By T. Rogers Gardham (Past President 1977)
“It?s just a little street, where old friends meet” is the opening line of a golden oldie, but it could just as easily describe a walk around Markham Fairgrounds.
When the directors of The Markham and East York Agricultural Society, the private corporate body which owns and operates Markham Fair, were planning the new fairgrounds in the mid 1970s, before moving to its present location at McCowan and Elgin Mills Roads, there was an intent to create a rural village atmosphere around the large exhibit buildings, the barns, the entertainment areas, and the show rings connecting them together with a street grid.
Since the streets were part of an agricultural fairground it was also agreed the street names should depict animals commonly found on a farm; in the case of poultry: “Wyandotte Place”; for cattle: “Holstein Avenue” and “Aberdeen Angus Blvd” and so on. However, when you visit the Fair now you will stroll along „Avenue of the Horses? or visit an attraction with your friends on “Chicken Run Lane” or “Goat Street”.
But it’s not really the street names that are important, it?s the fact they?re the place where old friends meet. Yes, old friends from the Markham area, and from far beyond, have been meeting at Markham Fair for many generations; for a fair is a gathering place for communities and community activities.
As far back as 1872 it was reported that some 2000 spectators watched the judging of the baby show. And over100 years ago when the newly merged Markham Village and Mount Joy with a combined population of 1000; Markham Fair welcomed some 15,000 visitors. They came by train from Toronto and filled the roads leading into the Village with horse drawn “rigs” and wagons to meet and compete at the Fair. The reports state that at Fair time in those days it was almost impossible to get a meal at the hotels because of the crowds.
Each year a fair brings a revival in the life of its communities, offering a host of opportunities for large numbers of individuals and a revitalization of community service groups to participate in an array of activities. For it is not only the agriculture and the farming community that is on parade it is also the place where the creative and artistic part of our lives are provided with a new canvas for personal expression.
It is a mere trifle whether the carrots, the pumpkin or the sunflowers were grown on a 500 acre farm or the back yard of a 50 foot subdivision lot; all are acceptable at the Fair.
There is also a mixing of the traditional with the contemporary, the old ways and the new. Many of the preserves, the cakes, the quilts and the needlepoint may have just been completed in time for the Fair, but exhibitors have been displaying their creativity in this way at Markham Fair for 150 years and more, and each in her or his own way have shared the pleasure of competing.
But all this does not just happen it takes months of planning year-round by in excess of sixty Fair committees, composed of several hundred volunteers, planning and establishing the procedures, organizing the classifications for exhibitor competitions, and preparing the facilities from accommodating the midway shows and rides, to the arranging exhibit displays in the buildings to the configuring of parking areas for easy entrance and exit at the annual Fair.
If you examine the membership of these various Fair committees you will identify a variety knowledgeable, experienced and genial people many of whom will be your neighbours, local business people, farmers, trades people, artists, service club workers who are supporters of their respective communities. It is a result of this community involvement that adds a much wider dimension to the Fair. For here the service clubs, the churches, the fraternal groups, the minor hockey, baseball and soccer groups all raise funds, totaling several tens of thousands of dollars in aggregate to carry out their important community services.
This is a much larger and broader community than the one in 1872 and has grown in complexity and diversity. In many ways it has become a community where the computer meets the combine. Yet the Fair is still a meeting place where friends enjoy a good visit, marvel at the crafts, find a new kitchen gadget, enjoy a bacon-on-a-bun, savour beer nuts and cotton-candy, and take away memories that will last a lifetime. The fact is the Fair is without doubt the best meeting place anywhere.
See you at the Fair Sept. 29, 30 Oct.1 and 2, 2011.