A look at the beginnings of the local fair

This year marks an important milestone in the history of the annual Westerner Days Exposition, one of our community’s most important summer events.

It’s the 125th anniversary of the formation of the Red Deer Agricultural Society, the organizers of the first fairs. This year’s Westerner Days are also the 125th annual fair and exhibition.

The townsite of Red Deer came into existence in 1891 with the construction of the Calgary-Edmonton Railway.

A push soon followed to create an agricultural society which would promote Red Deer and all its wonderful attributes to prospective settlers.

There was an enthusiastic response to the idea of creating such an organization. More than 50 people, out of a community of little more than 150 residents, paid $1 for a membership.

At the time, $1 would have represented the better part of an average day’s salary.

The founding meeting was held on Oct. 31st (Halloween), 1891.

The first president was Rev. Leonard Gaetz, on whose farm the townsite of Red Deer had been established. First vice-president was Robert Wood of the Antler Hill district to the south. The second vice-president was Smythe Parker of the Blindman (Blackfalds) district to the north. The secretary-treasurer was John Jost Gaetz, who had homesteaded on the east side of the new hamlet.

The new Agricultural Society then went to work to organize a fall fair.

One of the Society’s directors, Joseph Cole, had been active with the Roseneath Fair in Ontario. Hence, an old prize list from that community was used as the template for the prize list of the first Red Deer Fair.

Arrangements were made to hold the fair at the two-storey Wilkins Block on the north side of Ross Street, a short distance west of Gaetz Avenue. The upper floor was to serve as an exhibit hall. The vacant lots around the building were to be used for the showing of livestock.

The fair was held on Tuesday, Oct. 11th, 1892.

The weather was perfect for the event. Produce and other exhibits began to flood in the day before the show. The organizers began to worry that the 30 by 40 ft. (nine by 12m) hall might not be big enough for all the entries.

The grain bench on the east wall was packed with sacks of wheat, rye, peas, barley and oats. Sheaves of grain were also mounted on a stand above the bench.

The tables on the west wall were covered in all kinds of garden and field vegetables. Tables along the centre of the room were full of entries of bread, butter, cheese, preserves, jams and native fruit wines as well as some flowering plants.

A special set of tables were devoted to entries from the local homemakers.

These included crochet, cotton stockings, crewel work, fancy cushions, counterpane, quilts, rugs and mats. Space was provided for children’s handicrafts and other work. The entries included hand-drawn maps of North America.

Space was also provided for the local merchants and business people. Their exhibits included locally-made harnesses, saddles and bridles. Some storeowners provided samples of some of their best wares.

The livestock exhibits outside included all kinds of horses, as well as Shorthorn and grade cattle and a few oxen. There were also chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and Berkshire hogs.

In the evening, a large ‘harvest home’ supper was served on tables and benches behind the Brumpton Store on the south side of Ross Street.

The supper was followed by a musical presentation by the local Methodist congregation. There were also instrumental numbers by local musicians, some humorous ‘Scotch’ readings and enthusiastic singing of popular songs by all those assembled.

The first Red Deer Fair in 1892 was deemed to be such an enormous success that a fair and exhibition has been held ever since.

The locations of those fairs and exhibitions have changed over the years, but the enjoyment of such a broad-based community event has never faltered.