Markham Fair 1919
and Perseverence

By T. Rogers Gardham (Past President 1977)

On the 11 hour of the 11 day of the 11 month of 1918 the armistice to end the war which was to end all wars was signed by the Germans and the European allies near Paris. And while the conflagration had officially ended the effects would continue to last for many years to come with rebuilding and payment of reparations for war losses.

During the same period in 1918 Markham Fair and its Agricultural Society were dealing with huge losses caused by construction debts (1917) resulting from the misrepresentations of the builder, and equally the misunderstandings of the directors, in the construction costs of the new “mammoth hall” on the Fairgrounds. In short, the Fair ended 1918 in considerable turmoil.

Once again the annual meeting of the Markham Agricultural Society was front page news in the Economist and Sun Thursday Jan. 23, 1919. The meeting had been held on Saturday Jan.19th at 2PM however the banner headlines were anything but downcast: “Financial statement shows surplus of over $1,000 for Fair last fall – Reeves of Markham Village and Markham Township members of New Board”.

The report continued “Optimism and cheerfulness were noticeable features of the annual meeting held at the town hall here on Saturday afternoon last in strong contrast to the meeting last year when bickering and pessimism prevailed.” There was good reason to be optimistic as the financial difficulties have been straightened out and officers are working in harmony.

President Cunningham was in the chair and D.E. Jones, Chairman of Finance reported that after paying off $801 of last year’s accounts and reducing loans at Standard Bank from $2557 to $1000 the Society starts the year “with a small balance to the good.”

Total receipts were $7,840 consisting mainly of loans and grants $2934, donations and gates/grandstand $2991, and rents, stalls and pens $689. Expenditures, which equaled receipts mainly including Loans and prizes totalling $4512 and $2446 for advertising, interest, attractions and grounds/buildings; the closing bank balance was $118.

Assets which included Buildings and grounds valued at $20,000 and the gift of stock by past president A.J. H. Eckardt with a current value of $2700 had a total value of $23,168 and exceeded Liabilities, mainly the mortgage $6500, and bank loan secured by directors notes $1,000 by $14,874.

It was also noteworthy that at the ‘urging’ of Messrs. Davison, Corson, Gould and Wales that the Councils of Markham Township and the village should be represented on the Board of Directors by the election of the (respective ) Reeves and this was done in the election of officers. (Authors note)This was an extraordinary move as it is well known that the assets of the Society are owned by the Society and no ownership related to the respective municipalities.


The new Board President was P.H. Reesor; 1st VP- Fred E. N. Reesor; 2nd VP- Geo Tran. Hon. Presidents: A.J.H. Eckardt, Wm. H. Crosby, Harold Smith, Alex. Pringle, Ed. Kirk, and W.J. Harper. Directors: Markham Village: R.A Fleming, Thos Hargrave, D.E. Jones, Jas. Malcolm, R.J. Reesor and James Torrance. Markham Township – J.M. Armstrong, J.I. Balsdon, Geo. R. Cowie, R.J. Cunningham, John Couperthwaite, G.A.M. Davison, J.W. Graham, J.H. Gowland, Jas. J. Gleeson and Geo. P. Padget . Scarboro – Capt. Geo. B. Little, Robt. B. Omerod, Garry Prentice, George Scott. Pickering – Walter Milne.

The meeting of the new Board followed with the new president Reesor in the chair. J.B. Gould was reappointed secretary-treasurer at a salary of $150 and the new committees were appointed. Finance: Jones, Davison, Gleeson, Torrance, R.J Reesor. Printing – Malcolm and R.J. Reesor. Grounds – The directors for Markham Village. Permits -The President, Jones and Fleming. The Secretary and Jas. Torrance were appointed delegates to the Fairs Association. Jos. Russell, M.P.P. was appointed representative to the Canadian Trotting and Pacing Assoc. The Fair dates were set for Thurs. Fri. Sat. Oct. 2, 3, and 4.

Ads appeared in the Economist & Sun Oct. 2nd and 9th noting a special meeting requiring members in good standing for 2 years to vote on a Motion to release and sell the shares in Dominion Manufacturers Ltd donated by A.J.H. Eckhardt having a par value of $3000/$3500. However there appears to have been no resolution to the request as it arose again in 1920.

The name Eckardt arose in another column in a case at division court where the executors of the will of Edward Eckardt sued his widow Sophia Eckardt for the return of a gold watch willed to a son of the deceased. This watch apparently had been given to a step son of the deceased by word of mouth before he died. The judge ruled the watch must go as stated in the will.

Another interesting story appears relating to George S. Gray, blacksmith of Stouffville, who died at the General Hospital in Toronto from blood poisoning caused by pricking his knee with a horseshoe nail while shoeing a horse. Apparently the wound was so trivial no attention was paid at the time, but his knee continued to swell and get painful. Medical aid was then called, but proved to no avail.

On Thursday Oct. 9, 1919 the week following the Fair the paper had banner headlines again “MARKHAM FAIR All Records for Attendance Broken. Gate receipts over $3,000. Markham Fair on Friday and Saturday last scored the biggest financial success since it was organized. Ideal summer weather prevailed both days. There was a good crowd present on Friday, but on Saturday there were over fifteen thousand people on the grounds. From nine o’clock in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon there was a steady stream of humanity pouring through the turnstiles and other entrances. Fully one thousand autos were parked on the four acres set apart for the purpose and nearly 200 more had to be sent into the ring for want of space and there were nearly as many parked on the streets of the village and in the hotel and other yards.

The grandstand and paddock was filled to capacity and the mammoth hall, cattle stables and poultry house were always crowded, while the fence around the half mile track was lined ten or twelve deep and the smaller horse judging ring likewise. The midway was a seething mass at all times. Everybody was out to have a good time and everybody had it. The directors are highly gratified over the success of the Fair. Total receipts are estimated at about $6000, including gate receipts of about $3200 and after expenses and prizes are paid about $2000 will be available to reduce the mortgage.

The trotting races and the ladies driving contests were the popular events in the big ring. The Merry-go-round and Ferris wheel were the two most popular attractions on the Midway. Provincial officers arrested two bootleggers who were selling whiskey at $7 a bottle to those who had the password, and took them to Toronto for Magistrate Brunton to deal with. Also the Ladies Aid of the Methodist Church served over 1000 people and took in $550 on the Saturday of the Fair.

Besides the good news for the Fair it was an eventful year for the village with the Council passing a motion to establish a public library and a special committee was formed to do so. Also after a presentation by the President and treasurer of Markham Fair a special grant was awarded for $150. As well Hydro development was still in its infancy but still seemed to garner interest in its leadership as the municipalities raised a major acclaim that Sir Adam Beck remain chief executive of the Commission and even be given a seat in the legislature. A major standing ovation occurred at Toronto City hall when he stood among 100 delegates from the Province’s municipalities in October.

As the long history of the Markham Fair continues to unfold, like most long lasting and important community structures the story unfolds through good and bad times and it is important to deal with issues intelligently and “keep our heads” through the times with which we are confronted. It is worth recalling the comments of the editorial in the 1844 issue of the British American Cultivator which noted the formation of The Markham Township Agricultural Society the Fair’s parent body. “It is only necessary for us all to add; that we anticipate most important results from the “sayings and doings” of this Agricultural Society – and we would not be much surprised if the intelligent and wealthy farmers of Markham, would continue to persevere in their laudable efforts to advance, strengthen and establish the character of their noble and exalted calling, in such a manner as will redound to their credit, and be a lasting benefit to their posterity, and a credit to our common country”.

The foregoing report of the 1919 Fair was the 75th anniversary of the Society’s founding and the Markham community had just survived World War I, the Spanish Flu and a major redeployment in farm produce production. The village and Township has since grown to a City fast approaching a population of 350 thousand people and is consider to be one of the most diverse populations in the country. The combine has been replaced by the computer in the Township and still the Society and Markham Fair perseveres.

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 haven’t 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!