The sport of kings is returning to Niagara-on-the-Lake Sept. 10.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum announced last week the return of its polo fundraiser to the historic Commons this fall.
Museum director of finance and marketing Amy Klassen expects as many as 2,500 visitors to the Commons between noon and 4 p.m. that day.
“It’s a really popular event,” Klassen says. “The Friends of Fort George did it in 2014 then passed it on to us as a fundraiser for the museum. We brought in about $20,000 in 2016, and we doubled that and raised $40,000 in 2018.”
She credits increased sponsorship and community support for the two-fold increase in proceeds. As well, after polo was absent from town from about 1999 to 2014, there was a buzz built when the fundraiser was run every other year for that recent stretch.
As anyone who has attended in the past would likely agree, the Commons is a perfect site for the influx of horses, trailers and tents that arrive for the event.
Klassen explains that in 2014, one of the Friends of Fort George’s sponsors, Rankin Construction, came in with equipment to level the field for that year’s event. That has left the area in great shape for future games.
The preparation is a team effort between the museum’s polo committee, the Toronto Polo Club, Parks Canada and the town.
“There’s quite a bit of preparation needed, but the field there is quite good,” Klassen says. “Local resident George Dell was a polo player, and he’s our connection to the Toronto Polo Club (who will be playing the two four-chukker games). He says that the players love to play there.”
Toronto Polo Club manager Karen White says there are more than 60 members in the family-oriented operation that was begun by the Sifton family in 1965. It is one of the biggest clubs in Canada in terms of members who actually join to ride, not just for the social benefit. The Toronto club also includes an indoor facility for year-round play.
There are eight players in each polo game, and White explains that for each seven-minute chukker (sort of like a quarter in a basketball game) the rider likes to use a fresh horse if possible. She adds that each of the 16 polo players will likely be bringing between two to four horses to NOTL for the day.
Tickets sales began on Monday with an early bird sale, and became available to the general public on Tuesday. Klassen says they have been selling quite well from the get-go.
“I think people are really excited just to get out,” says Klassen. “A lot of the annual events are coming back this year, and people are just really excited about that.”
Of course, with last week’s running of the Kentucky Derby, many sat by their televisions watching derby-goers sip mint juleps in their fancy headwear while enjoying an equine sport. The timing of the ticket sales couldn’t have been any better.
There may or may not be mint juleps involved this September in NOTL, but there will be the traditional divot stomp at half-time. Spectators will be welcomed onto the playing field armed with a complimentary sampling of bubbly to help level the turf.
Klassen points out that there will be a best hat competition judged most appropriately by local sponsor Beau Chapeau. There will also be half-time entertainment, music, prizes and a silent auction.
Ticket options include general admission, as well as two VIP-styled experiences.
The VIP dining tent will be set up field-side for sponsors and for spectators at a ticket price of $150 per person.
“It’s for anyone who wants a bit of a fancier experience,” Klassen says. “There will be a three-course meal, and your drinks are included. Then there’s the Rotary Lounge, sponsored by the NOTL Rotary Club. It’s sort of between general admission and VIP, with a roped off area with patio tables, umbrellas and chairs. They can put together a table of six for $240 per table.”
Food vendors and artisans will be on site for the afternoon, and drinks will be available. All ticket holders are welcome to bring their own picnic lunch to enjoy for the afternoon, minus any alcohol, of course.
General admission tickets are on sale now for $15, but the price will go up to $20 as of Aug. 20. Admission is free for ages 18 and younger. For information and for tickets visit niagarapolo.com.
Though Klassen herself may be too busy to don a fancy chapeau, she expects that museum managing director and curator Sarah Kaufman and visitor and member services assistant Barbara Worthy may vie for that best hat title.