Are there any school buses left in the GTA? I thought to myself as I waded through the laughing school groups standing outside the entrance of the Enercare Centre at Exhibition Place. With an assembly as excited and enthusiastic as this, it was hard to not get more than a little giddy at the anticipation of what lay within.

I will be completely honest. I had not been to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair since I was young enough to be a student in one of the school groups I found myself surrounded by. I came to the Royal, as it is known locally, with very little idea of what to expect but a great deal of excitement. I am a big fan of cows, for one, and just the vague recollection of six year old me spending hours staring at all manner of farmyard animals instantly invoked a warm nostalgia that had me ready to get started. 

You could spend a whole day exploring the delicious novelties at the Royal Food Court alone.

Chris Whitehead

Once inside I was greeted by Ian Charlton, Director of Corporate Development for the Royal, who gave me a quick tour of the merchant booths before leading me to a table near the Food and Lifestyle Stage where a butter tart competition was in progress. What followed was perhaps the single most challenging discussion I’ve ever had with another person in my life; I’ve never met a butter tart I didn’t like and the amazing aroma wafting from that judges’ table made simple conversation hard to focus on.

“What started as a primarily agriculture-based event has evolved quite a bit since we first got started back in 1918,” Ian said. “While we still are very true to that aspect we also offer a world class food and equine experience to our visitors. As the largest combined indoor agriculture fair and equine competition in the world, there is a lot to see and do while here. While it is easy to say there is something for everybody, here at the Royal we mean that very literally.”

To this point I can attest that Ian is not simply boasting. The Royal has an amazingly diverse mix of people in one place, everything from suburban families enjoying the agility of competition dogs over at the Animal Theatre to farmers from across rural Ontario showing off their prized dairy cattle at the Ring of Excellence, and Toronto urbanites in black tie and evening gowns arriving for an elegant dinner at The Royal Terrace while they enjoy The Royal Horse Show, the premier indoor horse show in North America.

A collection of prized cows lounging in the wings before competition.

Chris Whitehead

“You really are hard pressed to find as diverse a group as this anywhere else, all sharing in these Royal moments” Ian shared. “It’s part of why I think Coca-Cola is such a great partner for us. Not only is it an incredibly historic and iconic brand but Coca-Cola is also very universal. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from in Canada. City or country, everyone knows Coca-Cola.”

After parting with Ian I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the fair at my own pace, checking out all the vendor booths, drooling in the Royal Food Court, seeing the farm animals get pampered before competition, sampling all the artisanal cheeses and cured meats I could get my hands on and of course, paying homage to the butter sculptures (a required part of the Royal experience I was told by a colleague).

There is always something to see over at the Royal Horse Show.

Chris Whitehead

By the end of my day there, the Royal had turned out to be far more than the horses, cows and pigs I remember being obsessed with all those years ago. While this revelation may not be news to many of you (over 300,000 of you annually to be specific), for me it was an exciting discovery that has guaranteed I will be back at the Royal next year. For those of you out there who are Royal regulars, please share your photos with us here. And for those of you that have never been to the Royal, what are you waiting for? As Ian said, there truly is something for everyone so go and see what the Royal has for you.

The 2016 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair runs from November 4 – 13. For event schedules and ticket information please visit them online at www.royalfair.org.