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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October 7, 2021 at 3:39 pm
Away back when the Department of Agriculture (I suppose it was called) was helping the Agricultural societies they purchased land in Bobgaygeon for a fall Fair. Over time a grandstand, racetrack and barn were built. Then along came a curling club and an arena. In summer the fairgrounds was and still are used for camping and trailers.
I was Chair of the Parks and Recreation Board for the village/town. We had a number of parks to llok after plus we built a skateboard park and pool with workout area. The arena was quite old and needed repair and people thought it better to sell it and erect a new modern arena. This was a great idea but people were not aware that the arena belonged to the Agricultural Society and if sold, the proceeds were to accrue to the now Ministry of Agriculture because they owned the land and buildings. This arena has been upgraded and refurbished and is a fine example of an old style arena that is alsways on the verge of falling down, wearing out, breaking down and burning up.
October 7, 2021 at 3:51 pm
I so enjoyed reading this bit of history, yours and Bobcageon’s. It’s really fantastic that the arena lives on through refurbishment. You must have such a good feeling about being a part of that process. What a great legacy. And these historic structures are what gives a town its flavour and quaintness. I haven’t visited Bobcageon for a number of years but hope to return there soon. I’ll be watching for that arena with great interest!
March 4, 2023 at 6:00 pm
awesome site! i read like 3 of your writings, and i just fount your site! i went on line looking for how the settlers cleared land. very interesting and detailed. although i am not from canada, but approximately 60 miles from the border in new england. i think its close enough that they used the same techniques. i also enjoyed the early fairs article. i think northern maine still has a fair along those lines, meaning a agricultural fair and no amusement rides. i haved walked back on the land covered with forest like a mile and found almost perfectly laid stone walls. i was told by my friends dad a long time ago that every where was fields. never did at the time to think to ask how they cleared the fields. i think if you made a you tube channel and put this on video, you would have a good following? any way, thanks, dan.
March 5, 2023 at 3:31 pm
Hello Dan! Thank you so much for letting me know that you enjoyed the articles. So kind of you. It’s always nice to connect with with a fellow enjoyer of history. I’ll consider the YouTube channel idea. It’s always interesting to find new ways to share. Have a wonderful day:)