Country Fest is OK with moving
What people enjoy about Country Fest, the agricultural fair that’s been going on more than a century in Maple Ridge, is the soft green grass beneath their feet and the tall, leafy trees over head.
Those pastoral surroundings, the site of Spencer dairy farm, whose milk house still stands, takes people back to a time they never knew each July, when the farm festival takes place.
That soon could disappear under slabs of parking lot pavement and big box concrete, if Maple Ridge council approves a land swap with mall development company Smart Centres.
The old 1960s barns and sheds that have grown up around Albion fairgrounds, home not only to Country Fest, but to the Christmas Hamper Society and Ghost Ridge, as well as cadets and minor baseball, all could be bulldozed.
In return for acquiring the lush, historic site, Smart Centres would give the District of Maple Ridge its rougher 20 acres on the north side of 105th Avenue, which the Agricultural Land Commission says it won’t allow to be developed.
As a result, the fairgrounds and the fair would have to move, while Smart Centres would join the fairgrounds to its existing property for a total of 27 acres of new shopping.
“They’ll never be able to move the milk house,” said association executive-director Lorraine Bates.
The building has a lot of concrete in it and would be difficult to transport.
And what about the commemorative trees that line the pathways? About 35 have been planted throughout the old farm to honour local leaders, including former RCMP officer Randy Herman and former mayor Belle Morse and more than 30 other givers who’ve made their mark on Maple Ridge.
A tree nearby the Country Fest stage is called the Merrymaker tree, points out Agricultural Association president Tom Cameron. The tree is named after Morse, who, each fair, used to perform in a group of the same name.
The grounds also boast neatly trimmed grassed and fenced areas for displaying cattle, sheep, llama, beef and dairy cows and dogs.
“Everything with four legs gets shown outside,” explains Bates.
Extra parking is now also needed for the fair, now that fields on the west side of 105th can no longer be used for parking? The grounds also provide space for flyball competition and give 4H competitors a cheap place to camp when they’re at the fair to show their animals.
If it all had to be moved, and animals put indoors in a big, brand new building in the new location, could the fair survive?
The two behind the fair think so.
“If they do it right, I don’t have a problem with it,” says Cameron.
“If Ernie [Daykin, Maple Ridge mayor]) drives a hard bargain.”
Cameron says he wants to maintain the country look and points out the Chilliwack Fair and Agrifair in Abbotsford both take place on tarmac.
Country Fest’s fair grounds are from being in disrepair.
Buildings remain presentable, fences are still sturdy. The district recently upgraded the water supply, Bates noted. To complete the scene, which looks like something out of Farmville, Spencer Creek, which gently flows through the grounds, has a new lease on life thanks to an improved pump station, where Spencer flows into Kanaka Creek.
Bates said the society’s directors discussed Country Fest recently and no one was strongly opposed to relocating. And she pointed out previously that attendance jumped when the Chilliwack Fair moved.
Maple Ridge council last week authorized staff to start negotiating with Smart Centres.