Canadian Observance of the Fall Fair

HELEN E. WILLIAMS October 1 1909

Canadian Observance of the Fall Fair

HELEN E. WILLIAMS October 1 1909

Canadian Observance of the Fall Fair

HELEN E. WILLIAMS

PREPARATION for the time-honored event—the fall fair— in rural parts, properly speaking, lasts the year round. While Februarycary storms expend themselves the inmates of scattered farmhouses pore over splendiferous spring catalogues, which certain astute ones have cumjingly launched upon a winter world. As the list grows ever longer and stubby pencils stubbier, uneasy consciences find justification in rosy previsions of yellow or green bits of pasteboard dangling suggestively from floral creations at the horticultural show in the fall. These previsions, secretly cherished, persist through the intermediate stages of growth and warfare with the cutworm and his ruthless kind, but are scouted at in those neighborly interchanges of visits to see what So-and-so has, and whether one stands any “show” oneself. However, the “potted plant,”

together with toothsome culinary confections. the “pick of the herd,” the sultan and his harem, and they of the Shropshire and Tamworth breeds— these with all their accessories find themselves bound one fine September dav for this rendezvous, so dear to the heart of country folk, the County Fair. All roads lead there ; and over them pass people of every class and aspect.

There are in Canada probably a thousand fall fairs held every year—township, county, district and provincial. including the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, which is the largest and most representative of any fair in the world that is conducted annually, and the attendance is growing rapidly toward the million mark. Nearly a century and a half ago the first exhibition of agricultural products took place in Canada. That was in 1765. and forty years later in Ontario, at Newark, the former

name for Old Niagara, there began in an unpretentious way what was destined to be one of the greatest educational institutions organized in the interests of the agricultural interests of the Dominion. The figures are exceptionally interesting. Only twenty pioneer farmers attended the first fair in 1805, on the shores of Lake Ontario, and last year in the Province of Ontario alone one million three hundred and fifty thousand people passed through the turnstiles, and all over Canada the attendance is growing each succeeding year. Certain prophets have declared that fairs will soon fall into desuetude but the records of patronage and the constantly augmented prize lists tell a different tale. Five pounds, ten shillings and sixpence were offered in premiums at the pioneer exhibition and about one hundred dollars covered the value of the exhibits. Last year there was paid out, in Ontario alone, two hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars as prize money for exhibits worth many millions.

But what lively scenes are witnessed in the wee sma’ hours of the morning, the hired help and boys convey to the fair the stock in slatted crates and high-boarded wagons, whence they are transferred to the stalls lining the entire circumference of the fair ground fence. By the time they have been fed, bedded and watered, extraneous elements have entered and are driving in tent stakes, and setting forth the various paraphernalia of their craft. Nor is this always accomplished without some wrangling. The fortune-teller, that gifted seventh daughter of the seventh daughter of euphonious name, who can with the aid of a cube of glass lay bare the mysteries of past and future, she of the flashing eye and raven locks, resents the proximity of the sword-swallower’s booth, and there is language and much fierce gesticulation before an understanding is reached. But if all is bustle and confusion without, no less busy arc

those whom the horticultural building

has from time to time received into its cool, roomy vastness. L'pon the counters, spanning the whole length of the ground floor, men are artistically arranging baskets of the year’s maturity to the best advantage. Even at this early stage a plate of “extra fine” Red Astrachans or grapes, a mammoth squash, or a strange species of the fantastic gourd family, elicits an admiring ejaculation from the hurrying passer, who has not yet been succeeded by the slow-moving, fingering, insatiable throng of sight-seers. In the corner under the stairs the White Ribboners are laying out pamphlets and basket work for sale. And as one mounts, one sees through an aperture in the partition, rows of speckless carriages, sleighs, furniture, and catches the initial strains of the piano man’s waltz, destined, later, to become but the faintest monotone in the vast strophe of pulsating life.

Upstairs, the counters are buried beneath flowers of every design and hue; triumphs of culinary art; and intricate examples of what the eye, needle, and a lamentable perserverance can accomplish in fragile, useless prettinesses. Two ladies, presumably judges, are vacillating between a pillar of asters in graduating shades, and an anchor design of beautifully arranged mixed flowers. I feign interest in a gaudy bedspread that I may hear their cogitations.

“Are you sure?" inquires one uncertainly.

“Why. yes, as sure as I can be." responds the other. “I drove through his grounds only last week—on purpose, you know-—and saw purple asters just like those.”

The first lady sighed.

“It is a pity.” she said, “this is so pretty, and that so coarse. But I suppose it would never do not to give his the prize?”

Tier companion shook her head emphatically.

“Never!" she supplemented, succinctly. “he would be raging."

1 hen they ptnncd the first prize on the asters.

But later in the afternoon I saw the closing scene of this little drama. An impulse to see once more the line of reconnoitering femininity— heads aslant, fingers fumbling, tongues criticising—impelled me to go upstairs again. A voice speaking alone by the flower stand drew me that way, and I recognized one who is great in the land.

“Ladies,” he was saying, his voice

distant with displeasure, ‘‘ladies, you have er-r-ed in judgment.”

And he proceeded to give a dissertation on the relative merits of the two designs, detrimental to the asters, brazenly flaunting the honor prize, while the judges, standing, crestfallen by, could only assent miserably conscious the while that they had not only defied their own good taste, but

offended the one of all others they were designing to please.

Squatted here and there behind their buggies, in social proximity with the unharnessed horse grazing near, are family groups munching their mid-day meal. Sallying forth to do likewise, one passes children dragging at the hand of some uncompromising elder, who is engaged in renewing acquaintance with an erstwhile school friend.

“What is that, child? Punch and Judy? Well, by and by, when—" Something in the child’s face awakens an echo from other years. Now, if “things" go awry, or hopes are slow in materializing, reason opens her stores of consolation. P.ut what hope for a missed Punch and Judy? The gods themselves can do naught. Three hundred and sixty-five days of aching void, and then—another.

A lew steps farther on a little girl is opening her first prize-packet, breathless with anticipatorv thrills that it may be a brass—a thousand pardons! gold, of course—watch. “It turns out to be a tov snake, which wriggles uncannily. If she had onlv chosen the garnet packet she had taken up first—perhaps—who knows?

More interesting, perhaps, than the

heated tents, where for “only one dime" the beholder may witness the high dive, or see the fat woman immeslied with snakes, the wild man devouring raw meat, the child marvel sporting two heads, and like unholy sights—is that spot so popular to halfgrown youth, where two rival concerns for selling cigars—a row of dolls on wire before a sheet, and ninepins ranged upon a table—are never without their votaries.

‘‘Aw, jest watch him, now! Watch him ! Watch him !" admiringly shouts the tall, black, foreign-looking proprietor of the latter, whose smile is someway even more repellent than his frown, as a newcomer nervouslv fingers the ball, and makes several false starts.

“Pret-t-ty clo-o-se." comes from the fair, youngish, sillv-looking stripling presiding over the dolls, who has a flattering way of laughing up from under his eyes. “Pret-t-t-tv clo-o-o-o-se," and something in the subtly suggestive inflection that failure next time was one of the things that simply could not be. incited manv an indifferent shot to a second and even third attempt. It is as good as a play, as the phrase is. to watch

the different competitors. There is the well-to-do young man, who first sees the affair when opposite, and turns aside with an “if there aren’t those bally dolls ! I used to make them topple over every time, when I was a kid. Wonder if—believe I’ll try.” He is always leisurely and self-assured, and calls patronizingly to him of the inky moustache to “look out, my man,” and to “look lively there,’’—and the dolls are usually “toppled." Then there is the undersized boy, with the round straw hat and Sunday suit, one never sees anywhere else, who approaches step by step, as if drawn by some potent mesmerism. ITe hangs round watching worshipfully while various loungers turn many dolls, till that inevitable moment arrives when the temptation proves too strong. And it is his turn to stand there in all his pitiful, nerfous bravado, the cynosure of all eyes he probably believes, a moment later to slink away and lose himself in the crowd, which has not witnessed his shameful failure.

But the prime good accruing from the fair is not that it affords foreigners the means of timing an honest penny, and children an easily-attained Mecca ; not that it gives racers an oc-

casion to show their mettle, and men of speculative propensities the opportunity to profit or lose according to their acumen in horseflesh; nor even that through the exhibit of produce farmers are enabled to drive many a hard bargain. The crowning good consists in the stimulus and practical benefit of the farming profession meeting and comparing notes; in sustaining interests in and propagating the advance of industrial and agricultural pursuits; and the inevitable broadening of the people's horizon, through social intercourse with those in other walks of life. Apart from the break it makes in the tedium of routine, it is of inestimable value to Brown, who is “going into" sheep, to learn that his mode of feeding the ewes is in default, and responsible for the loss of as smart a pair of twins as ever rose upon stilt-like legs, and bumped saucy, black heads together. Nor are these exchanges of hard-earned experiences limited to farmers alone. The people’s parliamentary representatives seize this opportunity for meeting so many of their constituents en masse. Any new discovery or improvement at the Experimental Farm is recounted, and questions of nation-

al import broached, while his hearers reciprocate in kind, or submit grievances for redress—should any such exist. The game of politics, indeed, accounts for the presence of many whose interest in agriculture or horticulture is superficial. A ministerial figure moving here and there among the crowd, the occupants of two motors in earnest consultation—so have laws been altered, to these have candidates owed their nomination.

Xot every one who comes, however, is actively interested in the intrinsic value of what they see, or even a claimant for parliamentary honors. A fair is sure to be amusing—or the spin over the hills, beginning to flush and glow in the autumnal light, and down between orchards, harvest and pumpkin fields, is poetry' of music through poetry of scene. But somehow — somewhere — they catch the contagion, these transients from city thoroughfares. They were

not conscious of any yearning toward nature and the simple life when they entered. They are not sure when they first felt with Charles Dudley Warner that to own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch their renewal of life,—this is . the most satisfactory thing a man can do." But some latent chord has been stirred, and the learned scion of a long line of lawyers the following spring irrefutably proves that he is of the lineage of Adam, by being mightily concerned about the crops on his new fifty-acre farm, whither he transports his family in lieu of Europe.

Thus the influence emanating from the County Fair is deep and wide spreading in its results, affecting, in short, the welfare of the whole county. A sort of thermometer it is, too, of that country's progress, improving as it improves, on the threshold, perhaps, of its greatest era.