sept. 11-12 and this year’s theme is Growing Connections. The home arts section will expand online, more vendors will be featured virtually and Siddall hopes entertainers will sign on to promote themselves with livestreaming events. Progress can be seen at myfair.ca or albernifair.com/virtual-fair.
Siddall thinks other fairs and exhibitions will take a close look at Port Alberni’s winning virtual model. Cutforth and Edwards were planning on holding some webinars to share their knowledge.
“We were lucky to get their help for free,” she said.
“All these things we didn’t know existed have come to the forefront.”