The Red Deer Fair of 1944

Another Westerner Exposition is fast approaching.

Once again, the Westerner board, volunteers and staff have worked very hard to make sure that there are lots of attractions and great entertainment at this year’s show.

It is also interesting to reflect back 70 years to the annual Red Deer Exhibition in 1944.

There were a number of marked differences between the fair in those days and the exposition staged today. For example, the fair did not open with a parade. The event lasted only three days, and was held in August, not in July. However, the focus was still on providing as much entertainment to the community as possible.

The nation was still in awe of the tremendous success of the Canadians and other Allied Nations in the D-Day landings in early June.

While there was still heavy fighting as the Canadians and Allies pushed their way across Normandy in France, there was confidence that the tide had definitely turned and the War would soon be won. Hence, a decision was made to dub the 1944 Exhibition as the ‘Victory Year Fair’.

As would be expected, the military was given a prominent role in the event.

Colonel J.J. Burton-Willison, the commanding officer of the A-20 Army Camp, was given the honours of officially opening the Fair.

The A-20 Camp Band, which had been built-up by the music-loving Colonel into one of the best military bands in the country, provided numerous concerts and musical interludes throughout the three-day fair.

Mickey the Beaver, the famous pet beaver who belonged the Doris Forbes and her family, was put on display. All the money paid to see the unique pet was given to the Home Comforts Fund, which sent care parcels to the local men and women who were serving overseas.

Groups such as the 13 Field Regiment Women’s Auxiliary and the 92 Ladies Auxiliary also ran food booths, with the profits going to support those on active service.

Another special exhibit was organized by the Red Deer local of the Red Cross. The displays helped to educate the public on all the activities undertaken by the Red Cross in support of the war effort. Included were the contents of the Prisoner of War packages which were being sent to the local P.O.W.’s being held in Germany, occupied Europe and the Japanese camps in the Far East.

Other aspects of the Exhibition were given special support. The Eaton’s Company gave a large donation towards activities for children, including a three-day Boys’ Camp which provided instruction, recreation and entertainment to children from the rural areas around Red Deer.

The Shorthorn Association agreed to hold a special show and field day as part of the Exhibition. This helped provide a big boost to the annual livestock shows and competitions, which had been lagging in the earlier part of the War.

A problem for the grandstand show was a difficulty in attracting good entertainers with the restrictions and costs of wartime travel, even in North America. Consequently, the Fair Board decided to re-introduce chuck wagon races as part of the evenings’ entertainments. There had been chuck wagon races at the Red Deer Fair in the mid-1920s, but these had to be dropped due to financial difficulties at that time.

The chuck wagon races proved to be a great hit, and became an annual event at the Exhibition for every year afterwards. Over all, the Victory Year Fair was a smashing success.

The weather was excellent.

A record 10,000 people turned out for the second day of the events. This number is particularly impressive when one remembers that the population of the City was around 5,000, with a few thousand more living in the surrounding rural areas. In other words, just about everyone in Red Deer and surrounding districts turned out for the big show and all of its many attractions and entertainments.