Markham Fair ( 1912 ) Leading the Way
By T. Rogers Gardham (Past President 1977)
If you are a fan of the upstairs – downstairs exploits at Downton Abbey or are planning to see the 3D remake of the James Cameron movie “Titanic” then you will have some idea of what was happening in the lives of the people in the Village of Markham in 1912. The only difference will be that you are looking back at history and know how everything turned out. For what is now your history was their present and they were dealing with many new inventions: the telephone, electric lights and the motor car to mention only three.
As you read along think of yourself coping with the everyday challenges of your life while the familiar ways of doing things are disappearing. You are learning to use new devices while reading about new discoveries and controversies (remember the first time you used a computer, email, a cell phone). In 1912 the new inventions and ideas came at a slower pace, but they were so new and unusual to many it seemed a magical, yet scary time.
The Markham Agricultural Society’s annual meeting as reported in the Markham Economist (ME) was held at the town hall at 2 PM on Wednesday Jan.24, 1912 with “about two hundred present”. Following the call to order by the 1911 President Ormerod, the minutes were read and adopted and J.B Gould, Chair of the Finance committee, presented the financial report which showed total Income from various sources as $4,379, which included Fair gate receipts of $588 and a bank overdraft of $589 (the 1911 Fair was virtually rained out) which covered expenditures of $4379. Total assets were $21, 290, mainly the value of buildings and land, with liabilities of $1,794 which included the mortgage of $1,010.
The meeting continued with the election of officers with Capt. H.S Adam elected President (winning over former president Ormerod who apparently had been nominated to stand for another term, possibly because of the terrible 1911 Fair weather). James Torrance was elected 1St Vice Pres and Walter Milne 2nd Vice Pres. Directors were elected from Markham Village: W.J Harper, Ed. Robinson, John Isaac, and John Thomas. From Markham Township: J.M Armstrong, Ed Kirk, Thos. Hargrave, P. H. Reesor, F.E Reesor, W.C. Ormerod, Alex Pringle, J.B. Gould, Robt Canning, R.J. Cunningham and Wm.Grant. Scarboro Township: G. Scott, T. Maxwell, R.B. Ormerod. Stouffville: O.A. Elliott.
The new President Adam took the chair and the meeting was adjourned to the Tremont House to conduct the business of the new Board. With Adam in the chair it was decided to hold the 1912 Fair on Oct. 2, 3 and 4. It was duly moved by Messrs. Harper and Gould that Capt. Adam be reappointed Treasurer at an honourarium of $50. J.B. Gould and Secretary Milne were appointed representatives to the fairs’ association.
In its own innovative way the 1912 Fair would have a special theme day on Thursday to improve attendance on the second day of the Fair. Capt. Adam had commented following the annual meeting about holding an “old boys reunion day” and at a meeting of the Board held at the Franklin House on Monday February the 5th a motion was passed and committees formed to hold such a reunion, which was promoted weekly thereafter in both papers.
In the early planning Capt. Adam, who was obviously well connected in various communities as manager of the Standard Bank and Treasurer of the Village, had secured the “hearty” cooperation of “Rev. Braithwaite of Toronto, president of Markham High School’s Old Boy’s Association” and his predecessor Wm. Douglas.
There is no doubt the “Big” story of the year was the sinking of the Titanic and ME devoted large portions of two pages, but oddly enough not the front page, to it. There were reports of people lost and recovered at sea as well as the heroic efforts by the rescuing ship Carpathia which happened to be relatively near the scene (about 58 miles away). At a hearing the Carpathia’s Captain was asked how he felt about the wireless message received from the Titanic “Overcome by emotion he replied ‘Prudential’, our wireless operator was not on duty and as he prepared to retire for bed he still had the (wireless) apparatus in his ear; a few minutes later and he would have been in bed and we would never have known.” Another account of how the Captain of the Titanic died was also quoted from a passenger who had jumped into the ocean “I saw Capt. Smith while I was in the water. He was standing on the deck all alone. Once he was swept down by a wave, but managed to get to his feet. Then, as the boat sank, he again was knocked down by a wave and this time disappeared from view.”
There were also many reports of farm sales and “good” per acre prices recorded. One 90 acre farm sold by Daniel Smith to the Toronto Eastern Land Company located “at the head of Pape Ave. from Don Mills Road to the River Don for the CNR to build a high level bridge over the Don sold for $405,000 or $4500 an acre.” Also J.H. Prentice had a notice in the Sept 12th ME that he had sold his Massey Harris dealership and would be in auctioneering full time. The automobile was also becoming popular with the public. Ads and notes appeared regularly in the papers regarding the benefits of owning a Ford or Buick; in fact parking spots were now available at the fair grounds.
The ME of Oct.10, 1912 summed up the success of the 1912 Markham Fair in three words “ALL RECORDS BROKEN”. Gate receipts – $2,304.20; Attendance (est.) 16,000; Entries nearly – 3,500. And the story which followed truly staggers the imagination: “The gods favoured Markham Fair with delightful weather during the three whole days, clear, warm and sunshiny and the crowds both Thursday and Friday were the largest ever. Thursday was Markham Village and Township reunion Day and many old boys and girls forgathered here who had not seen the old place for many a year. They were here from Vancouver B.C. ; from Los Angeles; from Chicago; from Cleveland, Ohio; from Regina; from pretty nearly all over the continent, while Toronto sent many hundreds. In the afternoon they gathered in the grandstand or in the ring in front and took an active interest, either as participants or spectators, in the sports. In the evening they attended the concert and “At HOME” in the town hall, and listened to a happy address by the chairman, Mr. Wm. Douglas of Toronto, and enjoyed a short but good musical programme, and the young people, and many of the older ones, too stayed for the very pleasant dance for which Frafick’s orchestra provided charming music.
Outside the Old Boys’ Re Union the chief attractions were the really good exhibits in the hall, the Hydro -Electric exhibit, the poultry exhibit and the unique exhibition given in front of the grand stand by Mrs. G. A. M. Davison with her splendidly trained Kentucky bred horse.
Friday was another beautiful day and how the crowds did pour into Markham. From nine o’clock when the first train arrived until half-past two in the afternoon regular and special trains kept arriving at short intervals and poured forth an almost steady stream from the G.T.R. station to the grounds. The 12.50 special from Toronto brought sixteen crowded coaches. Every road leading to Markham was a procession of teams and autos.
On the grounds the scene was an animated one. The grand stand was packed and the people stood six and seven deep around the big ring watching the trotting races which were the best ever seen here.
Dr. Hassard’s magnificent exhibit of stallions – Clydesdale, Percheron, Hackney, Standard-bred and Pony was a feature of the show that added greatly to an all-round exhibit of horses. There was a grand show of cattle, especially in the dairy breeds, and an excellent show of sheep, swine and poultry and the midway was always crowded.
The exhibit in the main hall was good, there being over 1000 entries alone in ladies work. One of the principal attractions in the main hall was the fine exhibits of cakes, pastry, canned fruits, etc, of the Markham branch of the E.Y.W.I. It was a splendid show all round.
Some editorial notes were also included: A full carload of bananas and grapes was disposed of at one of the stands.
What is needed and needed the worst way is a new grandstand with seating capacity of at least 3,000. It should be built next summer and owned and controlled by the society.
Over 1500 people dined at the Methodist church. The receipts were over $540.
Nearly 3000 donors, exhibitors, judges and preeminent visitors were entertained at the lunch room.
The best number on the Old Boy’s concert program was the reading of’ Miss Ethel Cocking, “How the Race was Won.” Miss Cocking is a grand daughter of the late Dr. Crowle, the first head master of Markham High School, and to whom Markham is largely indebted for its educational standing.
A slick gang of pickpockets were at work on the grounds on Thursday and got away with close on to $500. Director R. J. Cunningham lost $18; S. Lunau of Unionville, $85; John Gibson of Toronto, $180; R. A. Stiver of Unionville, $18; R. Wright $20 and many others lesser amounts. The gang suspected was composed of two men and a girl, all strangers.
Throughout the year there were reports of new sidewalks (wooden) being built in the Village and the new macadam roads were being criticized for the lack of wearing qualities in heavy traffic areas in the township and surrounding communities (Scarboro and Unionville).
Towards year end there was much publicity regarding the new Hydro-Electric capabilities for both farm use and local homes and businesses. Two community leaders in this regard were Fair directors Capt. Adam and Ward Milne. Both were conducting public meetings and Milne supported the viability of damming the Rouge River to supply the Village, indicating that a 15 ft. high dam had once been used but had been replaced by an engine costing extensively more. Of great concern were the provincial engineering estimates for the height of the dam, which would flood about 175 acres. Mr. Milne through a piece of expert writing, which appeared in the ME, demolished all the arguments, besides he noted, locally generated electricity would be reduced in price for both the local farmers and the Village population.
Looking back at the exploits of Markham Fair and its Board of Directors it soon becomes apparent that the leadership has a definite desire to change with the times, while holding tight to proven practices of the past, maybe in an effort to maintain some composure. In attempting to assess the reasons for the longevity and success of Markham Fair the word innovation needs to be at the forefront. Recovering from a disastrous 1911 virtual rainout the board and its members looked the future straight in the face and produced a new record (something the farm community does annually). 1912 was truly an eventful year for the Village of Markham and surrounding areas. Definitely it was a time of major change for everyone, which our forebears faced with innovation and hope.
Our (Myra and Rogers) sincere thanks to Janet Reid and the staff at Markham Museum, which is now in its new and improved home. Without their support and irreplaceable archives of Markham and surrounding communities, these glimpses of the early Fairs, and the Fair people who freely gave of their time and organizing talent, would not be possible. How fortunate we are to have such dedicated and personally interested people. Take the time to go back in time; pay a visit to the Markham Museum; and take the kids!