A Not-So-Royal Winter Fair
A NOT-SO-ROYAL WINTER FAIR
Today we found ourselves seated on a crowded metal bleacher, the floor sticky with dirt and spilled beer, as a man dressed in a bacon costume auctioned off a group of terrified pigs for meat while the crowd cheered. But the day didn’t start there.
Rewind two hours, and we were walking through the front doors of the crowded entrance to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair - a Toronto tradition dating back to 1922. We had always heard of the Royal, but had never experienced it ourselves. When we arrived for the grand opening of the 94th annual fair, we did not know what to expect, and were not prepared for what we would witness.
The Ricoh Colluseum was buzzing as thousands of people, mostly families with children, walked excitedly between vendor booths selling everything from furniture, to soaps, to fur coats. Immediately noticeable was the unmistakable scent of meat wafting from the food court. As we rounded a corner we found ourselves confronted by a large glass showcase with the words “All About Pigs!” scrawled across the top, inviting us to take a closer look. Inside, a mother pig stood, listless and defeated, in a cage designed to prevent her from moving. Eight of her babies, only six days old, slept in a corner. We watched as one awoke and walked towards his mom. Frantic, and unable to turn around, she fell to her knees and pressed her nose against his. A family with two young children appeared at our side. “Look at the baby pigs!” the mother announced, to squeals of delight from her children. “Look at how cute they are!”.
We continued into the room, past a sign proudly proclaiming “So much more than just food!”, and were faced with rows upon rows of pens containing hundreds of pigs. One pen in particular was covered with award ribbons. We approached a young blonde girl, surely no older than 11, who stood proudly in front of the pen. We asked her what it was that the ribbons meant. “Well, this pig right here just won Best in Show” she smiled, explaining that Best In Show means that the judges felt that her pig had the best meat. (“You don’t want it to be too fatty” she noted). When asked if the award-winning pig would be going home with her at the end of the week, she told us that the meat auction would be happening later in the evening.
Beyond the pigs were more pens, this time containing goats. Families and friends oo-ed and aa-wed, some taking the opportunity to reach into the pens and stroke their heads. These goats were dairy goats, with the meat goats scheduled to arrive on Sunday.
The room was divided by a podium where 6 cows stood with their heads chained to a post. A twenty-something girl stood beside the largest of the cows, adjusting her hair before taking a selfie. As the flash went off, the cow tried to turn her head away, but the chain around her neck prevented her from doing so.
On the way to the food court we passed a small display providing information about the “Commercial Meat Rabbit” - several boards filled with facts, above a small enclosure containing a trembling white rabbit. A young girl with her face painted to resemble a bunny tapped on the glass to try to capture the rabbit’s attention.
The food court was filled with hungry visitors enjoying all that it had to offer - from bacon wrapped corn dogs, to Canadian bison burgers, to philly cheesesteaks and homemade lamb pies. No more than 100 meters beyond the lamb pies, delighted children enjoyed getting up close and personal with several wooly sheep in an animal petting zoo sponsored by Pizza Pizza.
What struck us most about the entire day was the sense of normalcy. Thousands of smiling visitors gazed adoringly at groups of tiny piglets, blind to the caged mother who stood in the corner, friends took group photos in front of chained cows while holding steak sandwiches, and crowds laughed and cheered as announcers joked that perhaps the pigs in the auction ring were squealing in terror because of the auctioneer’s bacon costume. It seemed as though none of these animals were viewed by guests as living creatures, but as products, photo-ops, and, in some cases, a joke. Making a spectacle of the suffering of animals and transforming it into a fun-for-the-whole-family event should not be considered a proud Toronto tradition. It should be considered a primitive black mark that a compassionate and civilized society must work together to remove.
Do you agree that this is a tradition not worth keeping? Have you had a similar experience at the Royal? Consider leaving a review here: