Arts County Fair

Thousands of students
hundreds of kegs of beer
many, many porta potties

For a glorious run of 15 years, the last day of class on UBC’s Vancouver campus was synonymous with the Arts County Fair (ACF) – a beloved eight-hour concert extravaganza at Thunderbird Stadium run by the Arts Undergraduate Society. In its peak years, ACF drew up to five bands, five DJs, and a whopping 15,000 students, making it the largest student-run event in Canada.

According to The Ubyssey, when ACF debuted in 1992, the organizers booked “then little-known Canadian rock band the Barenaked Ladies,” the same year that their debut album, Gordon, topped charts. Just like that, a legendary UBC tradition was born. Each year, great musical acts – including the Philosopher Kings, the New Pornographers, and Matthew Good – played for crowds of happy students, who over the course of the day collectively enjoyed, as former AMS president Jeremy McElroy told The Ubyssey, “500 kegs of beer.”

The all-day event took festivities to athletic lengths, so it required some preparation. The 2007 ACF Safety Committee advised students to drink plenty of water “to keep you lucid” and to enjoy a hearty meal first: “If you’re going to be rocking out for eight hours, then you really shouldn’t be doing that on an empty stomach.” Along with a helpful reminder for partygoers to attach their U-Pass to their pants and not to “lose either (pass or pants),” they begged “For pity’s sake, do not urinate on the hill... We have many, many porta potties.”

Inevitably, despite the impressive musical talent present, the celebrations weren’t to everyone’s taste. Mike Kushnir, who helped plan ACF for several years, told The Ubyssey that “People who buy property [on campus] want to make sure they get their beauty sleep.” Neighbours’ complaints, along with stricter liquor licensing laws, rising costs of insurance and security, and general financial trouble combined to bring the party’s long run to a halt after 2007.

The end of ACF met with immediate outcry, spawning a “Bring Back the Arts County Fair!” Facebook group within days. Students formed the Radical Beer Faction and organized “flash beer gardens” to call for more on-campus social events. For UBC’s tight-knit community, a last day of classes unmarked by an epic celebration was a sad prospect – one that luckily never came to pass. In 2008 the Alma Mater Society reimagined ACF as today’s Block Party, a smaller but just as beloved annual celebration. Springtime still brings sunny days, final exams, great music, and “many, many porta potties” to the Point Grey campus – and hopefully, it always will.