How to do Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair the Michael Bonacini Way
After a two-year pause on in-person celebrations, The Royal is going all out for its 100th anniversary.
To make the most out of your visit, Chef Michael Bonacini shares his ultimate itinerary.
It’s not often we hear of a Toronto event clocking 100 years in operation, however, The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is not your average fair. The largest combined indoor agricultural and horse show in the world, the one-of-a-kind spectacle that transcends generations takes place at Toronto’s Exhibition Place from November 4–13 to celebrate the best in agriculture, local food, and equestrian competitions. While over 300,000 exhibitors, buyers, and spectators from around the world come to The Royal every year to both watch and compete with the best of the best, there are still some residents of The Six who have yet to take notice of the unique showcase in their very own backyard.
Whether you’re a “Loyal Royal” or a first-time visitor, we’ve asked Chef Michael Bonacini, our co-founder and a member of The Royal’s Board of Directors, to map out how fair lovers, curious crowds, and out-of-towners can make the most of their visit (spoiler: food plays a very important role!). Given this year marks The Royal’s 100th anniversary, there are even more sights and bites than usual to thrill both kiddos and those young at heart. From mouth-watering food-focused attractions and must-try fair favourites to national livestock showcases, world-class equestrian competitions, and a spotlight on Canada’s best local ingredients, this year’s celebration is truly a century in the making.
A FAIRLY FANTASTIC MORNING
9:00 am – Breakfast of Royal Champions
Like any busy morning, a full day at The Royal requires a jolt of caffeine and a hearty breakfast to kick things off. Stop by The BullPen Saloon for a cup of coffee and a farmer’s breakfast as you plan your day. “As you make your way there, take in the fair’s sights, sounds, and smells,” suggests Chef Bonacini. “Since 1922, farmers, growers, producers and homesteaders have come from all over Canada to exhibit the very best this country has to offer, honouring the traditions and skills their families have passed down. It’s amazing to reflect on Canada’s incredible bounty and how lucky we are to enjoy it every day.”
10:00 am – Show and Tell
Now that you’re all fuelled up, it’s a great time to jump into the action and check out the huge variety of equestrian competitions open to all ages. You’ll enjoy Olympians and other top international athletes and horses competing at the highest level while experiencing Canada’s largest variety of equine breeds and events. Join the crowd in cheering when the announcer calls “drive on!” in the Road Horse classes and applaud your favorite heavy horse hitch when the judges begin inspection!
11:00 am – Royal Best
From giant vegetables to small and large livestock shows, this year, The Royal is celebrating its 100th Anniversary of being Canada’s premier showcase for excellence in livestock, crops, and food. Chat to the farmers of the year’s biggest pumpkin, tallest cornstalk, and towering sunflower, or meet a prize-winning bull and the sheep that produce champion fleece. When it comes to prize-winning eats, much of the judging took place earlier this year to ensure product was tasted at its peak seasonality, however you can still visit the Champions Showcase presented by Metro in Heritage Court (in the Spotlight on Local feature area) to sample some of the best cheese, ice cream, hot sauce, pickled veg, ready-to-eat meats and jams. Plus, don’t miss everyone’s favourite — butter tarts — and see who has laid claim to 2022’s bragging rights. Discover the secrets that make for a Royal Grand Champion and decide if the winner lives up to your own discerning standards.
“Sampling artisan food, chatting to farmers and producers, and experiencing some of the newest and most innovative local products being made right here in Ontario connects us with where our food comes from,” says Chef Bonacini. “If you do nothing else at The Royal, make sure you get your hands on some of our country’s best local offerings.”
12:00 pm – Midday Munchies
Launching this year, The Royal Market, a new high-end cafeteria-style food court, boasts a large selection of offerings reflecting the diversity of Canada’s culinary landscape for families who may have some indecisive eaters. Or, grab a table at The Hitching Ring, a quiet oasis to enjoy fondue or a charcuterie board. Plus, no visit to the fair is complete without tasting a couple of crowd favourites including lamb on a bun, peameal sandwiches, and The Royal’s famed rosti potatoes. “Don’t skip my personal favourites, The Royal’s cinnamon buns and apple dumplings — delicious!” says Chef Bonacini. With plenty of dining options ranging from casual quick service to full-service upscale options, no one is going hungry at The Royal.
1:00 pm – The Best of Friends
If you find yourself at the fair on November 12, make sure you catch the K9-Equine Challenge. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like… dogs and horses competing together. Whether you’re a dog person or a horse person (or both), what could be better? With family and friends, cheer on your favorite duo in this unique event that pairs one international athlete with a President’s Choice SuperDog in this incredible team relay.
2:30 pm – Yes, Chef!
“One of my favourite places at The Royal, the Burnbrae Farms Culinary Academy is an incredible experience for any level of home cook,” notes Chef Bonacini. For just $20 a session, try your hand at making your own meal under the guidance of notable chefs from diverse backgrounds, as they teach their favourite recipes while highlighting local ingredients. “With a small class size of just 24 participants, visit one of the many sessions taking place over 10 days (including my own on November 4th!) to learn tricks of the trade, sample top-shelf local ingredients, hear from the farmers that produced them, and enjoy a delicious meal.” This year’s lineup includes names like Alida Solomon of Tutti Matti, Trevor Lui of Bao Bird Eats and Superfresh Night Market, Carl Heinrich of Richmond Station, Eva Chin of Avling & Soy Luck Club, Cory Vitiello of Flock Rotisserie & Greens, Joseph Shawana, Julie Miguel, Missy Hui, Bashire Munye, and Diala Canelo of Diala’s Kitchen… to name a few.
A FINAL FAREWELL
4:30 pm – Let’s Get a Jump On It
With so many equestrian competitions to choose from, make your way back to the Coca-Cola Coliseum for one of several horse jumping events. Check the schedule to see what’s in store on your chosen day and watch the professionals at play. In fact, The Royal will award over one million dollars in prize money in 2022! Don’t miss your chance to catch the best of the best in their quest to be crowned a Royal Champion.
6:00 pm – Dinner Fit for a Royal
If you’re looking for a VIP experience to close out your day at the fair, look no further than The Royal Terrace. An exclusive venue with a limited number of tables for groups of eight that features an impressive view overlooking The Royal Horse Show, your booking includes valet parking, Royal Concierge service, dinner catered by Oliver & Bonacini, and access to the VIP members-only Tanbark Club for the Horse Show after-party. “An incredible amount of time, planning, and precision go into developing a menu fit for The Royal. We aim to spotlight as many local producers and farmers as possible, paying homage to the hardworking families that have been refining their craft for generations to deliver world-class ingredients,” says Chef Bonacini. “With each course, we hope to tell a story of how food is the great unifier. There’s truly no better place to break bread with your fellow Canadians than at The Royal.”
Bringing the country to the city and celebrating the very best of Canada’s harvest while spotlighting those who make it so, The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is steeped in tradition. Whether you stop by The Royal for just a few hours or follow Chef Michael Bonacini’s full-day guide, there’s endless programming to explore. If you’re looking to eat more seasonally and locally, learn about sustainable farming practices, sample all-around delicious food, or learn from some of the city’s top chefs, take one day (or more!) to explore this globally-recognized celebration. Learn more at royalfair.org.