Markham Fair (1913) A Success as Usual

By T. Rogers Gardham
(Past President 1977)

In researching and writing about happenings 100 years in the past it is often easy to lose perspective. We live in a world today where everything we do is almost instant from communication to eating.

Lives are lived a day at a time.

We can recall our successes and failings of yesterday and plan for the days to come, but on a daily living basis we need confidence in ourselves and what we can draw from family, friends and neighbours.

Within that context there is one other need “continuity of community” or the established structure of “our world”. It may be family, it may be friendships, it may be a place of worship and it can be “an organization”, girl-guides, scouts, golf club, hockey games, and theatre. There is a long list. In this case it is Markham Fair, which has been a guiding light in Markham and its former Township since 1844. These groups provide our “Continuity in Community” and in turn make us who we are.

For instance it is generally an annual happening that the Society’s Annual Meeting will be held about mid January, and it was in 1913; on Friday the 17th at the Town Hall with President Adam in the Chair. And over 60 new members were recorded. The financial statements recorded Gate Receipts at $2,305.10; Donations of Cash, Goods and Cups (trophies) $1,324.30: Grants $1,390 with other minor items included total receipts were $6184.95. Expenditures balanced with receipts with the 1911 fair’s shortfall of $589.05 covered; Prizes of $3284.25 paid; Advertizing, printing and postage of $597.55 met and a number of other expenses paid leaving a bank balance of $258.94.Assets, which included land and buildings valued at $20,000, exceeded liabilities by $17,312..94.

“The Secretary A.W. Milne reported total entries of 2571, which included Horses 248; cattle 167; sheep 117; swine; 53; poultry 503; dairy products 149; grain, vegetables, fruit and flowers 264; fine art 160 and ladies’ work 464” and 446 distributed over a variety of other exhibits.

1209271730_jason_JWC_8308The election of the Board resulted in President – James Torrance; 1st Vice Pres. – Walter Milne; 2nd Vice – George Scott. Directors: Markham Village – H. S. Adam; John Thomas; W. Groves; Wm. Mitchell; Ed. Robinson. Markham Township – Dr. J.M.Armstrong; Thomas Hargrave, F.E.Reesor; P.H.Reesor; Alex Pringle; W.H.Tran; Robt. Cunningham; Ed. Kirk; J.B. Gould; B. Canning; Jas. Gleason; Wm. Grant. Scarboro – Thos. Maxwell; Robt. Ormerod. Pickering – Geo. Tran. Stouffville – O.A.Elliott. H.J Harper was elected Hon. President.

Capt. Adam outgoing president thanked the meeting for the honours conferred on him during the past year and introduced the new president Jas. Torrance”.

Shortly afterward the new board met at the Franklin House and the new Committees were appointed as well as the Secretary A.W. Milne reelected and Treasurer Capt. Adam appointed. John Isaac was elected Hon. President for 1913 and “Jas. Torrance was appointed caretaker of the buildings and the fairgrounds were re-leased to him for a year on the same terms as before.”

There was much reported about the uses of the new Hydro Electricity particularly for farm uses in feeding and milking cattle. It was reported early in the year that A.W.Milne (Fair’s Secretary) “was busy planning and surveying for the building of a new cement dam at Markham’s Grist and Cereal Mills to be 20 feet in height, which was expected to produce in addition to very fine power will create a beautiful pond covering some 40 to 50 acres” (the purpose being that locally produced power would be much cheaper).

Plans were also in process to build a Radial Railway from Toronto to Markham with branch lines to Stouffville, Uxbridge and Port Perry, the line to Markham would come up the 6th Line (Kennedy Road today).About 100 municipal representatives attended the meeting in Toronto City Hall to hear a report presented by the Honourable Adam Beck, which effectively stated that the cost of hydro power could be greatly reduced to towns and villages in Ontario if delivered in combination with a radial railway.

During August a story appeared relating to a Lawn Bowling Trophy that was being donated by AJH Eckardt of Toronto (originally Unionville) in memory of the public service of his great grandfather Philip Eckardt, grandfather Gottlieb Eckardt and father William Eckardt for the purpose of contributing towards the encouragement of public and gentlemanly games and to be awarded annually in recognition of the winners of the annual lawn bowling tournament. The relation to the Fair is that James E. Eckardt was President of the (then) newly amalgamated boards Township of Markham Society and East York Society in 1903. The Trophy can be seen at the Markham Museum, just ask the Curator, Janet Reid.

The Markham Economist ME (there was only the one paper at the time as The Sun had closed) was published on Thursday and the Fair was held Oct.2 (Thur) & 3 (Fri) the Paper carried a report under a picture of Jas. Torrance, President: “Markham Fair Is Here splendid exhibits assured in nearly all classes Exhibitors and Caretakers Busy. As the Economist is going to press (Wednesday afternoon) the exhibits in the Main Hall and in the Rink are nearly all placed in position and the display is an exceptionally good one.” The article goes on to say that the ladies work displayed upstairs in the main hall is exceptional and that horticultural and agricultural products are “shown in abundance.” The Hydro Electric display featured labour saving devices and there was a real good show of “carriages and cutters, not forgetting several automobiles – the Ford, shown by Messrs Davison & Brownlee, and the Studebaker by Messrs. A & H Wideman.” A note later in the article says that “special provision was made for automobiles and special caretakers were available and will look after them”. (This seems to be the first example of valet parking at the Fair.)

The Oct. 9th edition of the paper featured a full report on the happenings at the Fair. “Gate receipts:$2,200; attendance both days: 14,500; entries almost 3200. Markham Fair scored another success last Thursday and Friday. Owing to overcast weather on Thursday the attendance was smaller than normal, but on Friday there were fully 12,000 on the grounds. The Strathcona competition for school children in Markham and Scarboro Townships was an interesting feature on Friday. Three school classes competed in physical drills, two from Mount Joy and one from Scarboro. On Friday afternoon Mrs. Davidson of Unionville gave an exhibition in front of the grandstand with her beautiful trick saddle horse. She made him walk, trot, pace, single step, canter, gallop and waltz at will without use of the reins; lie down, pick up a handkerchief, kneel and finally pose on a pedestal and wave the Union Jack.

Many prominent visitors were present on Friday including J. Lockie Wilson, superintendent of Fairs, Sheriff McCowan, Geo. H. Henry, MPP, Wm & Thos Graham from Claremont, Reeve Dr. Sangster of Stouffville, Reeve Nigh of Markham, Reeve Cornell of Scarboro, AJH Eckhart, Col. Gooderham of Toronto and many others.

The star attraction both days was the big ring where trotting horses raised the greatest interest. The track was fast and good times were made. The most excitement was furnished by the farmers’ trot and pace, and before it started. Some of the horses decided to enliven the proceedings by giving special stunts of their own. One of them reared before the judges’ stand and fell, then after being reharnessed gave an encore. When this one was being hitched the third time a compatriot on the other side of the track followed with another tumbling act and the spectators began to think that bronco-busting was the event and not a horse race”.

Another star attraction was “The Temple of Fame” produced by the Markham Branch of East York Women’s Institute at the Town Hall Thursday and Friday nights of the Fair where women played the roles of world “famous women in quaint and fancy dresses” to the accompaniment of piano music played by Mrs. Adam, as well as an orchestra. One of the new roles was “The 21st Century girl” who was called as an encore by ovation. Both nights were sold out performances and on Friday hundreds were turned away. Admissions totalled $213”.

A sign of the rapidly changing times appeared in a report that the Port Arthur Wagon Co. was in financial difficulty, “but that the Markham factory, we are assured has been doing a profitable business since the amalgamation. Manager Speight is confident satisfactory arrangements will be made”. Within weeks there was another report declaring the company insolvent.

As the year was coming to a close a special appeal appeared in a letter from the Chair of the Board of the Hospital for Sick Children, with some comparisons on the numbers of children cared for between the Hospital’s opening in 1875 and 1913. “One nurse, six little white beds, a few friends, a few dollars – this was the beginning. The beds have grown to 250, the dollars to thousands, the friends to hundreds. In 1875 there were 44 in-patients, 67 out-patients. In 1913: 1,648 in-patients, 25,507 out – patients; 1875 – 1 nurse; 1913 – 70 nurses. In the 38 years from its founding the hospital has treated 180, 249 children. Busy dollars are better than idle tears. The sympathy that helps is good, but the hospital needs sympathy that works. While Christmas bells are ringing for Him who ‘made the lame to walk and the blind to see’ help the Hospital to help God’s little ones”. And ‘Sick Kids’ continues to perform its wondrous treatments today for a multitude of children including “our little Jake!”

It was a year of wars, particularly in Eastern Europe, a harbinger of gathering clouds for the Great War that was soon to come. The Panama Canal was nearing completion and with it a watery bridge to the Pacific. A new US President, Woodrow Wilson, an academic and thinker had just taken his place in the White House with no idea of the bloodshed and carnage he would encounter and what the League of Nations he would champion would produce for the world.

The country and the world were on the cusp of a new era in which the coming 20 years would bring enormous change the likes of which had historically never before been encountered. Yet Markham Fair would be there to maintain Continuity of Community.

As noted the above meeting was chaired by the 1st Vice president as James Eckardt had passed away. As a “prominent citizen of East York” whose well attended funeral was held in Unionville on January 13th, 1904, considerable space was devoted to a “sketch of his life”. He had been ill for several weeks “afflicted with cancer of the stomach”, which was known for some time to be terminal. He was buried from his home and the Lutheran church with services conducted by The Reverend Samuel Stouffer. He had been the license inspector for East York for 20 years and was 66 years of age when he died. He was survived by his widow , four sons and four daughters, some living in Unionville and others the US and South Africa.

The death was also covered in the Toronto Globe where an interesting anecdote was recounted and included in the local story. Apparently the Eckardt farm had been in the family’s possession for over 100 years and when Wm. Lyon MacKenzie returned to this area, having been pardoned after the 1837 rebellion, his first visit was to Godlip Eckardt, (James’ father) “a warm personal friend”, who had also served prison time for the rebellion. During the picnic celebration that day, a strong party (of bodyguards) had been gathered by Mr. Eckardt to protect MacKenzie as a report had been received that an attempt would be made on his life. Fortunately no attempt was made, probably due to the action of Eckardt. (See also last year’s biography by Myra Chepack on James relating to unusual precautions with Godlip’s grave.)