Another Westerner Days gets under way next week (July 21). As in the past, the celebration will be jammed packed with all kinds of attractions and entertainments.
The annual exhibition has always been one of Red Deer’s premier community events. The first fair was held on October 11, 1892 when Red Deer was a fledgling hamlet with only 100 residents.
The exhibition was held at the Wilkins Block, a two-storey frame building on the north side of Ross St. The hall on the upper floor served as the exhibits room. The livestock were shown on the adjoining grounds. In the evening, a large harvest supper was held in an open area on the south side of the street. Everyone in community turned out for the event.
In the second year, the fair was held at the CPR roundhouse, as this was the most spacious building in the community. Once again, virtually everyone in Red Deer and surrounding district turned out to view the exhibits and enjoy the entertainments.
In 1902, the fair had grown to the extent that the Red Deer Agricultural Society decided to buy a large parcel of land for a permanent fairground. The site was on the southeastern edge of town, next to Waskasoo Creek. It was dubbed Alexandra Park, in honour of Queen Alexandra, King Edward VII’s wife.
In 1912, Red Deer was enjoying one of the greatest booms in its history. Consequently, the agricultural society decided to make a major improvement to the fairgrounds. Large new horse and cattle barns were built as well as a large new exhibits building.
Although the Red Deer Exhibition was set for Aug. 21 to 23, at the beginning of August the fair board decided to also build a new grandstand capable of seating up to 1,000 people. Despite the tight time frames, everything was finished when the exhibition commenced. Enormous crowds flocked to the grounds to take in the exhibits and shows.
The 1912 Fair was such a success that consideration was given to changing the name of the annual event to the Central Alberta Exhibition. While this name change was never formally adopted, the exhibition association was able to persuade the Red Deer Horticultural Society to hold its annual show in conjunction with the 1913 fair.
The good times came to a sudden halt in the summer of 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. While the federal government leased the fairgrounds for use as a military training camp, a decision was also made not to suspend the annual fair. While this meant very crowded conditions at fair time, large crowds still turned out.
The 1920s and 1930s were tough years economically. However, the annual exhibition remained a very popular summer family event for a large part of Central Alberta.
Red Deer began to grow rapidly again after the end of the Second World War. Many improvements were made to the fairgrounds and several new buildings were constructed on the site.
However, by the mid-1970s, the annual Red Deer Exhibition was hitting the upper limits of the site’s capacity. Moreover, year-round use of the fairgrounds increased enormously.
The move to a new site was embroiled in a great deal of controversy, but was successfully completed in time for the 1983 Westerner Exposition. Over the succeeding quarter century, the large amount of new space, and the impressive facilities that have been constructed on the site, have been a tremendous asset to the community. The Westerner has definitely reinforced Red Deer and district’s position as a major exhibition, commercial and tourism centre.
The annual Westerner Days will be held from July 21 to 25, 2010. Information on all of the attractions and events can be found on the Westerner website at www.westernerdays.ca