South Shore Exhibition read­ies for 127th year

South Shore Breaker - - FRONT PAGE - VER­NON OICKLE ver­non.l.oickle@east­link.ca

The South Shore Exhibition or “The Big Ex” is the largest agri­cul­tural exhibition in Nova Sco­tia and will be held this year from July 24 to 29 at 50 Exhibition Dr. in Bridge­wa­ter.

One of the re­gion’s flag­ship sum­mer­time events, it was in 1891 when the first exhibition was held in Bridge­wa­ter. Ever since, the event has taken place ev­ery year with the ex­cep­tion of 1939, when the Cana­dian mil­i­tary took over the grounds to train the

West Nova Sco­tia Bat­tal­ion.

Or­ga­niz­ers say this year’s exhibition will not only fea­ture many of the tra­di­tional at­trac­tions and events, but will also in­cor­po­rate many new ac­tiv­i­ties that they be­lieve will be in­stant crowd-pleasers.

Tom Mail­man, pres­i­dent of the exhibition board of di­rec­tors, has been in­volved with the exhibition in var­i­ous vol­un­teer po­si­tions for more than 40 years and dur­ing that time, he says he has seen many changes at the event, but no mat­ter what takes place, the ul­ti­mate goal is to cre­ate an event that will ex­cite and en­ter­tain the crowds.

“I’ve been com­ing to the ex ever since I was a kid and I’ve al­ways loved it,” he says. “It gets in your blood … it’s part of the area’s cul­ture and I can’t imag­ine a Satur­day evening of exhibition week and not walk­ing the grounds. I just can’t think about that.”

As The Big Ex is about to cel­e­brate its 127th an­niver­sary, Mail­man agrees that it has be­come more chal­leng­ing to main­tain the event be­cause, as so­ci­ety has evolved, so, too, have the ob­sta­cles that th­ese types of events are now fac­ing.

“It is a strug­gle ev­ery year,” he ex­plains. “I would never like to see a time when the exhibition does not ex­ist any­more be­cause it’s such a large part of our lives and his­tory here on the South Shore, but there are many chal­lenges to keep­ing things go­ing.”

In­cluded in those chal­lenges, as one might ex­pect, he says, are the costs of run­ning such a large event and those as­so­ci­ated with main­tain­ing a large in­fras­truc­ture. Then, Mail­man adds, there are is­sues around tra­di­tional com­pe­ti­tions such as the ox and horse pull.

“Th­ese types of com­pe­ti­tions are a large part of The Big Ex and they’ve been a fea­ture for many, many decades,” he says. “But to­day, there are an­i­mal rights is­sues, and while we un­der­stand that, it does mean we have [to] ad­just how we do things to make sure we are liv­ing up to mod­ern stan­dards and ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Fi­nan­cially, Mail­man says, they don’t ex­ist to make a profit, but just to cover their costs and their ul­ti­mate goal each year is to break even.

“We’re only two or three days of steady rain away from bank­ruptcy,” he ex­plains, point­ing out that while they try re­ally hard to keep ad­mis­sion costs at an af­ford­able rate, it is nec­es­sary to raise suf­fi­cient funds to keep things go­ing.

Last year, the to­tal at­ten­dance was 45,000 and Mail­man says they hope to not only match that num­ber this year, but also sur­pass it by a few thou­sand. At its peak in the 1970s, the Bridge­wa­ter Exhibition av­er­aged around 70,000 peo­ple a year. That was the hey­day, he points out.

“But we’re not likely to ever see those num­bers again,” Mail­man says, not­ing that the exhibition not only faces ris­ing costs, but also com­pe­ti­tion from other ac­tiv­i­ties and events. “That means we have to ad­dress those things that need to change and evolve with the times. We try to of­fer a good show while also keep­ing it af­ford­able.”

A de­scrip­tion on the Tourism Nova Sco­tia web­site de­scribes the South Shore Exhibition as such: “We are here to bring the fun back to the sum­mer by of­fer­ing good, old-fash­ioned horse and oxen pulls daily, light horse com­pe­ti­tions, show horse events, arts and crafts, 4-H, beef and dairy dis­plays, rab­bit and poul­try dis­plays, pet­ting barn, mu­sic and per­for­mances from lo­cal groups in our Main Build­ing, ven­dors sell­ing their wares, big name coun­try mu­sic Satur­day and rock on Fri­day on our Main Stage, and the pa­rade al­ways kicks off the week on Tues­day at 6 p.m.

“We have the South Shore

Idol singing com­pe­ti­tion for ages 13 to 18, Lit­tle Kid’s Got Tal­ent for ages 12 and un­der, Strong­man Com­pe­ti­tion, Fire­fighter’s Chal­lenge, Kids day (Wed­nes­day) with face painter/bal­loon twis­ter/ en­ter­tain­ment specif­i­cally for the kids, free ad­mis­sion ev­ery­day for kids 7 and un­der, Camp­bell’s Mid­way has the rides and games, there are many food ven­dors avail­able to sat­isfy any ap­petite, and so much more. There is some­thing for ev­ery­one in the fam­ily.”

This year’s fea­tured per­form­ers in­clude the Spin­ney Brothers’ last pub­lic per­for­mance on Thurs­day evening, the Stan­fields on Fri­day evening and Cana­dian coun­try mu­sic sen­sa­tion, The Road Ham­mers, on Satur­day evening.

In ad­di­tion to the en­ter­tain­ment and at­trac­tions, Mail­man says they have un­der­taken many im­prove­ments and up­grades through­out the grounds and in­fras­truc­ture, in­clud­ing ren­o­va­tions to all bath­room fa­cil­i­ties, in­stal­la­tion of show­ers in the 4-H build­ing, paint­ing through­out the grounds, a facelift to the beer barn and re­lo­cat­ing some dis­plays.

“Ev­ery­thing we’ve done was to make the fa­cil­i­ties cleaner and safer for the pub­lic,” Mail­man says. “We’re ex­cited to wel­come this year’s Big Ex and we are all hop­ing for nice weather, but that’s one thing we can’t con­trol.”

How­ever, he quickly adds, “Even if the weather is not per­fect, the show must go on.”

Gwen Olm­stead, exhibition man­ager, agrees with Mail­man that this year’s event will fea­ture many changes, ad­di­tions and up­grades.

“We are very ex­cited about this year’s lineup,” she says, not­ing that one thing they’ve done, de­spite ris­ing costs, is kept the ad­mis­sion at af­ford­able lev­els — $8 for an adult (13 and up), $10 on Fri­day night and $15 all day Satur­day. Chil­dren be­tween eight and 12 are ad­mit­ted for $7 and chil­dren un­der seven have free ad­mis­sion when ac­com­pa­nied by an adult. There is also a se­niors price and chil­dren un­der 12 will en­joy free ad­mis­sion all day Wed­nes­day.

“We have a big week lined up,” Olm­stead says, point­ing out that the board is hop­ing to sur­pass last year’s at­ten­dance fig­ures. To ac­com­plish that, she says, they have re­vamped and reimag­ined many of their at­trac­tions and the over­all lineup. She en­cour­ages ev­ery­one to re­view the sched­ule to see the ex­cit­ing “and cool things” be­ing of­fered.

Both Olm­stead and Mail­man agree there were some is­sues with last year’s Sun­day lineup that fea­tured a de­mo­li­tion derby, truck pull and mon­ster trucks. This year, they be­lieve they have taken steps to cor­rect those is­sues with a July 6 regis­tra­tion dead­line for the de­mo­li­tion derby. Olm­stead ex­plains, depend­ing upon regis­tra­tion, they will de­cide after that date if the de­mo­li­tion derby will hap­pen.

One other thing Olm­stead stresses with each edi­tion of the exhibition is the wide­spread sup­port they re­ceive from the com­mu­nity and busi­nesses through­out the re­gion. “We could not do it with­out that sup­port and there are just too many peo­ple to thank in­di­vid­u­ally.”

How­ever, she did want to sin­gle out Harry Free­man and Sons Lim­ited in Green­field for do­nat­ing all the wood used to re­pair the floors in the beef barns. “We were look­ing at a sig­nif­i­cant cost to re­place those floors and it may not have hap­pened with­out this do­na­tion,” Olm­stead says. “We are grate­ful to all our spon­sors and to ev­ery­one who helps to make the exhibition pos­si­ble.”

For peo­ple like Arthur Young from Branch La­have in Lunen­burg County, at­tend­ing the exhibition is an an­nual sum­mer­time tra­di­tion. He first dis­played a heifer at the event 71 years ago and says he hasn’t missed an exhibition since then.

“The exhibition has al­ways been a very im­por­tant part of my life as it is for many, many other peo­ple,” Young says. “I can’t imag­ine not go­ing.”

While he says he has seen many changes over the years, es­pe­cially in the event’s phys­i­cal size, he points out that one thing re­mains the same — it has al­ways been a good venue to con­nect with fam­ily and friends.

“It was a lot smaller years ago, but even after all th­ese years it’s still a good, safe place for fam­i­lies to go and spend some qual­ity time,” he says.

Mikayla Hal­l­i­day

The horse-pull com­pe­ti­tions have be­come a tra­di­tion at the South Shore Exhibition.

Mikayla Hal­l­i­day

The Grand Street pa­rade kicks off a week of fun and ex­cite­ment on Tues­day, July 24.

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