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.

When I went to the fair this year some things had changed, such as names of rides or games and the addition of a crazy slushy stand with brain-freezing beverages.

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.

John Huse Saunders was President of the Western Fair Association (WFA) for 22 years. He devoted more than 50 years to the Western Fair and was known throughout North America as a poultry breeder.

The only instance of the fair not operating was between 1939 and 1947 during WWII when the Canadian Department of National Defence occupied the grounds.

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.

During past years the fair used all sorts of different means to celebrate it’s success and promote itself with commemorative medals, maps of London, postcards and other memorabilia.

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.

Only MisstoricalFiction would bring home Dracula from the fair! Don’t you like my prize?

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About Misstoricalfiction

Historian, researcher and writer specializing in historical fiction with a supernatural twist. By day marketing specialist in the insurance industry.

Posted on September 20, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Does anybody know the date of the fire at Western Fair ( 1963 or 1964, I think). I am trying to locate information on it but have had no luck finding anything yet!!

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