HISTORY OF THE
WALKERTON AGRICULTURE SOCIETY
The Society was formed in the latter part of the 19 th Century. The Fair was called the Great Northern Exhibition. It was held on the same site as the present fair grounds and ball diamonds. It had a half mile track, a grandstand just north of the present community centre west of the track and a judge’s stand east of the track. There was also a large frame building called the palace at the north end of the grounds.
The Great Northern Exhibition drew large crowds. About the year 1908 the Fair Board arranged to have Tom Longboat, the famous Indian runner come to the Fair and compete against three other runners, relay style. This event was widely advertised and both the Grand Trunk and C.P.R. ran special trains into town for the show. But alas, Tom Longboat got drunk somewhere along the way and failed to show up, thus disappointing thousands who had come to see him. This was the beginning of the end of the Great Northern.
About 1912 the Great Northern ceased to exist. When the First World War broke out in 1914, the fair grounds were used as a training site for the 160 th Battalion.
After the war, a new Agricultural Society was formed and they started what was known as the Christmas Fair held early in December. The buildings at the old site had gone into disrepair, so it was decided to start a new fair on a somewhat smaller scale and make use of Victoria Jubilee Hall as the core of the event. The Town Hall had a large market area on the street level for displaying home and farm products and the town stables on the west side of the property were used to house the livestock. The stables behind the Queen’s Hotel were also utilized. Scott Street was blocked to traffic from Jackson Street to Peter Street and a length of snow fence was installed along the side of Scott Street to form a track of sorts for showing livestock and holding other events. One such event was the Potato Race.
The potato race was nothing new. It was often held at small town fairs and had been part of the local fair in other years. The race always caused a lot of excitement for both the crowd and the participants. For this particular race the box of potatoes was placed at the corner of Scott and Peter Streets. The contestants, two at a time, set off on horseback from the Jackson Street corner and galloped down the track to dismount and grab a potato. Then they got back onto their steeds and raced back to the starting point with the potato. The rider to retrieve the most potatoes in a given time was declared the winner. Two young friends, Jim Waechter and Len Schmidt, were paired off to race against each other. The crowd was cheering on their favourite, when suddenly tragedy struck. As the speeding horse headed back on the final trip the two mounts collided and Jim was thrown to the ground from his horse with such force that he was killed almost instantly. That was the last time that the fair was held in that location and it meant the end to the potato races in Walkerton.
The fair had been held here for several years until a new arena was built where the Legion Hall now stands. This was an improvement over the former site, but still inadequate and a move was started to transport the arena to the fair grounds. J.P.Johnstone was the president of the Agricultural Society at the time and James McKinnon of Paisley was hired to supervise the moving. Some of the town people expressed strong opposition to moving the arena and said it just couldn’t be done. The heavy trusses were quite a problem and on one occasion a truss loaded on a heavy wagon went through the pavement and was stuck there for a whole weekend. However, with the help of volunteer labour from members of the fair board the building was moved and set up on its present site and an artificial ice plant installed.
But the Fair soon outgrew these facilities and a barn was purchased in Grey County and set up next to the arena and there still was not enough room, so tents were rented to provide extra space. However, this was not the answer as the Fair Board ran into bad weather one year and the tents blew down and the day after the Fair they were lying on the ground covered with snow.
A new cement block building was erected beside No. 2. This is now known as building No. 3. This is the Fair set-up at the present time. There are also exhibits in the community centre. A concrete floor was installed in building No. 2 and it was connected to the ice plant and this building was used as a curling rink for several years. It was felt that a new community centre was needed and a deal was made between the Agricultural Society and the town, whereby the Agricultural Society bought the old arena after turning over the Agricultural Society government grant to the building fund of the new arena. This made a good set-up as the Agricultural Society did not have to contend with ice being put in the arena and it was used by other organizations besides the Fair.
The fair books from the mid 60’s to mid 70’s displayed the following animal and the grand champion banner on the cover.
The Fair has been moved ahead to earlier dates several times and the Christmas Fair has been changed to the Little Royal Fair which is held each year in October. It is held each year on the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Below is a segment of the Northern Exhibition Fair Book of 1894. It is quite interesting to see what was judged.
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