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The history of the Arthur Fall Fair goes back a very long way

by John F. Walsh

ARTHUR - I have read somewhere that the original fall fairs for Arthur were not held there, but in the Kenilworth area.

William McQuinn wrote a history of Arthur and published it in the 1950s. He said the original fairs took place on a lot approximately six acres in size and located opposite the present Senior Citizens Hall on Isabella Street. The property ran from Isabella to Eliza Street and is now part of the playground of the old public school.

Arthur Bristow forwarded to a Mr. Quinn, a report of the first fair in October 1881. It was published in a paper with the title Mount Forest Free Press, Arthur, Luther, Proton, Egremont, Normanby and Minto Advocate.

The prize list wasn’t extensive. Exhibitors were content with winning first prize. There were no buildings on the property and it was used for the field lacrosse games popular in those days.

Around 1890 The Agricultural Society purchased land in a triangle shape, bordered by Eliza, Domville and Tucker Streets. It was known as the Village Common, as many farmers retiring into the village would bring a cow or two with them.

After the cows were milked in the morning, they would be turned loose to wander to the common pasture. A Mr. McQuinn recalled seeing 30 to 40 cows pasturing there when he was a boy.

In 1896, the society started construction of the half mile oval race track, which was officially opened on Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, on June 20, 1897. It proved to be one of the best tracks in Western Ontario.

Later, a grandstand was built that held at least 600 people, along with a judges’ stand. Horses could be stabled under the grandstand.

On Halloween night in 1978, the grandstand burned to the ground. The judges’ stand was taken down in 1995 or 1996 because it had become unsafe. The early 1980s saw the last horse races held at the fair. In the early 1920s the Agricultural Society built an agricultural hall on the grounds.

Contractor John Ashwood, of Kenilworth, was hired to build the arena at a cost of $2.90 a square yard and the society was to provide the gravel and cement. Some material was salvaged from an old arena on Fredrick Street. The cost of the project, including drilling a well, was $15,000. The building served as the arena for over 50 years, until it was condemned in 1976.

The new arena complex, costing $750,000, consisting of an ice pad, lacrosse floor, two halls and meeting rooms was built across the parking lot in 1977. The Arthur Curling club purchased the old ice pad and erected a building over it.

In 1926, the Agricultural Society received a cheque from Wellington County for the use of the grounds as an emergency road. Eliza Street, from the railroad tracks down to the Frederick Street corner was often impassable due to snow. So teams and sleighs would cut through the agriculture grounds over Domville Street.

In 1958, the society turned the property over to the village  for a recreation centre, with the agreement the Agricultural Society would have the use of the grounds and facilities for a number of days each year.

Due to amalgamation, that agreement is now with the Township of Wellington North. In the 1980s, a barn was erected for use during cattle shows and in the 1990s a 100- by 200-foot ring was put in for horse shows.

Now, the Arthur Fall Fair is held in September on the weekend after Labour Day, making full use of the centre as well as the grounds.

With the arena, curling club, ball diamonds and the swimming pool on the old Village Common grounds, it is usually the most popular spot in the community.

 

September 2, 2011

 
 

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