LITTLE CURRENT – The anticipation was palpable this past Friday afternoon as dozens of people gathered in front of the Little Current-Howland Recreation Centre to witness the opening ceremonies for the 2019 Manitoulin Trade Fair in its 15th edition, marking 30 years since the first-ever event of its kind in 1989.
“We are very pleased to have a great representation here today to help us officially open the fair,” said Mike Addison, general manager of the LaCloche Manitoulin Business Assistance Corporation (LAMBAC).
About 5,800 people turned out for the fair this weekend. Mr. Addison noted that the number may appear a bit lower than recent years due to selling weekend-long admissions rather than charging for each day.
Standing next to the podium, after having been escorted in by a small delegation from the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Manitoulin, were FedNor director general Aime Dimatteo, Waubetek business services manager Jason Peltier, Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes, LAMBAC board chair Dennis Shepitka, LAMBAC board member Kelly O’Hare and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha.
Whitefish River First Nation elder Leona Nahwegahbow began with a prayer and smudge before the special guests had a chance to address the crowd.
“You know the Trade Fair is on when Bonnie Kogos is back on Manitoulin Island,” said Mayor MacNevin, referencing the Manhattan-based Sudbury Star columnist and author who pays visits to the Island on special occasions and who appeared rather pleased at the shout-out.
Trade Fair co-ordinator Diane Newlands said there were several new businesses present for the 2019 fair, including the added bonuses of mascots, magicians and a clown to entertain the younger patrons.
Ms. Hughes noted that the weather has been stellar on the opening afternoon for as long as she can remember.
“This fair is a great way to showcase the businesses we have on Manitoulin Island. Please go out and support them,” she said.
Mr. Dimatteo said the number of businesses present in the 2019 fair was the highest on record at 161 booths. It was a sold-out event. He joked that he was concerned about needing to expand the arena to house all the booths, which would cut into FedNor’s budget for other projects.
With that, the banner split in two and the long lineup of eager guests began to file into the arena. The vendors were divided between the curling and hockey rinks and featured everything from housewares to refreshments and activities to fundraisers.
“We measure success based on feedback from vendors. All the vendors were amazingly happy. A number told me their sales were up from the last fair and people are already wanting to come back,” said Mr. Addison.
This newspaper had an especially sweet offering on opening night—Friday marked the 140th anniversary of The Expositor’s first edition and staffers were on hand to distribute 200 birthday cupcakes, including editor Alicia McCutcheon and publisher emeritus Rick McCutcheon.
The number of vendors meant tough competition for the best booths in the competition. In the small booth category, Mindemoya’s Danielle Legge and her booth for Freshwater Studios came in second place. Top prize went to EagleOwl Party Rentals, also of Mindemoya, which was helmed by Janice Abbott.
Second place in the large booth division went to Manitoulin Radio Communication owners Craig and Kelly Timmermans and their radio stations Country 103 and Glow 100. First prize was awarded to the Township of Assiginack with booth representatives Jackie White and Sylvie Thibault.
The prestigious honour of ‘Best of Fair’ went once again to Island Home Outfitters for their display that seemed to include a bit of everything they offer from patio furniture to watercraft. The store opened in 2017 and entered into the Trade Fair for the first time in their first year of operation. They managed to secure ‘Best of Fair’ that year, too.
“It went extremely well. The arena staff (headed by Reid Taylor) are amazing there. They go out of their way to help us and help the vendors move in and move out,” said Mr. Addison. “The Panthers (hockey team members) that help with the door and parking did an amazing job this year. They also stuck around to help the vendors move out.”