One of the pleasures of October is attending the fall fairs so prevalent across Ontario. After discovering archived images of fairs held in the early 1900s, I became curious about the origins of such events. These curated details will find their way into my writing one day.
Agricultural Societies appeared in Upper Canada as early as 1793 when the first one began at Niagara. In the eighteen-thirties and forties, the societies grew in popularity. Their membership activities provided an opportunity for socializing among farmers. The farmers’ wives, however, were disallowed from participating in the society. Women rarely broke the monotony of their daily routine except to visit a neighbour or a general store. To join in men’s activities was considered improper.
Fairs, a natural offshoot of Agricultural Societies’ increasing presence, took place in nearly every Upper Canada community. Legislation passed in 1820 financially assisted the societies’ operations and events. Not only did fairs and exhibitions help citizens to further develop agriculture, they provided contact with the world outside the farm. People gathered to enjoy horse-racing and ploughing matches. Fairs took place twice a year, but the fall fair held in autumn was most important because harvested produce could be displayed and sold.
This poem excerpt documents mayhem at the first Carleton County fair held in 1829 at Bytown (modern-day Ottawa). “Twas not to buy or sell they came;/They all assembled, wild and free/To have a ranting, roaring spree!” The fair was cancelled for several years because of drunken brawls between lumbermen and Irish labourers. When similar violence broke out in Richmond between lumbermen and soldiers, Father Peter Smith reportedly ended the mayhem “with a long whip.”
(Photo: Opening of the agricultural Fair, Brantford, Ont., 1904 (Library and Archves Canada)
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