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“Running of the Bulls” Royal Winter Fair Event Canceled, But Damage Already Done?

Royal Winter Fair’s 90th Anniversary “Running of the Bulls” Event Cancelled, Violated City Bylaws

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The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is considered Canada’s most prominent agriculture event and is the largest agriculture fair in the world. The annual event held every November began in 1922, with this year marking its 90th anniversary showcasing agriculture while bridging the gap between rural and urban communities.  With anniversary celebrations underway, the Royal announced the “Running of the Bulls” on Bay St. Toronto, as an event to kick-off the fair - but what they weren’t expecting was the backlash from some agriculture advocates and animal welfare activists. This sentiment became apparent to those active in the “Twitterverse”.

While the “Running of the Bulls” may have been conjured up with good intensions to get people excited about the Royal Winter Fair and to showcase livestock animals, with the purpose to draw people to attend the event - it fell short of its goal. There were a number of things that went wrong in the marketing and public relations strategy for this event.

The name “Running of the Bulls” is associated with the running of the bulls in Spain – an event in its own right that has historical significance since the early 14th century, which started off as a way to transport cattle to market and evolved into a process of hurrying up the bulls which became a competition among men. While this event may be popular in Spain and draw large crowds of spectators, it is also seen by some as a barbaric event that uses animals for entertainment and to celebrate slaughter. Every year, the event not only draws spectators, but also protesters - especially from animal activists groups who oppose the event.

If one were to think of ways to celebrate Canada’s agricultural heritage it wouldn’t start with a “Running of the Bulls” event – something that doesn’t showcase our country’s agriculture tradition or reflect the values of Canadian farmers. Also, the name of the event it’s self was deceiving – the bulls were never supposed to “run” down Bay St. Toronto but  rather walk down the financial district, closed down to vehicles and pedestrians and be guided by riders on horseback. Following the event, the bulls were to be featured in the fair’s rodeo.

The second mistake in conjunction with the name gaff was how the event was communicated to the general urban public. The Toronto Star’s headline “Bulls to run on Bay St. for Royal Agricultural Winter Fair launch” included a photo drawing a direct parallel to Spain’s running of the bull’s event. This photo sensationalized the event and failed to highlight the importance of the Royal Winter Fairs agricultural tradition.  The photo exacerbated the rural and urban divide by missing the positive message of Canadian agriculture. The messaging opened up the door to animal activist, allowing them to steer the messaging in their favour.

 The day after the questionable event was made public - it was cancelled after the City of Toronto denied organizers a permit - saying that the event violated city by-laws  as the event wasn’t deemed “educational” and the intent of the event was for promotional purposes, which didn’t meet city guidelines. The event organizers told several media outlets including the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail that they were disappointed with the cancellation of the event and that the safety of the animals was always made a priority. Animal activists were celebrating the cancellation of the event, as they had put pressure on the city and were collecting signatures for a petition to stop the event.  The Toronto Star followed up on the story “City of Toronto says No to bulls on Bay St.” and featured a very different picture than their previous story of the bulls being led by a man walking calmly in a straight line. While this was a good attempt towards damage control, the positive story of agriculture got missed as the Royal was on the defence from animal welfare activists once again winning the message to the general public.



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