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CHEF'S TABLE: Tis the season of festivals, fairs and food

'As a child, I remember all the sights and smells of my first harvest festival. The scent of popcorn lingering with the sultry aroma of deep-fried goodies was intoxicating,' says food columnist
There was plenty to eat at the 165th Barrie Fair at the Essa Agriplex in this file photo from 2018. | Kevin Lamb for BarrieToday

The end of summer is in sight and for me August is a busy month. A few family barbecues, a couple of birthdays and the end of our summer semester at Georgian College all come together to remind me that this is the twilight of yet another summer.

So much going on. Lots to see and do  picnics, beach days, kids at camps and our farmers bringing in the summer harvest. The mid-season work is in full swing and they are now getting a good view into the what the fall harvest will bring.

Once the hay is cut and bailed up, the season’s rush slows and there is a little time come together, take a break and cut loose a little. Maybe even grab a savoury snack or a sweet treat?

We are luck here in Simcoe County to have many summer festivals and event that are world class  Mariposa Folk Festival, Kempenfest, Boot and Hearts, and the Barrie Fall Fair.

So, what do all these great events have in common, you ask? Great food, of course!

Anytime you get people together there needs to be good eats. All these events each have an army of food and beverage service staff working to ensure that everyone gets what they need.

From hot-dog carts, beer gardens or VIP food truck services, all these events run on the skilled work provided by the hands of our hospitality crews.

Large-scale festivals and fairs have also had a big influence in our food culture. The culinary landscape would not be where it is with out the exposure and spotlight that takes new food trends and tastes and introduces them to the masses.

So what did we do before the era of TikTok tutorials and YouTube channels? We had the great fairs. There were two that stand out in the annals of culinary innovation and development: the World's Fair of 1904 and Expo 67.

First, the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Expo in St. Louis. Those three summer months in Missouri saw the introduction of the ice cream cone, French’s mustard, the popularization of Dr. Pepper, cotton candy and made hot dogs a mainstream favourite. It was as if classic American fast foods appeared overnight.

Second would be Expo 67, hosted in Montreal, which had a more subtle and very Canadian style of influence on our collective culinary identity. For many people, the food pavilions of the world and the exotic offerings were an experience like no other. This was a time before world travel was not as accessible as it is now and was only a privilege of the affluent few.

"For a lot of people, it might have been their first experience eating out at a place that wasn't a Chinese-Canadian restaurant or a pasta place," explains Fraser Valley University's Dr. Lenore Newman, author of the book Speaking in Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey. "I mean, there were barely restaurants as we know them today. It was not a foodie time."

Without saying so, the experience had a huge effect on the audience's tastes, which created new demand for a much wider range of restaurants across the country.

More than just a global food fair, though, Expo 67 marked the country's centennial anniversary of Confederation. It also presented a new vision for our Canadian identity. One that was open, modern and multicultural.

"The cuisine of Expo 67 was aspirational in that it really did help start that discussion around multiculturalism," Newman says.

Politicians of the time would promote this new image of a diverse, multicultural nation where people could embrace their differences, reinvent themselves and create a new narrative. Multiculturalism was a reinvention of our country's ethos and Expo 67 was the beginning. A new vision for Canadian food and for our country itself.

As a child, I remember all the sights and smells of my first harvest festival. The scent of popcorn lingering with the sultry aroma of deep-fried goodies was intoxicating. Bright red candy apples and huge clouds of multi-coloured candy floss caught and pulled my eyes. It was as if I’d gone to a junk-food Shangri-La!

In addition to filling every junk-food and snack craving and testing your mettle on the midway, our fall fairs serve another higher purpose. They connect us back to our agricultural roots. They provide a platform for those in our community who produce our food to show, educate and celebrate all that goes into the farm and country life. Barrie is lucky to have its own amazing fall fair.

The hard-working dedicated team of staff and volunteers plan, produce and host an amazing event year after year. The Essa and District Agricultural Society (EDAS) has been in existence since 1853. Formerly the Barrie and District Agricultural Society, the organization was formed to host the community annual fall fair for the region.

EDAS is a non-profit organization with many benefits to its community. Its objectives are to encourage awareness of agriculture and promote improvement in the quality of life in our community, both rural and urban.

Farmers, and producers both professional and recreational, can show off the best they have to offer. From homemade crafts, baking, livestock and poultry categories, each entrant’s submission is a source of pride and is worth a look. So, this year I encourage you to go out and check out this year's showings!

The annual Barrie Fair returns Thursday, Aug. 25 to Sunday, Aug. 28.  And hey, the demolition derby and tractor pulls are a great spot to sit back grab a corn dog and enjoy the show.

For more information and what to expect check out their website by clicking here.

“May all your days at the fair are packed with fun, good foods, and best friends. The memories that we make at the fair will last a lifetime!”

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Daniel Clements

About the Author: Daniel Clements

In his bi-weekly Chef's Table column, Daniel will be looking at everything from local crops and trends in the business to seasonal delights and the local restaurant scene
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