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Save the Ayer's Cliff Fair's Main Building! A Letter to the Fair Board

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November 30, 2012

Fair Board
Stanstead County Agricultural Society

RE: Main Building, Ayer’s Cliff Fair

Dear Directors,

On behalf of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN), a province-wide network of heritage groups, I am writing to encourage you to do all that you can to ensure the survival of the historic buildings that are such a trademark of the Ayer’s Cliff Fair.

Headquartered right here in the Eastern Townships, QAHN closely monitors the status of heritage buildings around Quebec. Of particular concern to us are those communities where important elements of local heritage are at risk. We consider the Ayer’s Cliff fairgrounds extremely important to the heritage not just of the village of Ayer’s Cliff, but to the Townships and province as a whole. QAHN realizes that the fair board has been wrestling with the idea of what to do with the fair’s Main Building. We would like to add our voice to those who feel that this great old edifice should be maintained for future generations.

We realize that being directors of one of the oldest county fairs in Quebec carries with it certain responsibilities, not the least of which is maintaining a large property and managing an event as demanding as a county fair. QAHN salutes you for your efforts over the years to preserve this wonderful Townships tradition. But we also suspect that being directors, you will also know that in the modern, fast-paced world in which we live, a big part of the appeal of an event like the Ayer’s Cliff Fair is the very fact that it is so traditional – and so rich in heritage. Nothing ever changes much at this old fair. But that’s exactly what keeps many fair-goers coming back. So, we feel very strongly that preserving that heritage is as important a role for the fair board as any other.

The Ayer’s Cliff Fair is steeped in history. Dating back to 1845, when, as an agricultural exhibition, it moved around Stanstead County from village to village, the fair is today one of the oldest events in the Eastern Townships. It is, in fact, one of the oldest fairs in Quebec, and one of only a very few to have preserved its early buildings and layout largely intact. The Stanstead County Fair, as it was originally called, will be celebrating its 168th anniversary in 2013. For over 140 years, it has been held in Ayer’s Cliff. You on the fair board deserve a great deal of credit for continuing this tradition.

Like other venerable expositions in the Townships, the fair is rooted in the traditions of New England, where agricultural societies were formed to provide farmers and breeders with a place to exchange ideas about modern farming and breeding practices, and to learn about mechanical improvements in farming. A product of the agricultural society, a county fair gave breeders a chance to buy, sell and improve their stock. It gave farmers an opportunity to show off their produce. A fair was also an occasion for people to celebrate the harvest and to socialize. Over time, entertainment, competition, and even tourism, have taken on a greater role.

As you on the fair board know better than anyone, the Ayer’s Cliff Fair features a range of competitions, where breeders vie for prizes in different classes of horse, cattle, goats, pigs, sheep, poultry, and other animals. There are horticultural awards in various categories, as well. The Ladies’ Department oversees knitting, quilting, and embroidery, and various children’s art and hobbies. The rides at the fair are always a popular draw, especially with kids. And, from the grandstand, spectators can watch harness racing, concerts and other entertainment.

Over the years, one constant at the fair has been the lovely and very well-kept buildings on the fairgrounds. Whether we’re talking about the horse stalls, the grandstand, the arch over the gate, or the historic Main Building, these structures constitute a rare collection of very early agricultural fair buildings. For the most part, they have suffered only superficial change, and are still in excellent condition.

Of course, age and wear to buildings as old as yours are normal. If anything, they add character. Please don’t let an impulse to keep the fair looking “as good as new” convince you to sweep away what is old and irreplaceable. The Ayer’s Cliff Fair is all about tradition. And tradition can never be replaced.

On a personal note, I have been attending the fair since before I can remember. My wife and I now take our daughter each and every year. It would be so disappointing to see the great old fair buildings, especially the Main Building, torn down.

Sincerely,

Matthew Farfan,
Heritage Consultant
Executive Director, Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN)