Owen Sound Fall Fair

Fall fairs signalled not only the end of a long summer of toiling in the hot sun growing crops and raising livestock, but were also great community social affairs.

Summer is gone, autumn has arrived. It's time to put away the shorts, T-shirts, and, yes dad, your golf clubs.

But wait, it’s only the weekend after Labour Day! The weather is warm, sailboats still glide about the bay and the World Series is still weeks away. It can’t be Autumn! Why am I writing an article about fall? 

It’s simple. This weekend marks the Owen Sound Fall Fair. 

Throughout Ontario there are dozens of fall fairs on this weekend and everyone knows that fall fairs traditionally mark the end of the growing season and the beginning of the march towards WINTER!

Legend tells us the pilgrims sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner after the harvest in their pioneering communities and gave thanks for the bountiful crops which would sustain them through the harsh winter which lay ahead.

Early settlers in the Grey-Bruce region also sat down to Thanksgiving and rejoiced over the fruits of their labours during the spring and summer and readied themselves for the impending winter months.

Pioneer Fall Fairs

In the late 1800s another event occurred which also marked the end of summer, the fall fair. The fall fairs had their origin as a festival where farmers brought their produce and livestock to the local community gathering place, perhaps a park or school grounds, to be judged and compared with their neighbours' agricultural skills. 

At these early exhibitions the emphasis was directed to the quality of the grains grown, the size and taste of fruits and vegetables and the quality of livestock. Homemakers displayed their cooking and sewing abilities in competitions such as pie baking and embroidery. The ribbons awarded to the winners provided “bragging rights" for the conversations at the local general store over the long winter which lay ahead. 

Although fall fairs have their genesis as a forum for the exhibition of agricultural labours, they also provide entertainment for all the citizens of the community. 

Dances, sporting contests, and community dinners provided fair goers with fun and entertainment after a long summer of toiling in the hot sun. The fall fair provided the early settlers with a sense of community and served as a major social event in the area. 

Many people still see the fall fair as a venue to exhibit their agricultural abilities. However, over the last few decades, the fall fair has opened its doors to commercial interests to promote their products and their businesses in general. Today the midway, with its rides and games, seems to be the major attraction for younger patrons.

The fall fairs of the 1990s are much different from the ones when I was growing up in Owen Sound.

The fall fair then was a community event attended by many families. I remember receiving a half-day holiday from school and my whole family spending the rest of the day touring the exhibits at the fair, meeting friends and family and visiting the midway. Like many of you, my family and I have many fond memories of the Owen Sound Fall Fair. 

I remember my grandfather taking me to see the horses before they raced and telling his friends and I which horse would win. How he knew I never found out, but invariably his favorite crossed the finish line first.

I remember my father. spending quarter after quarter trying to win my sister that special stuffed animal she just had to have. But of particular significance in my memory is my mother taking me on my first roller coaster and tilt-a-whirl rides. We both disembarked from these rides feeling quite queasy. I don't think either of us have ventured onto similar rides since! 

My father recalls when he was a child that the fall fair employed a man who patrolled the of perimeters of the fairgrounds on horseback. His, duty was to chase away young boys and girls trying to sneak onto the fairgrounds without paying admission. (Dad would not tell me how he knew about this. I am left to suppose that he wanted to spend his admission money on another candy apple!) 

The Owen Sound Fall Fair and many other fall fairs in the area have provided a valuable sense of community for many years. I hope this year’s fall fair will provide you. with memories you will hold for many years to come. 

A version of this article first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times in the late 1990s.