Yarmouth agricultural society office manager Bonnie Hurlburt stands in front the main door at the Mariners Centre arena. The doors are now closed to livestock and she says that is putting the future of the exhibition in jeopardy. BELLE HATFIELD PHOTO
Ag society faces contract deadlines with no solution for livestock events
By Belle Hatfield
Negotiations are underway between the Mariners Centre’s management board and the Yarmouth County Agricultural Society to avoid cancellation of next year’s Western Nova Scotia Exhibition.
At issue is a decision by the Mariners Centre board to cease allowing dirt to be used in the main arena.
The society was formally notified of the decision in an Aug. 22 letter.
Board chair Harold Richardson wrote, “While we do not wish to negatively impact on the annual exhibition, the aftermath of the event [the 2013 exhibition] due to the dirt placement, has prompted this decision.”
When reached last week, Richardson said there is support in principle for constructing a covered ring, but that the Mariners Centre expects the ag society to take the lead on financing. The agricultural society may qualify for funding sources closed to the management board, he said.
But the decision takes the guts out of the agricultural part of the exhibition, unless alternate onsite venues can be secured. The society relies on dirt in the arena to put on equestrian events – both riding and driving – ox hauls, dog obedience classes, livestock classes, truck pulls. That’s basically everything at the ex except the concerts, says the society’s office manager, Bonnie Hurlburt.
She says her board has only weeks to nail down a solution before they face contract deadlines for next year.
“Right now we have no place to hold our events,” she said.
In his letter Richardson acknowledges the hardship the management board’s decision will cause.
“This will have implications as you plan for next year and we want to assure you that we are prepared to work with you to create spaces on the property which can accommodate the various activities that are included in your program.”
The Mariners Centre staff has been complaining about the mess made by the dirt in the arena for several years and has told the society they want the practice ended.
Last year ACOA denied a funding request from the Mariners Centre for a covered outside arena.
Hurlburt says at this point promises mean nothing. Contracts to secure the midway and the exhibition’s spot on the provincial exhibition circuit will have to be signed soon and unless the society has a guarantee that it will be able to produce an agricultural exhibition, it will be cancelled.
The society takes over the Mariners Centre for a week every year to host its annual exhibition. They pay $18,000 annually to rent the facility, which sits on property the agricultural society used to own. The town and municipality of Yarmouth took over the property in the 1990s when the ag society was in financial distress. The municipal units concluded the deal to build a new community skating arena on the same property where the old skating rink used to be located – in the agricultural society’s main arena.
At its annual general meeting in June the society approved a motion to request a meeting with the board in advance of any decision, so that the society could outline the impact of losing the indoor arena in the absence of another covered facility.
Hurlburt said the decision has been made without an understanding of what would be involved in re-jigging the area outside the main arena in order to accommodate the variety of show classes the exhibition features. “There has to be buffer zones between the midway and the livestock. There are a host of safety and liability issues,” she said.
The society is now asking for assurances that, should the Mariners Centre be unable to construct the necessary facilities to accommodate the exhibition in 2014, they be given a year’s extension.
“That way we could move forward with the contracts that need to be signed,” she said.
They have been told that is not an option.
Management board chair Richardson says that option is not negotiable.
The problem is the residual dust that settles throughout the facility. He says it is difficult to clean up. He says the board’s recent investment in sophisticated audio/visual systems has added urgency to the concerns that the management board has been addressing with the agricultural society for the last four or five years.
Both parties would like to see the construction of a covered show ring to accommodate livestock classes and demonstrations.
Richardson believes a covered ring, even if it isn’t fully enclosed, could be ready for next year.
“Both councils are in support of this, in principle,” he said.
The issue for the agricultural society is that they not lose access to the indoor arena until an alternate covered show ring is ready.
Hurlburt says it is particularly ironic that next year would be the 155th anniversary of continuous exhibitions, which have been held in Yarmouth even during war times.
She is the sixth generation from a family devoted to the exhibition. Working with her are around 50 volunteers, who work year- round to produce the annual event. But the volunteers are feeling stressed by the uncertainty. The impact of cancelling the event would be extensive, says Hurlburt. Among other things, she says, the ex stands to lose its spot in the provincial exhibition cycle.
“If next year’s exhibition is cancelled, I can tell you, from my board’s perspective, the 154th exhibition will have been the last,” she said.
Richardson said even if the livestock show has to be scaled back or cancelled in 2014, there’s no reason not to book the midway and keep the exhibition open.
“The midway, that’s where they make their money,” he said.
More meetings are scheduled.