Markham Fair 1917
That was a year that was!

By T. Rogers Gardham (Past President 1977)

In times of great upheaval such as wars and natural disasters communities and their people need activities on which to focus their hope to help them through trauma and resulting grieving. These activities include their churches, group rallies to help them share in the conflict (to do her/his share), and provide support for others.The Great War (1914-18) was such a time for Markham Fair which provided such community focus on entertainment, support for front line troops with “goodies from home” and returning veterans (care and activities), and support for farming through improved methods and increased production. It is also important to note that the members of the Agricultural Society were Community leaders in their respective areas and were of great support to their community neighbours in times of sorrow and need.

The annual meeting of the Society was held Wednesday January 10th, 1917 at 1PM at the Town Hall. In keeping with the times, “Capt. Pickup of the 220 Battalion received permission to speak for ten minutes and made an earnest appeal for 100 more recruits from York County; stating that if this number were forthcoming the 220th would go overseas as a unit, and if not would go in drafts. He asked the directors and members to give active assistance in seeking young men who ought to enlist.”

Treasurer Gould then provided the financial report: Receipts: $20,133.81 which included Gate Receipts: $2288.70 and two large items Discounts: $10,449.96 and Insurance:$4,375.(which may have pertained to the new building recently constructed.) Under Expenditures which balanced with income were two large items again relating to the new building, Insurance, Discount, and Interest: $8433.02; Building Contract: $6,000. Prizes Paid: $2,428.55.

Assets totalling $19,338.77, including Grounds and Buildings: $18,500, and a bank balance of $438.37, exceeded Liabilities totaling $6,999.02, which included Bank Loans: $4000 and the Building Contract: $2,500 by $12,339.35.

The election of new officers and directors followed the financial report. Honourary Presidents: – J.F. Davison, A. J. H. Eckardt, R. Smith and W.J. Harper. President: – Thomas Hargrave, 1st. Vice: – R.J. Cunningham, 2nd Vice: – Peter H. Reesor. Directors: Pickering Township: – Walter Milne and George Tran; Markham Township: – Dr. J. M. Armstrong, Jas. Gleason, John H. Gowland, J. I. Balsdon, Alex. Pingle, F. E. N. Reesor, J.B. Gould, Ed Kirk, T.O. Lowry, and J. Couperthwaite; Markham Village: – Jas. Torrance, Jas. Malcolm, D.E. Jones, R.J. Reesor and Alex. Douglas. Following the election there was a presentation regarding the new building which was opened by Smith and Davidson. Apparently the contractor John Miller had bid too low and had lost some $4,000 to $5,000 and was pleading with the Society to make good his losses. And apparently some directors had told him the Society would not see him stuck.

Agriculture building 1917 Markham Fair

Agriculture building 1917 Markham Fair

Mr. Gould, the Treasurer, on behalf of the Building Committee replied he was sure that the Society was sorry for Mr. Miller’s loss, but could not see how it could be responsible morally or otherwise. The Society had not misled Mr. Miller in any shape or form. He had contracted for the building for $8500 and all the specifications had been checked by his architect. The building was to be completed by Sept.1st, but the Society had not held Miller to the clause. When December came and the building was unfinished the Society took over the building to finish it from the $2500 held back an any left over would go to the Court. He concluded that the Trustees indicated that the Society could not be held accountable for Mr. Miller’s debts relating to building supplies and he should be honest enough to pay for all the materials for which he had contracted. The issue continued throughout the year. The newly elected Board met at the Tremont House after adjournment of the meeting to appoint the Secretary, Treasurer and standing Committees.

The Fair’s new building was also a skating and curling rink during the winter months and an announcement appeared in the Economist and Sun (MES) on January 4th : “Markham’s New Rink the mammoth new brick Agricultural Hall on the fair grounds will be opened formally with a skating carnival on Wednesday Jan.10th. The rink is the largest and most modern in York County and has an ice surface of 220 by 74 feet, without pillar or post, brightly lighted by six 500 candle powered nitro gas filled electric lamps, and has commodious rest rooms and other conveniences. The rink will be operated this season under management of the grounds committee of the Agricultural Society. Skating every Tuesday and Saturday nights and curling on Wednesday and Friday afternoon and evenings”.

With regard to war effects on the community the following poignant letter was published in MES under the title “Gone to France”. Mrs. David Sauder of Mount Joy on Saturday received a letter from her son Peter who went overseas last fall. He writes from England Dec.25th, 1916: Dear Mother, Just a few lines tonight as I am on the next draft to France, due to leave any minute. I received your welcome letter a few days ago, also one from B.C. I will be in France when you get this and if it should be that I do not come back you will find that I have made a will leaving all my money and clothes to you. I wish you to give my gold watch to David Allen. Divide the money among all my nephews and nieces and give something to all brothers and sisters. But I think your prayers will bring me home again. By the reports the war may be over before I get to the trenches. Well I must quit as I have all my brass to polish and boots to grease. Will send my address as soon as I get to France. By, By Your Bon Ber, Swack.

The Fair was held Wed. Thur. and Fri. Oct.3, 4, 5 and according to MES: “Despite frequent heavy showers on all three days Markham Fair scored another success this year with record exhibits for poultry and flowers. Gate receipts about $1,600; Rain stops speeding contests (races) on Friday.” Apparently there was a reduction in entries due to the late season and lack of help; because of the rain all day Wednesday many livestock entries refused to show. The East York Women’s Institute raised $200 for the Red Cross and put on shows in the Town Hall raising another $192. The Markham Patriotic Club sold patriotic sheet music raising $125. There were Heavy Horse Shows, Ponies, and Carriage, “High Steppers”, also Cavalry saddle horses. As well there were Cattle, with the only entry in Jerseys being Fred Baggs of Unionville, Sheep, Swine, and Poultry of which the veteran judge Trew from Peterboro said: “The show of poultry was the largest and best ever held in Markham, with quality to burn and with all the shows I have judged at this season the poultry exhibit here is the best.”

The Hall exhibits were the best in years including flowers, preserves, ladies Fancy and Domestic Work classes rivaled anything displayed at the CNE. A Ford car converted into a tractor drawing a double furrow plow was on display by the Ford dealer in Unionville and worked well. The Midway was the biggest ever and Constables Brodie, McMullen and Hedson were sent out by the Fairs’ Dept. to watch out for fakirs and to ensure no immoral exhibitions were evident. On Friday afternoon five fakirs plying gambling devices were arrested and taken to the Magistrate in Toronto where each was fined $25.

Returning to the financial issues surrounding the new Fair building significant problems arose which made financial arrangements cumbersome beyond what the Society Treasurer anticipated at the Annual Meeting. The contractor Miller was apparently forced into an Assignment to Creditors (bankruptcy) which meant a Trustee was appointed and court hearings held to approve who should receive what payments from the Holdback were established. The court hearing over five days in April resulted in the Referee finding the Society responsible for all claims totalling $3,500 with building costing $13,000 if no settlement is reached he would reconvene proceedings and provide a judgement on April 27th. A meeting of the Board and its solicitor indicated that it had a valid contract with Millar and this should satisfy the case. If the result on the 27th was different the Solicitor should appeal.

The judgement of the court was that the only legal contract signed was the first contract, many changes were made throughout construction without the agreement of the suppliers, and the building had been taken from the contractor illegally with a value at the time of $11,945, without allowing any profit for the contractor. The Society had paid $6000 and after deducting this amount there was $5945 available. Liens amounted to $3807 and court costs for which the Society was responsible. The Society requested an appeal. A special meeting of the Board which was reported in the paper (MES) in November that all the directors but two signed collateral notes for $60 to protect a loan from the Standard Bank which would provide sufficient funds to pay all expenses including prizes.

This concludes the 1917 Fair saga. Readers will have to wait for the1918 report to see how everything turns out, but we do know that the Fair continued at the junction of Hwys. #7 & 8 until 1977 and is still a going concern at its new location at McCowan & Elgin Mills Avenue which should reduce some anxiety,

Once again we are grateful for the support of the people at Markham Museum for providing information and personal expertise. Should readers want an adventure into the past of this great City the Museum will intrigue YOU!

PS.

Due to space limitations some international major traumatic events that would have had significant effect on the Village people cannot be fully explored in this report: The Halifax Explosion on Dec.6th in Nova Scotia, which it is still argued was Sabotage, the background may be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halifax_Explosion. Also Bolshevism (Communism) replaced the Empire of the Czars in Russia in 1917 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Revolution. This created a world –wide upset in the international War effort, which remains significant today.

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