Handlers use a steel chin brace to keep sheep steady while being groomed at the Royal Winter Fair.

Fall favourite: Royal Winter Fair now in its 91st year

From sheep to warm apple dumplings, annual fall farm exhibit continues to be a big draw

It’s November, which means you can smell manure, hear the sheep braying faintly and see hundreds of horse crates as you approach the Direct Energy Centre in downtown Toronto.

This year the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair celebrates its 91st year. Held from November 1-10, the fair draws in famers, vendors, food trucks- and hundreds of animals.

Bringing animals to the fair is no small task, and many farmers have been preparing since early this year.

Shelley Barefoot-O’Neill has brought her sheep to show. Getting them ready, she says, is a process that began in the spring.

“With the lambs it starts in the spring after we figure out which ones we are looking at to show,” Barefoot-O’Neill said.

Once they are chosen, the sheep undergo hours of preening.

“A lot of trimming, hours and hours and hours of washing and trimming, they do the original with shears like you would use in your hair,” Barefoot-O’Neill said.

“But then there’s a lot of hand trimming and it is very time consuming and very tedious and exhausting.”

The sheep stand in a shearing contraption at the fair which keeps their heads and bodies still as they are groomed. They are getting ready to be shown in front of a panel of judges for the Royal Breeding Sheep Show.

“The boys started to work on the sheep last weekend for the final time. They probably had them on the trimming stand for six hours in total, per sheep, over the last couple of weeks,” Barefoot-O’Neill said.

“If us girls could be worked on as much as these sheep we would all be movie stars…they’re very spoiled.”

It’s not just the animals that draw people to The Royal Winter Fair each year. How’s Hot Apple Dumpling booth has been at the fair for about 30 years. The company, which was started by Victor Marquardt’s family 35 years ago, is a perennial fair favourite.

“We have the cinnamon rolls at other shows, small shows around the GTA area, but the apple dumplings are only one time a year at The Royal,” Marquardt said.

The dumplings are made with an entire peeled and cored apple that is stuffed in a pastry with cinnamon, sugar and different spices and then cooked in the oven.

“It’s the whole idea of a personal apple pie, you get your own dish, it usually comes with ice cream and butterscotch on it,” Marquardt said. “It’s pretty much a complete dessert.”

It’s impossible to cover all of the things the Royal Winter Fair has to offer. You have until this Sunday to discover the variety of food and activities for yourself.