Western Fair memories – 144 years of fun!
My memories of the Western Fair in London, Ontario consist mainly of the smell of french fries, the taste of cotton candy and the sounds of the games and their attendants vying for fairgoers tickets. Favorite rides included the Gravitron, Scrambler, Haunted Mansion and The Himalaya, but NOT the Zipper! I remember candy apples and elephant ears and all manner of shows and exhibitions as well. The anticipation of winning or having a prize won for you was always a thrill, trying to outwit the ‘carnies’. I even saw Weird Al one year there in concert.
But the excitement and fun of the fair was still very much present. It made me think about it’s 144 years of history and how for decades it has brought a sense of magic and adventure to Londoners and provided a showcase for the local agricultural and artisan communities during the harvest season. Even the Hospital for the Insane had a display at the fair.
In 1868 the very first Western Fair was held in London, northeast of the current location of Victoria Park. The organizers had planned to use the Crystal Palace Barracks nearby as the main exhibition area and livestock shows took place on the parade grounds outside. In 1869, for it’s second year, the fair gained legal status through the Provincial Charter and Act of Incorporation. The fair then moved to 900 King Street further east of the downtown area. The property was purchased at that time for $65,000. This is where the fairgrounds remain today. The fair has been operating ever since, making use of the extensive grounds and racetrack.
From 1997-2004 researcher Inge Sanmyia, Ph.D. created historical long-term and short term displays for the Western Fair association and also wrote it’s history in a book entitled A Celebration of Excellence: The history of the Western Fair. At one time the Western Fair Association had a museum and archive but unfortunately, it appears to have been closed to the public a few years ago. To date, no plans seem to be under way to re-open the museum.
It’s over for this season, but I’d love to see a future fair include a permanent exhibit or area that pays tribute to its past. But this year there was no sign of any such display or historical references in public spaces, at least that I could see. Even if this has already been done before, an official display or history installation would be a great way for the Western Fair to celebrate it’s longstanding place in our community and educate Londoners of all ages. Besides, history is fun and exciting too!
Note: The historical pictures included in this post are from the public domain.