This year marks the 125th annual Westerner Days Fair and Exhibition (July 20th-24th). Surprisingly, over that very long time period, the fair has only had four different locations.
The very first fair was held on Oct. 11th, 1892 in the Wilkins Block, a two-storey frame structure on the north side of Ross Street. The upper floor was used as an exhibit hall. The vacant lots surrounding the building were used to show the livestock.
The first fair was such a success that arrangements were then made to use the Canadian Pacific Railway roundhouse for the next fair since that was the most spacious building in the community.
In 1894, horse racing became a major attraction at the annual fair. In 1896, a 5/8 mile race track was built on the open land west of the CPR tracks. Some people complained that horse racing was becoming more important than the traditional showing of livestock, grain, produce and home-made food and crafts.
By the turn of the last century, the fair had grown to the extent that it had become a two-day event.
Consequently, the Red Deer Agricultural Society decided to buy a large parcel of land on the southeastern corner of the river valley as a permanent fairground. This site was named Alexandra Park, in honour of Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII.
Over time, additional land was purchased to expand the facilities and build a larger racetrack. During the First World War, the fairgrounds were used as both a military training camp and as the location of the annual fair. Additional buildings were constructed to serve both as barracks and livestock barns. Tents were also used to further ease the problems of overcrowding.
After the end of the War, Red Deer remained a quiet prairie town of around 2,500 residents for many years. Hence, the existing fairgrounds could easily manage the annual summer exhibition and other community events held on the site.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Federal Government decided to build a large military training camp north of 55 St.
Therefore, there were not the accommodation problems that had been faced at the fairgrounds during the previous war.
After the end of the Second World War, Red Deer entered a prolonged period of growth. At one point, Red Deer became the fastest growing city in Canada.
The Fair Board built a large addition onto the grandstand. A big boost came in 1952 when the City built a large new arena on the fairgrounds. The facility provided a welcome addition of indoor exhibit space.
In 1956, the Creative Arts building was constructed to provide even more space for the domestic arts exhibits and junior (youth) activities.
More improvements came in the 1960s with the construction of the Kinex sports and exhibition facility as well as new barns. In 1972, the impressive log Chalet was constructed as a home for the annual Oktoberfest as well as many social and entertainment functions.
Nevertheless, various studies showed that the fairgrounds were now too limited to allow significant future growth. Consequently, in 1976, a large piece of land was purchased from Mr. Norman Bower for a new exhibition grounds on the south side of the City.
The relocation to the new site was a prolonged, expensive and often controversial undertaking.
However, by 1982, the Westerner Exposition was finally settled in its new home. Several new buildings were constructed. Others, such as the Chalet, were moved from the old grounds. Some facilities, like a new grandstand, were postponed indefinitely.
The new location has proven its worth time and time again. There was space for such grand new buildings as the Centrium, the Harvest Centre, various additions to the exhibition facilities and large new parking lots.
Westerner Park has become an impressive exhibition, sports, recreational, commercial and entertainment centre. It has become a vital asset not only to the community, but to the province as a whole. The Westerner’s 125th Anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on all of this remarkable growth and progress, as the organization looks towards to a bright future.