Interview with Jennifer MacKinnon

175 years of history – Ladies Department

Jennifer MacKinnon has been involved in the Ayer’s Cliff Fair team for 26 years. “I moved from Toronto and I met my husband. He is a 7th generation dairy farmer in Barnston.

When she moved to the Townships, she did not know anyone so decided to get involved with the Ladies Department of the Fair, as her husband Angus was involved on the Fair board. According to Jennifer, when she got there, she was asked if she knew how to take notes. “Of course, I said. I have a University degree, so the other ladies said Good, we nominate you for secretary. So that was it! It was 26 years ago. I was, by far, the youngest at the time!

Since then, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. Behind the Ladies Department hides many people, it’s a team effort: “I’ve been president for about 10 years of the Ladies department. We have about 14 members, but we have maybe 5 or 6 core members that act as an executive.

The Ladies Department has 4 main sections, namely the children’s section, photography, handicrafts and quilting, as well as sewing. People submit creations they have made and the judges are responsible for awarding a winner.

Unfortunately, from year to year, there are fewer and fewer entries: “Our numbers have been decreasing. People do less arts and crafts.” However, far from being overwhelmed by the changes and the decline in popularity of the arts, the team came up with an excellent idea to increase the registrations of people’s creations: “Last year, in 2019, we made the decision to lower the price of the weekend passes if you enter 3 or more articles. Instead of being 45 $, it was 20 $ for the weekend. Either to the ladies department or the horticulture. It will also be like that next year, in 2021, for our 175th edition.” To register their creations, people must go online and enter to receive a ticket and then bring the articles to the Main Building on the Wednesday of Fair week.

During the year, the Ladies Department team meets about 5 times to discuss upcoming projects. The activity to raise money that has been going on year after year for more than 2 decades remains the parade in Hatley. “For the last 20 years, we have sold strawberry shortcakes at the Hatley parade on July 1st. We clean 150 pounds of strawberries, we make the whipped cream and the biscuits. We can usually make $800-900 that helps with repairs in the building, some of the prizes during the Fair, secretary articles like papers, pens, mailing, etc.

Most of Jennifer’s work remains during the event itself. “We’re here the week before Fair, cleaning and preparing the building and the opening is on Wednesday night for exhibits. We’re also open from Thursday to Sunday, and people come and get their articles on Sunday night,” says Jennifer.

The arts, hobbies and fashions change over time. The secret in all of this: adapt! “We’re trying to adapt, we want to know what kids are doing and what’s popular. We’re always open to suggestions! Knitting came back in fashion, so we adapt and we do change up our listing.

However, the biggest difference is undoubtedly the lack of volunteers: “Our department is getting older, it’s hard to attract new people. We do not need people to come to meetings, but we need people during the Fair to sit in the building, take down exhibits, etc.” If you’re interested to help next year, in 2021, don’t hesitate to contact Jennifer by email.

When Jennifer is asked what makes Ayer’s Cliff Fair a success, she answers without hesitation: “It’s community involvement! There’s a friendly feeling in Ayer’s Cliff. For example, in the barns, it’s a competition, but it’s a very friendly competition. People are happy for each other. There’s a very good vibe in the barns; people look forward to it. We have the same exhibitors year after year. Also, we have such a strong volunteer base at the gates; there are people that have been volunteering for decades and are still here and love it … It is the highlight of their summer! Thursday is always a little reunion for us. We’re happy to see each other. Another reason why I think the Fair is still popular is that we limit our amount of vendors on the grounds, we try to bring in many child-friendly activities and use our event to teach the public about agriculture. We are a child-friendly fair and our top priority is to make the families happy!

To give a few hours of your weekend to the beautiful team of the Ladies Department, contact Jennifer.

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