Move over Taylor Swift!
You may be a rock star, but you have nothing on Ridgetown’s flock star.
Kay, bred and owned by local shepherds Gary and Luanne Brien, stole the show at the 101st Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.
The 22-month-old Polled Dorset yearling ewe made such an impression, winning the Reserve Champion in the 2022 Royal Sheep Show and with her media savvy in her appearance on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, she was invited back as the Royal Animal Ambassador for this year’s 101st Winter Fair, which ran Nov. 3-12.
And Kay embodied the Royal spirit in her role.
“The Royal wanted her as a mascot to help promote the fair, and they were over the moon with the results,” said Gary Brien, the third-generation sheep farmer residing on Ridge Road west of town.
“Everybody wanted to pet her or have their picture taken with her,” said Brien. “We couldn’t believe how approachable she was.”
“Adults, babies, children, seniors and people with special abilities were all excited to meet her,” said Luanne Brien. “Her size, soft wool fleece and calm nature appealed to every age and ability. We were overwhelmed with how much people were excited to meet her.”
Concerns about Kay being overwhelmed by all of the attention and mingling with people were quickly cast aside.
“As we gained confidence in her, she got more confidence in herself,” Gary Brien said.
Kay made Royal appearances at the Paddock, the celebrity stage in Heritage Hall, every day and sometimes twice a day.
“There were numerous times when she was being swarmed by school-aged children or people who were not used to interacting with livestock, and she just took it all in; she just stood there chewing her cud,” Gary Brien said.
“At times, she might have handled the crowds better than I did,” he laughed.
One of the highlights for Kay was a media blitz as she appeared on several television and radio shows to promote the fair.
She was already accustomed to dealing with the media with her CBC radio interview during the 2022 show.
“I thought CBC was coming to us; we were surprised we had to go to them,” Brien said as they transported Kay to the CBC studio in her trailer.
“After seeing how well she handled the travel last year and how unaffected she was when moving between different environments, activities and appearances, it made our decision to accept their offer a lot easier for this year’s fair,” said Lee Brien, son of Gary and Luanne, as the family and Kay conducted several live and telephone interviews in her duties as the Royal Ambassador.
One of the main duties of the Royal Animal Ambassadors is promoting the partnership between the Royal and GO Train.
The day before the Royal Fair’s opening, Kay was transported to the Scarborough GO station, and the Briens – Gary and Luanne, Lee, daughter Sarah with husband Jordan Case and daughters Evelyn and Maddison – accompanied her on the train ride to Union Station.
Toronto television stations covered Kay’s train ride. When she arrived at Union Station, she was met by a throng of camera lenses and microphones from newspapers, radio and television media.
Kay was very accommodating to other passengers on the Go Train, as well as the many people who stopped to pet her in Union Station and on the streets of downtown Toronto.
“We got to Union Station, and there were 10 security guards,” Brien said. “We asked them what they were doing; they said they were there to keep her off the tracks.”
“There was no need; she just walked off the train, onto the platform and down to the elevator like a regular commuter,” Brien said.
Kay was unfazed by the attention as not even the bright lights and commotion during her in-studio appearances on Global News Morning, CTV’s The Social and CTV’s Your Morning bothered her. (Google ‘Kay the Sheep’ to view her appearances and television interviews).
“It was easy to forget she is a sheep; she accepted all the situations she was put in, and she never acted like she was out of place,” Gary Brien said.
Daughter Sarah was one of Kay’s handlers for the 11 days and did the media interviews.
“We were a little bit nervous because she is a farm animal. However, Kay is fitting in like such a natural,” Case said in a CBC interview. “She loves all of the attention she is getting.”
Kay didn’t shy away from the attention of the many fair visitors who flocked to meet her after seeing her television appearances.
But it wasn’t all glitz and glamour for Kay, as she still had to compete.
As cool and calm as Kay was in her duties as ambassador, she was just as composed in the centre ring as she successfully defended her First in Class as the Slick Shorn Yearling Dorset Ewe champion against seven other ewes.
Kay made history as the first Royal Animal Ambassador to compete during her reign.
There were other duties for Kay and the Briens as the family was invited to cut the ribbon to signal the official opening of the 101st Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, following greetings from Ontario Agricultural Minister Lisa Thompson, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and Royal CEO Ray Stanton.
The Brien family’s involvement in the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair didn’t just start with Kay’s success in the fair’s 100th anniversary but went back to the inaugural fair in 1922.
One of the founding members of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair was John Dufferin ‘Duff’ Brien, a cousin to Gary’s grandfather George S. Brien.
Duff Brien served as the fair’s Agricultural Manager for the first 23 years until 1946.
“It was my grandfather who got me started in the sheep business,” stated Gary Brien. “He had shown Shropshire sheep throughout Ontario, at the Royal and internationally in Chicago.”
The Brien Sheep farm began breeding Polled Dorsets in 1974 and has shown them yearly at the Royal Fair and across Canada.
The Briens have produced a number of champions over the years, but the family was never as involved with the actual running of the Royal Fair until the last two years.
“Last year was the 100th anniversary, and they asked our family to be one of the ‘families of distinction’ to represent the sheep industry since the Briens have been a part of the Royal Fair since its inception,” said Gary Brien.
Kay is back at her Brien Sheep home with another big day in early February when she will become a mother for the first time.
By Michael Bennett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Nov 20, 2023 at 13:37