October 16, 2013

Fair always bigger and better

As published in The Erin Advocate

“Erin Fall Fair, which is usually looked upon in this vicinity as the event of the season, was held on Thursday and Friday last. The exhibits in every department of the Show were excellent, the total number of entries far exceeding anything in the past.”

That’s a front-page snippet from the Erin Advocate a century ago, showing the newspaper’s support for the event. It is no mean feat to produce a fair that is bigger and better than all those that have gone before.

In my spare time, I like to read the 1913 issues of The Erin Advocate, to see what was going in the days when horses still pulled buggies and cutters, farming drove the economy and no one dared to print bawdy sayings on T-shirts.
A picture postcard of George Wheeler, with his son Norman on his knee and his other son Albert driving, from the booklet Erin Fall Fair...since 1850, by June Switzer, published in 2000. Postcards were a popular item in fairs in the early 1900s. The booklet is available at the Erin library.
By then, the fair already had quite a history. Mr. G. Awrey of Elora, 85, attended for the 60th consecutive year in 1913. Are there any today who can claim a similar record?

The fair that year had about 2,660 entries. There was an “immense” show of homemade butter, including 50 lb firkins (casks), and over 30 entries vying in the 5 lb category.

The Erin Advocate’s Prize for the Largest Pumpkin Pie was won for the third time by Mrs. J. Small. The editor said it was largest pie he had ever seen – 18 inches across, and the office “devil” said, “It was a peach”.

The large classes of light and heavy horses “would be hard to beat anywhere”, and included some “nobby turnouts”. (Nobby is a complimentary adjective, of Scottish origin, meaning high class and stylish.)

“We had almost forgotten to mention the show of eggs in the Hall, which were the most uniform in size that we have ever seen.”

Of course, a large gathering can attract some unwelcome guests, including a professional pickpocket who stole large sums from several patrons. “The afternoon being wet, everybody crowded into the Hall, which gave the light-fingered gent a grand opportunity to get busy.”

Also, some exhibits didn’t make it back to their owners. “The parties who carried off a pair of dressed ducks and ten pounds of butter will please settle for the same and avoid further trouble.”

Entertainment was provided by the Laurie brothers performing Scotch songs and dances, and by the Fergus Band, said to have given general satisfaction. “The members of the Band are all a gentlemanly lot, and did not stint their music.”

The Advocate printed the names of a hundred or so visitors and those with whom they stayed. They also listed all the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Prize Winners’ names, starting with R. McEnery with the top brood mare, and ending a full page of type later with the photography award going to G.A. Matthews.

The dimensions of the newspaper in those days was 14.5 inches wide and 20.75 inches deep, more than double today’s page size. A one year subscription to the Advocate was just one dollar, but not everyone was paying: “If you are owing one, would you without further notice forward it to us. We would like to be able to buy about three tons of coal this winter.”

E. Barbour had the fattest sheep at the fair and Jas. Milloy had the best Berkshire Boar. Township pupils in Form IV (Grades 7-8) competed in the Penmanship Classes, with W.J. Russell producing the best copy of the Lord’s Prayer.

And speaking of old-style education, here’s a note received by a teacher in the region: “Dear Mis. You writ me about whippin Sammy. I give you permission to beet him up any time he wont learn his lesson. He is jest like his father and you hev to beet him with a club to lern him enything. Pound nolege into him. Don’t pay no attention to what his father says. I will handle him.”

In the week prior to the fair, a challenge had gone out to see if anyone could beat   Alex McArthur’s potato, which was 13.5 inches by 17 inches and weighed 2 lb 5 oz. Township Treasurer W. Wheeler came in with the winner, at 3 lb.

And of course there was plenty to eat. Mr. Bush, proprietor at the Globe Hotel across the street, opened up an extra dining hall upstairs, while Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Leitch served meals to many.

“The ladies of All Saints church availed themselves of Mr. Island’s large store [pianos, stoves and Singer sewing machines] where excellent meals were served. There was no need of any person going hungry, for there was an abundance for all.”