By T. Rogers Gardham (Past President 1977)
In 1955 Markham Fair, then located at the junction of Hwys. #7 & #48 celebrated its centennial by publishing a booklet titled A Century of Progress of Markham Fair. At the time the Fair relied on much of its historic information on The Markham Economist and Sun newspaper, which dated its founding with the Markham Economist newspaper at 1855. The Booklet’s preparation was under the direction and supervision of John Lunau, Fair Historian (later to become the Town of Markham’s historian.)
Along with the statement that the first Fair was held in Unionville in 1855 was a comment in a column near the end of the booklet titled Sidelights of the Fair which said “Agricultural Society in 1840. Evidence of the Society’s existence in 1840 is in a letter from Arch. Barker on Aug.25 to Wm. Armstrong stating he had 6 pounds, 4 shillings (Sterling) due the Markham Agricultural Society.” The column goes on to state that The British American Cultivator, an agricultural journal published in Toronto, reports in its February 1844 issue that “The Township of Markham Agricultural Society was newly organized and elected officers were Pres. Wm Armstrong, Treas. George Hunter, Secretary, David Reesor also 2 vice-presidents and 20 directors (2 from each concession.)
Fast forward 40 years to the mid 1990’s. Alma Walker, first lady Mayor of Markham and first lady president of Markham Fair 1978 was the Fair’s historian and asked Rogers Gardham, recently retired, if he would help her with the Fair’s archives and also write the annual column reporting the history of each Fair “100 years ago.” She also commented on the foregoing report in the 100 year anniversary booklet commenting that she believed the Fair was a lot older than we think and said “keep your eyes open and see if you can find a copy of that ‘British Agricultural’ magazine.” Having such a strong grasp of Markham’s history, much of which she had experienced personally, there became a growing feeling within the Fair that her instincts were correct and that the Fair indeed was much older.
Another decade passes and Rogers continues his annual “100 years ago” research each year at Markham Museum to examine the records of the Economist, and the Suns newspapers (they were originally two separate papers).He had also verified the name of the Cultivator. One day in 2009 while working on the 1909 fair, he happened to ask one of the support people at the Museum, Assistant Curator, Heather McKeown, if she had ever heard of The British American Cultivator newspaper. She said no, but she had a list of Universities and Museums she could contact in Ontario to find out if there was one and if there was any reference to Markham Fair.
In April 2009 Heather sent an Email to Rogers which stated, “I have a fax here for you from the UWO (University of Western Ontario) Libraries; it is a copy of a Feb. 1844 British American Cultivator article on the Markham Agricultural Society.”
So! Is there a moral here? Certainly discovering historic information can be a long tortuous journey. History is developed by following many trails, newspapers, letters, photographs, archival storage vaults, museums, peoples’ memories, but it is certainly a glorious feeling when you can discover and tell the story ….the rest of the story!
And so, please keep Markham Fair in mind before throwing out old clippings, photos, letters, newspapers, especially if your family has had involvement with the Markham Fair.