An annual event when my sister and I were teenagers was going into Toronto to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Now in our 60s we are both within easy reach of Toronto again and finally made a return trip to the Royal late last fall. It was a long day but we were both glad we’d made the trek.
We took the VIA Rail train from London to Toronto Union Station early the first Saturday morning of this almost two week event that is held at Exhibition Place just west of downtown Toronto: the 7:40 am train ($69.50 return for a senior concession) arriving at 10:10 am. From there we walked through Union Station, into the Subway station and turned right to catch the 509 Streetcar ($3.35) to the Exhibition grounds. It is also possible to get there by bus or by Go Train but we chose the Streetcar as they run more frequently and it was a bit of nostalgia for us going the way we used to four decades ago. Once in the Exhibition grounds, the main building for the fair (Coca-Cola Coliseum) is through the gates and around to the left. We had tickets for the 1:00 pm National Horse Jumping show with Entertainer Guy McLean ($70.50) which included entrance into the Fair itself.
There’s always a lot to see at the Fair aside from the horse shows. You can wander around all the exhibition halls checking out the exhibitors – not all of them are horse related; you can explore the barns and the wide variety of livestock that are being housed in preparation for their competitions (sheep, goats, cattle, horses, etc); and you can sample food and drink from across the province of Ontario. There is always a butter carving contest as well which we usually like to see. Apart from the barns, we covered all areas of the Fair, before and after the horse show which ran until 5:45 pm. We had lunch from La Bréhandaise Market, a French bakery and charcuterie in Richmond Hill, which was very fresh and tasty – a ham and cheese croissant for me ($10).
As we were there for the first weekend, and the afternoon show, the jumping was the junior competitors but still good to see. It was followed by various classes of horse and carriage competitions and an exhibition by Guy McLean and his trained horses. On our way out we picked up some supper to eat on the train on the way home – a quinoa salad for me from freebird market ($11.75) in Etobicoke, which was so good I copied down the ingredients and have made it for myself since.
Although we didn’t get into any of the barns, we did see an array of young cattle being moved between barns and exhibition halls while we were waiting for our Streetcar back to Union Station as the tracks are right behind the Great Hall. We also had great views of the CN Tower.
There was a free shuttle from the Fair to the Royal York Hotel which is right across the road from Union Station. However, it only runs every half hour and we had missed it so opted to take the Streetcar back instead to make sure we were back in time for our 7:45 pm train home. If staying in a hotel downtown, the shuttle is a great option.
For anyone interested in checking out the 102nd Royal Fair next year in Toronto, it is scheduled for November 1-10, 2024. All the details are at www.royalfair.org. General admission tickets are $30 and for seniors, $20.