Owen Sound Fall Fair:
Early Years

Owen Sound Fall Fair has always been a very popular event on the region's social calendar beginning with the very first fair which dates back to 1852!


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

It's fall fair time across Ontario. These annual exhibitions are an integral part of the heritage of not only this region, but the entire province of Ontario. 

The Owen Sound Fall Fair, which was held last week, has a history which parallels that of the County of Grey. In 1852 the County of Grey was incorporated and later that same year the first fall fair in the region was held. 

Today, the fall fair is held at the fair grounds at the top of 10th Street East hill. But the first fall fair was held in the very core of the community, on the market square. That inaugural exhibition seems to have been a financial success. 

The organizers collected a total of 137£ through levies and subscriptions to finance the operation and when all of the debts were paid, the fair showed a profit of a little more than 16£! The fall fair was entirely an outdoor event until the Owen Sound town hall was built in the late 1860s.

After that building was erected the fair continued to be held on the market square, but the auditorium in the town hall was rented to display crafts and other products. In 1894, the management of the fair was restructured. From its inception in 1852 until 1894, Thomas Gordon, Owen Sound's town clerk, and school inspector for North Grey, had served as the secretary. 

In 1894 a dynamic young lawyer, A. G. McKay, succeeded Gordon. McKay would later represent Grey North in the Ontario Legislature where he had a long and distinguished career as a member of the Ontario Liberal Party. By this time the fair was held on the present fair grounds. Under McKay's leadership the fair underwent some dramatic changes. 

Until this time, the fall fair had been almost entirely an agricultural exhibition under McKay's leadership, a two-storey frame pavilion was constructed as well as a grandstand. These innovations led to the introduction of afternoon and evening vaudeville programs which by all accounts delighted everyone who attended the fair. 

The next year, 1895, the fair added another building. Subscriptions were collected and in less than one month a building for Manufacturers, as well as stabling was built. The next year a $350 grant enabled the management of the fair to build a Machinery and Poultry Hall. 

Around the turn of the century, the fair attempted to create more entertainment venues for the fair. For example, at one Owen Sound fall fair a race was held between an ostrich named Black Diamond and a local racehorse. On another occasion a snake eater was show cased. 

The Owen Sound fall fair, as well as other similar exhibitions, were an important event on the social calendar of every citizen of the region. Schools were closed in order to allow the students to display their projects and it was time for area farmers to come together not only to compete for prizes for the best livestock and produce but also to socialize and perhaps trade ideas. 

Today, many fall fairs are struggling to survive. Whatever the future holds for this grand old tradition, it is important to remember the value fall fairs served for the early settlers of this region. 

The information used in this article came from many different early editions of various Owen Sound newspapers. 

A version of "Owen Sound Fall Fair: Early Years" originally appeared in my Local History column in the Friday, September 15, 2000 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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