People by the thousands flocked to the Armstrong fairgrounds Wednesday for the first day of the 121st Interior Provincial Exhibition.
The theme of this year’s IPE is Our roots run deep, an homage to Armstrong’s agricultural traditions as well as the tight-knit community as a whole.
The theme is exemplified by the Jong family farm, which has entered vegetables into IPE competitions since the 1960s.
The Jongs were set up in the poultry barn Wednesday displaying a cornucopia of veggies on the flatbed of an antique truck.
“We entered over 50 items,” said Joan Jong, whose vegetables placed first in a host of different categories.
Asked what makes the IPE special, Jong said the volunteers are outstanding and the events bring the small-town spirit of the rural city to the wider public.
“It’s still an agricultural fair, it’s not commercialized,” she said. “It showcases Armstrong.”
Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, was joined by Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu at the fairgrounds. The ministry provided a $250,000 grant to the IPE to help the festivities bounce back after two years of cancellations due to COVID-19 — part of a $30 million investment by the province into B.C. fairs, festivals and events.
Mark said her ministry responded to a “call to action” from people saying how valuable the IPE is to the community.
“This is way more special than I imagined it was going to be,” the minister said. “I’d heard all about (the IPE) but seeing it for myself just shows me how magical this is, and you can see why it’s been around for 121 years.”
Sandhu said the IPE is a yearly affair for her family, and in keeping with this year’s theme, it reminded her of her family roots.
“I grew up on a farm coming from a farming family so it brings back memories,” Sandhu said. “It was a perfect way to showcase to my kids how my childhood looked like.”
In Hassen Arena, folks can find displays of competitive hobbies, baked goods and artworks. Set up at the centre of the arena was the North Okanagan Model Railroaders Association, which has its year-round home at Historic O’Keefe Ranch. The electronic model locomotives were a favourite among visitors.
“It’s taken 20 some odd years to build it,” said David Nicholson, the association’s secretary. “Today we’ve had lots of people asking questions.”
Though there was fun to be found around every corner of the fairgrounds, a pall was cast over the cattle barns which were more vacant than expected as a number of local animals that would have competed at the IPE were lost in Sunday’s tragic collision on Highway 1. The IPE extended “heartfelt sympathies to the 4H youth who lost their animals and to the families of the drivers who tragically lost their lives” in the Aug. 28 motor vehicle crash.
For fairgoer Sonja Dougan, not one feature of the IPE outweighed the fact that people are once again able to gather at the grounds after two long years.
“This year the highlight is that it exists. That’s the most important part,” Dougan said.
On top of food trucks, live music and vendors galore, this year’s fair features some new rides, lumberjack shows, mini chuckwagon races, nightly rodeo, parade Saturday and much more.
The festivities are on until Sept. 4.