President Onn looks ahead to 160th Brussels Fall Fair
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Zoellyn Onn could not have predicted that when she took on the presidency of the Brussels Agricultural Society that she would oversee the near-unprecedented decision to cancel the year’s Brussels Fall Fair.
This year’s fall fair, like so many other community events, has fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic as organizers were forced to cancel it. There is, however, a special parade, decorating contest and meal set for this Sunday to keep the tradition of the Brussels Fall Fair alive.
Onn let her name stand for the position earlier this year at the Brussels Agricultural Society’s annual meeting. At the time, she had only been a member of the society for less than two years. However, after returning to the community several years ago, Onn has become very involved with the community.
Born and raised in Huron County, Onn moved to Toronto and spent some time in school and studying to become a funeral director. Upon returning to Huron County and purchasing Riverside Funeral Home in Brussels, Onn has become involved in numerous community groups while also being elected a Huron East councillor. She is currently a member of the Brussels Horticultural Society and the president of the Brussels Lions Club, serving as its Leo Club leader, in addition to her position with the Brussels Agricultural Society. She has also spearheaded numerous initiatives in Brussels, including its new Fairy Door Trail and the replacement of playground equipment in the village’s conservation area in working with the Leo Club.
Her term as the president came at a time of transition for the society with Secretary/Treasurer Brian Schlosser stepping back and the society opting to split his position into two different roles. Onn will also have a new vice-president under her with a new homecraft president set to take on the role next year and an entirely new executive in 2021.
Without a background in agriculture, it was the fabric of rural life that attracted Onn to the society. She was brought in by a friend who asked for her help with managing one of the classes of the fair. With so many classes celebrating the skills and aspects of rural life, fairs like the Brussels Fall Fair do so much to highlight rural life and Onn wanted to be part of it.
After first becoming involved, Onn became a familiar face in Brussels with her high level of community involvement and initiatives like the Brussels Fairy Door Trail and special get-togethers at the funeral home. When she was elected a councillor in 2018, she became even more visible in the Brussels community.
In taking on the society’s top job, Onn wanted to work to bring in young children and have them creating items for the fair on an annual basis, bringing them back for years to come.
Wanting to involve youth in community events and get them out on the town is key to many of Onn’s initiatives. As the Lions Club’s leader of the Leo Club, Onn has worked tirelessly with the youth of the community to get them involved with volunteering at many of the events and organizations the community cherishes.
“The youth don’t really go out and do stuff these days,” Onn said. “I want to make them excited to come out to the fair.”
Onn did say it was exciting to take a leading role in an agricultural society and fair that is revered across the province. Since becoming involved with the Brussels Agricultural Society, Onn said all she hears about the fair are great things from those involved in other societies in Ontario. She says the volunteer base and participation the Brussels Fall Fair elicits far exceeds that of most fairs the size of the Brussels fair.
Inheriting such a robust volunteer base is encouraging, Onn says, and it has meant that so many things connected to the Brussels Fall Fair “just get done” without her having to give direction or get involved, which is a great feeling for a new leader. A lot of the volunteers have been part of the fair for a very long time, she says, and that level of dedication, commitment and knowledge is something you can’t pay for when it comes to volunteering in small communities.
Having said that, Onn said it’s important for the society to be progressive as well and for it to backfill positions so that when long-time volunteers step away from the society that others can step in.
However, the best laid plans of the society were upended earlier this year when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and members of the society were forced into a very difficult decision.
The Brussels Agricultural Society issued a statement announcing the cancellation on May 22 after discussing the issue by way of a Zoom meeting the previous day.
Onn said, in an interview with The Citizen, that despite optimism that some form of the fair could move ahead this year, there just wasn’t a way to move forward physically amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Onn said she and other members of the society looked to the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (OAAS) for guidance and through reviewing the recommended best practices in hosting an event like a fall fair, it became clear there would be no way to host the Brussels Fall Fair in the era of COVID-19.
“Due to COVID-19 pandemic uncertainty, the Brussels Agricultural Society has made the difficult decision to cancel the 159th edition of the Brussels Fall Fair, scheduled to take place Sept. 15-16, 2020 at the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre,” said a press release issued by the society. “Many factors were taken into consideration by the society’s general membership when making the agonizing decision, most importantly the desire to ensure the safety of fair visitors, exhibitors, vendors, community groups, entertainers, sponsors and volunteers.
“The fair will return with vigor Sept. 14-15, 2021, with the theme ‘Twist and Sprout.’”
Onn also noted that current ambassadors Brussels Fall Fair Ambassador Sean Mitchell, Junior Ambassador James Speer and Little Ambassador Rowan Gaspric all agreed to remain in their positions until 2021.