A look back at the Red Deer’s fair of 1913

Westerner Exposition starts today (July 17) with the traditional grand parade.

There will be many entries in that parade celebrating the fact that this year is also the City of Red Deer’s centennial of incorporation. It is therefore very interesting to reflect back 100 years to the Red Deer Fair of 1913.

Many people felt that the Fair of 1912 had literally been the ‘best fair ever.’

There had been a massive upgrade of the fairgrounds and facilities. Three acres of land had been added on the west side of Alexandra Park (the name for the fairgrounds at the time). This provided space for new stables and a midway.

A large grandstand was constructed. Two large livestock barns were also erected as well as a large new exhibits building. Thousands of dollars were also spent on repairs to the existing buildings and on general improvements to the site.

The fair itself was a roaring success. Attendance soared to more than 5,000, almost twice the population of Red Deer at the time.

A record 730 entries competed for the prize money in the livestock shows and special exhibits. The grandstand was packed during the long parade of prize-winning cattle and horses and for the various entertainments.

The expanded midway was a roaring success.

The Red Deer Agricultural Society was determined to make the 1913 Fair as good, or even better, than the one staged in 1912. However, as the year progressed, it was obvious that the local economy was rapidly slipping into recession.

As money got tighter, City council cut the Agricultural Society’s grant by more than one-third. The capital improvements grant was cut to a mere $500.

Consequently, the 1913 phase of the fairgrounds upgrades were largely cancelled.

The Agricultural Society still made all the improvements it felt it could afford. The old grandstand was relocated to the new stock-judging ring. The old exhibits building, which had been constructed in 1904, was moved to the west gate. The racetrack was widened to the standard 60 ft. (18.3m). Three tents were rented from the Calgary Exhibition for additional livestock accommodations.

The Red Deer Horticultural Society, which had been holding an annual flower and vegetable show since 1911, was invited to hold its 1913 show in conjunction with the fair.

The Western Vaudeville Association was hired to provide the grandstand entertainments. Contracts were also signed with the Rex Comedy Circus and the Modelsky Troupe’s Imperial Russian Dancers.

Despite the recession, the Fair’s organizers were rewarded with another blockbuster exhibition.

Attendance soared to nearly 8,000, almost three times the total population of the City. Livestock exhibitors showed up from all across Canada.

The total number of entries in the shows and competitions were double the number registered in 1912.

An enthusiastic Provincial Superintendent of Fairs, C.E. Lewis, declared that the 1913 Red Deer Fair was bettered only by the exhibitions in Alberta’s two largest cities, Calgary and Edmonton.

There were some glitches. Several local exhibitors complained about unfair competition from “outside professionals.” One horse race had to be cancelled when one of the jockeys went missing. Nevertheless, no one cared about these problems. Red Deer had once again been able to stage ‘The Best Fair Ever’.

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