News

NRE part of Welland's heritage

By Dave Johnson, Tribune Staff

Ray Ravazzolo is “hell-bent” on keeping the annual Niagara Regional Exhibition (NRE) going well into the future.

“This is part of our heritage,” said the NRE president Saturday afternoon as the sun beat down on the fairgrounds on the Welland-Thorold border.

For the first time in a long time, he said, good weather was predicted for the three-day fair.

“It’s actually warm, I don’t know when the last time was this happened, it’s been a long time coming,” he said of the 165th annual event which has seen torrential downpours and cold weather in years past.

Ravazzolo said agricultural fairs like the NRE are viable.

“But the problem is, if you want to call it a problem, bridging that gap between the urban and rural communities. There are farms around and a lot of urban people don’t get a chance to see where their food comes from. They’ve never seen or touched an animal.”

He believes many people would be surprised to learn how much farmland there used to be around Welland.

“I think they’d be in awe of what a farmer does, how early they have to get up … you have farmers up at 5:30 a.m. milking their cows.”

Ravazzolo has a small hobby farm where he raises two horses, some cows, chickens, rabbits and ducks. Many of the birds in poultry barn were from his own farm.

“At some point today (Saturday) I have to go home and feed our animals.”

One thing that may bridge the gap between the rural and urban communities, he said, is more people taking to having a few chickens in their backyards.

“More people are raising chickens for eggs and I think that should be allowed. They have fresh eggs for use and it gives them more of an appreciation …”

During the fair, Ravazzolo said visitors from across Niagara and beyond could get up close with not only various poultry but also horses and cows.

The 4H Club was running a show with various age groups showing off cows in the large livestock barn at the east end of the fairgrounds.

Amanda Gill, the leader of the Bertie Calf Club, said there were 4H Club members, which includes nine- to 21-year-olds, and aspiring 4H children taking part in the show.

“This is the Little Bridges group, children that are too young for the 4H program,” she said of a group of boys and girls in the early afternoon Saturday.

The children were being judged on how they presented their calves, if they had them under control, were able to get them to stop when asked and have the calves feet set properly, and if they were paying attention to both their calves and the judge. Calves were also judged on their body structure, whether they were put together ideally.

While the 4H Club was running its show, Ravazzolo said the fairgrounds were busy with other activities, including an area for inflatables for children to play on.

“We don’t have a midway this year, which is fine. We’re looking at having one next year.”

He said this year’s event was a fresh start for the NRE in a way.

Though many of the attractions and various vendors from previous years were back, there were new things.

“We have a volleyball tournament, which is new this year, and a baseball batting cage. We have new food vendors, including kettle corn, fish and chips and a pure lemonade stand. There’s a beer tent as well.”

Ravazzolo expected to see large crowds on Saturday and Sunday, especially with the great weather. Live bands, a tractor pull and demolition derby, he said, would be good draws as well.

He said last year’s event was free with donations accepted, but organizers decided to charge $5 admission, and $10 for the motorsports shows, this year.

“You have to look at it this way. You have to pay people to come and perform and we don’t have the money there was last year from the city, and that’s not a complaint. We had to go back to charging. We figured we’d have one price and not fiddle around with different admission.”

dajohnson@postmedia.com