Markham Fair 1918
WWI Ends

but the Fair Carries On

By T. Rogers Gardham (Past President 1977)

The war that began in 1914 continued to drag on with extensive losses of life suffered on both sides wreaking hardship on all parts of Canada, but was particularly noticeable in the smaller rural communities which were under heavy demands for growing crops while also being required to provide young fighting men. Despite the Americans entry into the War in 1915, hostilities had increased.

As a result attitudes toward Americans had changed in these years. A Toronto paper charged that The Star advocated closer trade relations with the U.S. The column writer stated: “who today is not in favour of closer trade relations with our friends across the line. Were it not for the generosity and self-denial of the U.S.in letting coal come into Canada many of us might have been frozen to death last winter, and certainly most of our factories would have shut down. Economic and commercial relations were never closer than they are today. The habits and the ideals are the same and both stand for freedom. British and American friendship has now been cemented in the blood of young manhood of both nations in France so freely shed for the cause of liberty”.

Regular readers of this column will also recall that the Markham Agricultural Society was required to take on additional costs for its new building in 1917 as a result of the builder’s bankruptcy which required it to assume unpaid construction costs as awarded by a judge. The new building was located on the fairgrounds at the juncture of Hwys 7&48 and included a skating rink in winter and a gathering area for the community.

The Society’s Annual General Meeting was held on Saturday Jan.19, 1918 in the Council Chambers, with a comparatively small number of members present, and when President Hargrave called the meeting to order it was found that the Society’s books had not been returned by the solicitor and the minutes of the last AGM could not be confirmed. A motion was passed for the new President to call a special meeting to do so at a later date.

Mr. Gould, Treasurer presented the financial statements but was unable to give the exact cost of the new building. He said the Society’s solicitors Messrs. Douglas and Gibson had been paid $700 to cover the lawsuit against the building contract and that the Society had arranged a $6500 loan from Mr. Silverthorn supported by a mortgage over lands and buildings and a personal guarantee by five directors of which he was one. The directors had also given personal security for a bank loan of $1500 to ensure payment of Fair prizes.

Agriculture building 1917 Markham Fair

Agriculture building 1917 Markham Fair

Financial Statements presented showed Receipts totalling $25,242 consisting mainly of Loans $19120, Grants $1272 and Gates $1686. Expenditures, which equaled Receipts were mainly Loans and Interest $19692, Prizes $1790, Salaries, Grounds and Buildings $1172 and sundry $1331.

Assets totalled $24332 mainly Grounds, building and equipment of $22,400. Liabilities totalling $24332 were mainly the mortgage $6500, and Bank Loans $1500, secured by directors and were exceeded by Assets by $14734.

The new officers elected were Honourary Pres: A.J.H. Eckardt, W.J Harper, Alex Pringle, Ed Kirk, and Harold T. Smith. The new Fair President was – R. J. Cunningham; Vice Pres- 1ST P.H.Reesor, 2nd F.E.N. Reesor. Directors: Markham Village: Alex Douglas, Jas. Torrance, D. E. Jones, Thos. Hargrave, R.J. Reesor & Jas. Malcolm. Markham Township: J.M. Armstrong, J. Couperthwaite, Jas. Gleeson, G.A.M. Davison, J. Gowland, J.I. Balsdon, Orme Lowry, John W. Graham and Geo Cowie. Scarboro Tp.: T. Maxwell, Jas. Laurie, R. Ormerod and Geo Scott. Pickering Tp.: Walter Milne and Geo Tran.

At the second meeting under the new, President Cunningham, Reeve Fleming praised the officers and directors for their energy and devotion to the welfare of the fair and strongly recommended that a manager be appointed for the fair. The Secretary A.W. Milne, who had served the Fair for 17 years was moving to Milton to farm and regretfully tendered his resignation. A proposal was offered to create a new post of Secretary- Treasurer which was passed. An election ensued for the post between past president Gould and Gordon Douglas with Mr. Gould being elected. When tendered the position he did not accept the position off-hand but stated that all committees be operated in a business-like manner and that all accounts be properly certified and properly reported to the Board. The selection of Fair dates was to be held over to the next meeting called by the President.

It seems that Mr. Gould’s wishes fell on some deaf ears as when the next meeting was held on Friday afternoon March 1st at 2 PM at the Franklin with 18 of the 25 directors present many were surprised to hear that the Society’s bank account was $24 and that accounts due in the next six weeks totaled over $1000. Director R.J Reesor suggested that the money required should be raised by selling badges for $1 each which would provide entrance to the Fair in the fall. The motion met with almost unanimous approval and badges were given the name “Mortgage Lifters”, and a committee was formed to sell the badges. Director F.E. Reesor moved the Fair dates Thurs, Fri and Sat Oct 3rd, 4th, and 5th. All agreed that having the last day on Saturday and providing extra attractions, the attendance of Toronto people would be increased as Saturday was a half holiday. The board adjourned to meet again at the call of the president who was instructed to have a start early in the day so that the minutes of the 1917 AGM could be confirmed. (The meeting was held at the Franklin House on March 30th and the minutes approved).

Two major pieces of legislation came into effect during this time mainly to assist as war measures, the first: Daylight Saving Time to provide more daylight hours for work in the factories and fields and a Graduated Tax on Incomes for financial support for the war and graduated so that “those enjoying the highest incomes paid the most taxes”. This was the beginning of Canadian Income Tax.

During the war receiving “boxes” containing home- made bread, cookies, jams, pickles, etc, were real morale boosters for young men far away from home, and unexpectedly the home newspapers in which the “treats” were wrapped. A letter from the “front” appeared in the MES from Sgt. Carlton Couperthwaite: “I saw an account of the Fair. The rain no doubt would disappoint many as the races had to be called off. There always seems to be something to make a mess of a good thing, even over here the rain sometimes gives us a check and spoils things for a time. The best of it is that we come back stronger than ever”.

In the spring with seeding and other farm work in high demand for the war effort farmers were being pressured by the Federal Government for more food and fighting men. An MES story titled “Produce or Fight Farmers Can’t Do Both; is the unanimous opinion of 200 farmers who met in Council Chambers here on Tuesday night (Apr.30th). A motion by H.C. Hamill and J.W. Warriner, carried unanimously, stated in part “the government would be well advised before further depleting the farms of skilled labour as provided by the recent order- in- council as the production of foodstuffs for export will without doubt be seriously affected in this district. Nearly all our farms are undermanned at this time and should the war continue for another year the prospects for the future will be a minimum rather than a maximum.”

Early in October, around Fair time, W.R. Crosby of Buffalo, son of the late H. P. Crosby of Unionville, and owner of the Buffalo Metal Works, gave a donation of $250 as a result of the Fair Board’s appeal to “Old Boys” to pay off the debt on the Grounds. R.R. Corson of Sovereign Perfumes in Toronto also sent in $25. R.G. Armstrong a Fair past president who had moved back from Saskatchewan suggested the Grounds would be improved by planting trees and creating flower beds to fill some hollows and promised a “handsome” donation for the purpose.

As the paper was going to press on October 3rd the weather was ‘summery’ and the fairgrounds was a beehive of activity “with exhibitors and caretakers arranging exhibits in the hall, the midway people arranging their tents and the merry-go-round, the tractor exhibitors tuning up for demonstrations and the trotting horse men exercising their horses on the track”. The report of the Fair happenings the next week bore the headline “Markham Fair successful despite the weather. On Friday about 2600 attended and the weather was fine and the racetrack condition was good. On Saturday afternoon some 8000 people attended including many prominent people from Toronto and a number from United States. George Henry the Minister of Agriculture attended and Mr. Crosby the donor from Buffalo, who had recently been elected a Honourary president. The ladies driving contest won by Miss Margaret Davison of Unionville was a special attraction”.

There were over 30 Classes awarded prizes and towards the end of the list was a class for Art: Oil Painting and Water Colours, of which Miss D. Megill, Toronto, Miss Mabel Cale of Iowa Falls, Iowa, Miss J. Graves and Miss Bailey were principal exhibitors. The new Secretary Gould had been unable to complete his books; as well, the finance committee chair had been taken ill with influenza and was unable to provide a full financial report. While the gate was estimated at about $2000, full information was not available until the next weekly paper. A report also appeared that some 400 automobiles were parked on the grounds and as many more were on the back streets.

In the October 17th edition of Markham Economist and Sun (MES) there was a front page story stating that the Fair had shown a surplus of $1000 and comments that indicated that with care and enterprise there was no reason the Markham Agricultural Society should not pull itself out of the hole in a few years. The story, followed by the first half of the Prize List, also revealed that gate receipts were almost $1800 and that total receipts were about $3500; prizes amounted to $1782 and there were approximately $800 in other expenses.

Around this time reports began to appear about the Spanish Flu which was sweeping around the world killing millions of people; in fact, it began in the Markham area around Oct.5 and may have been the reason the Fair’s finance chairman was ill and unable to provide financial information when the Fair ended. At the time many area people were ill and at first suffered with pneumonia which in some cases resulted in death. The first in Markham to succumb was Richard B. Moore of Franklin Street, a Liveryman, and appeared to have died within a week. The flu suffers increased to epidemic proportions and schools, churches and other activities which drew large crowds were cancelled including the East York Plowing Match which was to be held at Sandy Doherty’s farm on Kennedy Road.

Late in October the German Military Officials began to Sue for an Armistice and the Thursday November 7th MES bore the Headline “WAR IS OVER Germans signed Foch’s terms for armistice this morning”. Unfortunately the information was false and all the local celebrations were in vain. All celebrating had to be called off; however, on Monday November 12th the wire services reported the Armistice had been signed on “the 11th day of the 11th month” and the celebrations in Markham began “in earnest” according to the MES of November 14th. “Every house and business place was decorated in bunting, as if by magic, and the town went wild. Whistles blew; bells rang out the glad news. Staid business men paraded up and down the street blowing horns and beating tin cans, Anvil Cannons boomed (a substitute for fireworks) and the school children paraded. At 11 AM a public service was held in the town hall which was thronged to the doors. The ministers of different churches gave thanks to the almighty for the glorious victory of the Allies and the massed choirs of the churches sang hymns of praise and the gathering closed with the National Anthem. Many of our citizens motored to Toronto in the afternoon and said they never saw such rejoicing crowds – the lid was off with people rejoicing as they willed”.

Once again Markham Fair has shown its ability to survive in a changing world and to share in the adversities and joys of the people of its community. From that sharing “The Fair” has continued to prove its importance despite changing times in the community, in the Province, in the Country and in the world, because “things happen” for good and bad, it’s the people, the people of Markham Fair, as well, that make the difference.

Much of the research on these reports comes from information provided by the gracious people at the Markham Museum. If you’re new to Markham or have been here “for years” and want to explore the past that made the present of this great City the Museum and its people will intrigue YOU!