When the doors to the Alberni Athletic Hall open on Friday, Nov. 11 for Christmas in the Valley, it will signal the start of 50th anniversary celebrations for the Alberni Valley Craft Fair Association.
The late Elspeth Watson was one of several potters who founded the craft fair association in 1971. “It started off just as a pottery sale and it was outdoors,” says Marcia Green, AVCFA’s treasurer.
The first sale was held at Gyro Park in the summer. It was so popular that organizers began holding two shows: one in the spring and another in November, in time for Christmas. That’s when they moved indoors to the Alberni Athletic Hall when it was located on Beaver Creek Road, where Van Isle Ford is now. Once the fair moved indoors it expanded to include other crafters in addition to potters.
The Christmas Fair in particular was so well loved by vendors and customers alike that it became difficult for new crafters to get selling space, and so several people started their own craft fairs to accommodate the overflow. At one time, you had to participate in the AVCFA Spring Fair in order to maintain your acceptance into the much anticipated Christmas Fair. But the Spring Fair didn’t do nearly as well as the Christmas one, and eventually it was dropped.
When the old Athletic Hall burned down, the Christmas in the Valley Craft Fair moved briefly into the Glenwood Centre, until construction on the new Athletic Hall on Roger Street was completed, said Shelley Penner, advertising executive for AVCFA.
If one does the math, one would see that this is actually the 52nd year since the original potters’ fair. The AVCFA isn’t counting the two years of closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, says Green. “This is the 50th.”
The AVCFA will recognize its landmark anniversary in a variety of ways. “We do have a display of historical pictures from the beginning,” says Green.
Some of the crafters themselves are living reminders of the fair’s history: Linda Currey, also a board member, has been bringing her creations to the fair for more than 30 years. “It was when my youngest child went to Kindergarten…I remember thinking what am I going to do now (the kids) are all gone?”
This year, look for her collection of sock monkeys waiting for new homes.
Penner’s unique rock paintings have been a fixture at Christmas in the Valley almost as long. And Linda Phillips has been bringing her sewn and knitted items for 30 years as well.
The craft fair executive usually assembles three door prize baskets filled with crafts donated by vendors; a draw for one basket takes place on each of the three days of the fair. This year, the executive has arranged for 50 extra door prizes—one for each year of the fair. Many of the executive, who are crafters themselves, have contributed to the special door prizes. Draws for these will take place throughout the three-day event.
The fair will once again offer a wide range of hand-crafted products both on the main floor and upstairs, including pottery, Christmas décor and cards, leatherwork, needlework, silk and alpaca wool scarves, wildlife paintings on stone, Christmas baking, jams, jellies and pickles, beaded critters, tatting, polymer clay sculptures, fairy gardens, fabric arts, woodworking, rustic home and garden décor, lapidary, etched and fused glass wares, jewelry, First Nations crafts, all natural soap and bath products, laser art, photography, sea glass creations and much more.
Non-profit organizations will have tables set up upstairs in the hall. “All the fees from the upstairs tables will be donated to charity,” says president Debra Luecke. Charities that will benefit include Bread of Life, Ty Watson House hospice and the SPCA.
Organizers are also encouraging fair goers to bring donations of unexpired, non-perishable food and personal hygiene products for donation.
The Old-Time Fiddlers as well as a choir will provide entertainment on Saturday, Nov. 12. A concession catered by Baker’s Dozen will also be available.
Christmas in the Valley will be at the Alberni Athletic Hall, 3727 Roger St. The fair will be open Friday, Nov. 11 from 3–7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 13 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Admission is free (no COVID-19 restrictions this year) and the venue is wheelchair accessible.