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Windsor Agricultural Society requesting emergency funding for Hants County Exhibition building upgrade

Lisa Hines is the Hants County Exhibition manager. — FILE
Lisa Hines is the Hants County Exhibition manager. — FILE - Carole Morris-Underhill
WINDSOR, N.S. —

Work has begun on one of the main buildings at the Hants County Exhibition that is in dire need of repair.

The Windsor Agricultural Society, which operates the popular tourist destination, recently discovered that the two sprinkler systems located inside the industrial building, which serves as the vendor and event hall, are broken and need to be upgraded.

In light of the discovery, Lisa Hines, the manager of the Hants County Exhibition, said the building cannot be used until a new system is installed and inspected.

“Because of the way we use the building, we are required to have a functioning sprinkler system,” said Hines.

Visitors to the Hants County Exhibition, which is held annually over two weekends in September, would be quite familiar with the industrial building. The building, located near the primary parking lot, serves as the main admission gate and houses countless vendors — from those selling wares to non-profit organizations looking to raise funds. School projects often line the walls, showcasing the county’s talented youngsters, and 4-H displays are also highlighted.

“We really are in a position where we don’t have a choice,” said Hines.

The first phase of the project involves dismantling and preparing for new main lines. That is anticipated to cost $33,090 plus HST.

Phase 2 is the unknown cost, Hines said. How much it will cost to get the two systems back in working order is unknown as Phase 1 is still underway. It is dependent on the condition of the branch lines, grooved fittings, sprinkler heads, compressors and pressured units. A rough estimate is between $100,000 to $195,000 plus HST.

“It’s hard to know the scope until after the main lines are set up,” said Hines, explaining why they don’t have a firm estimate on the total cost.

She said in its 254-year history, the Windsor Agricultural Society has been self-sustaining, often drawing on provincial and federal funding programs for various infrastructure upgrades and special initiatives. However, being self-sustaining doesn’t mean an abundance of cash.

“We have always been self-sustaining but that is part of the challenge,” Hines said.

“We’ve managed to pay our bills and stay afloat but at the same time there's never really enough left over to reinvest in the facility in terms of upgrades and so on,” she added.

The pending sale of a parcel of land at the exhibition park, intended for the West Hants sport complex, will enable the society to pay off existing debt, she said, but the unexpected repairs will put the society back into debt.

The existing park has four acres that are “under cover” and much of that infrastructure is aging.

“There was a lot of deferred maintenance and we’re now at a point where we need to address those things and find a more positive way forward,” said Hines.

FUNDING REQUESTED

Due to the unexpected sprinkler expense, the society is seeking some emergency funding from the municipalities that benefit from the tourism the exhibition park brings to the region. Hines said it’s the first time the agricultural society has sought emergency funding from the municipalities.

West Hants council was apprised of the situation at a committee of the whole meeting on May 28. They received a funding request in the amount of $50,000. Two board members made a presentation and after some discussion, councillors agreed to support the project via gas tax funds. That decision still needs to be finalized at the upcoming June 11 council meeting.

During the committee of the whole meeting, Coun. Kathy Monroe said she was supportive of providing the funding but asked if the society could better market the events that are taking place — noting there’s multiple horse shows throughout the summer but no signs informing visitors of what’s happening.

“I moved here 11 years ago. I know that it’s the oldest one in North America; there’s not a sign anywhere that says that,” said Monroe.

She suggested they consider installing a sign on the barn that faces Highway 101 as a way to draw in more visitors.

Monroe, who raises horses, said she’d also like to see the myriad of events that are held at the site better promoted as well.

“You’ve got a reader board and all I can see is some ad for some local business but you never tell me what’s going on in there,” said Monroe, noting she, along with others, would be more apt to stop by on a busy weekend to check out the activities if they knew what type of horse show or other event was being held.

“It’d be nice to know what’s going on around there. It’s the best kept secret.”

The representatives at the meeting said they do a lot of advertising on social media, but agreed that more could be done to better promote their brand.

Hines said she is optimistic the Town of Windsor will also be on board with funding, especially since the exhibition is located within town limits. It’s anticipated that funding request will be brought forward to Windsor’s June 11 meeting.


Did you know?

  • The Hants County Exhibition has been operating since 1765, making it the oldest agricultural fair in North America.
  • The first fair and market was held on May 21, 1765.
  • The fair was originally held in downtown Windsor, at Fort Edward, which was located on the only passable road from Halifax.
  • In the 1890s, it was reported that cruise ship passengers from New York would attend the fair, arriving at the Windsor wharf during high tide and, after spending a day at the fair, sailed out at high tide the next day.
  • About 250,000 visitors stop by exhibition park throughout the year for various events, with the exhibition alone drawing 30,000-plus visitors annually.
  • The exhibition is said to produce a $1.6 million economic impact.
  • The Windsor Agricultural Society is comprised of 18 volunteer directors, and has more than 125 volunteers and committee members, plus a full-time general manager. During the spring, summer and fall months, there are six seasonal employees. As events warrant, they hire up to 25 part-time employees.
  • In January 2019, the Windsor Agricultural Society won a video contest through Pioneer Seeds, earning them $50,000 to update the on-site kitchen. Work on this is in the planning stages.

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