Annual event sees big crowds, record temperatures over three days
BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
The three-day long Wainfleet fair began last Thursday evening with a boisterous parade that was heavy on the marching bands and classic cars. Near the front of the line was the E.L Crossley Marching Band, the only of the three present to augment its drum line with brass and woodwind. Band Director Dave Gaines marched up beside the banners-holders, keeping what are presumably the band’s newest members in time.
“All right. A hard left now,” he told them as the group hit the end of the parade.
Shortly behind the band was a trailer-full of Wainfleet Minor Hockey players, wearing their jerseys and chanting, “Let’s go Wainfleet, Let’s go,” over and again. A few players, bags of candy in hand, ran up and down beside the trailer, tossing lollipops and other sweets to kids sitting by the curb. Most kids had a little pile of sweets collected on the pavement in front of them, and while the quantities likely won’t be enough to last until Halloween, there were some impressive hauls.
Another drum line passed by, this time from Lakeshore Catholic High School. Whereas Gaines had been near his band’s leaders, the director of the Lakeshore line was not, and so the band continued on the to right. “Stop, stop!” the teacher cried out. “That’s the wrong way.” Some of the drummers kept pounding their instruments. “And the parade’s over…you can stop playing,” the teacher added.
Further back along the parade route, Frank Deruyte, who has lived in Wainfleet for over 60 years, had a microphone in his hand and was narrating the floats as they passed by. “Here we have a ’75 Monte Carlo,” he said, consulting his sheet. “And the next one—it’s not even on my paper—but it’s a lot older than that. From ’36?”
He was interrupted by three long blasts from the horn of a transport truck. The driver, only just visible way up in the cab, laughed as he again reached to pull the air horn. The sound was so loud that it temporarily blocked the noise from yet another drum line that came soon behind. Drummers from Port Colborne High School hammered away, and even when one of the tom-toms dropped her sticks, others members struck the sides of their drums in a rhythmic clicking until she had again picked them up.
The Niagara Shrine Club had several members zipping around in those little cars that look distinctly uncomfortable. As one of the drivers passed close to the crowd lining the sidewalk, he slowed down and waved like the Queen. “This is my ‘royal wave,’” he said.
The end of the parade was now approaching, and Deruyte was losing steam. A small, newer car passed by.
“And that’s a…Volkswagen convertible,” he said. “All I know about these is that they have no roof on them.”
As the parade ended and Deruyte walked away from his post, a few friends came over to congratulate him for his narration. He pretended to throw the cordless microphone to one of them. The person flinched. Deruyte laughed. “No. I wouldn’t take the risk with something this valuable.”
Seeing that the parade had ended, the crowds moved away from the street, with half of them or so trudging back to where they’d parked, and the other half turning and walking the other way, towards the arena. Admission to the fair was free, though donations were encouraged, and most people held out a five or a ten or a twenty and gestured to those the money was supposed to cover.
The area of the arena usually covered by ice was instead laid out with dozens of tables filled to overflowing. The back Zamboni doors were open, and the air, which is typically crisp from artificial refrigeration, was fresh and smelled more of the harvest inside than the deep-fried Mars Bars outside. The whole place looked good.
Two middle-aged men walked on to the floor.
“Wow, it has a fresh coat of paint, too,” one said. “It sure looks different that when we played here.”
“Yeah, and you can’t drink beer in the stand any more, either,” the other added, laughing.
They walked over the look at the prizes awarded for produce. The main attraction of this part of country fall fairs has to be the biggest pumpkin, and Wainfleet’s did not disappoint. Josh Hilbing, of Hilbing’s Pumpkin patch, grew this year’s first place winner to a staggering 426 lbs. But there were other impressive feats of agriculture as well. A few corn stalks towered over those walking by, and there were heads of sunflowers the size of a tractor’s steering wheel.
A small stage was set up at one end of the arena. A band with eight fiddlers, a pianist, and someone on the guitar were playing. The fiddlers, who were older and evidently experienced, seemed to be playing without looking at the music, their hands flying over the fingerboards yet still managing to stay in time.
The band’s apparent leader, who had not been conducting during the song, stepped to the podium and made a series of quick horizontal gestures, cutting the players off. Without explanation, he read an old and not kid-friendly joke involving a zipper, a garage door, a Jaguar, and a minivan with two flat tires. After he’d finished, he paused to let people laugh. Then he said, “Our next song will be ‘Plaza Polka’” and the band started right up again.
As dusk lengthened, most people who were outside stood in line to buy food, or else drifted over to the poultry barn. It had been a humid day, but there were fans set up by the barn’s two doors and inside it smelled as much like a mattress store as it did a farm. Each bird looked to have been recently cleaned, and every cage had a fresh supply of wood shavings or straw.
Ribbons for the top three or four birds were pinned to the outsides of the cages of the lucky animals, and people crowded in the dimly lit rows to peer at the winners. A few cages held warnings of “Keep Fingers Out” but most of the birds seemed good-natured and pleased to be the subject of so much attention.
Upon seeing a series of “Penguin Ducks”, which are long, white, and thin, two boys put their hands to their sides and waddled like penguins until their mother told them to cut it out.
The roosters present were not crowing, and like them, everyone else seemed to be having a peacefully good time. One man, standing near the barn’s entrance, said to his friend, “So I was just waiting to see if he was going to call the cops or take it like a man.” Even though it was obvious he wasn’t talking about his chicken, it was hard to take anything too seriously as the sun dipped below the treeline and the music floated out the arena’s doors.
Everyone was moving, but no one was in a hurry—the fireworks weren’t to start until 8:30.