A long-standing Forest City tradition returns!

2018 marks 143 years at the Western Fair, which means many years of screaming on midway rides, eating candy apples and funnel cakes, and showcasing agriculture.

The fair was always a tradition for my family and I growing up. It’s still a part of London I enjoy, whether I am testing my inner ride warrior or checking out the I Love Local Tent. I’ve always wondered how the fair changed over the years, and became what it is today.

Cornbread at the Western Fair.
Gator’s BBQ offers you an affordable trip to the American south with their tasty cornbread. Photo by Andy Scott

Like any London icon, the Western Fair has plenty of interesting heritage stories. Read on to find out some fun facts about the Western Fair. You may learn something new.

The Western Fair wasn’t always in Old East Village

As someone who grew up attending the Western Fair, it’s hard for me to imagine the annual event at any other place but the beloved fairgrounds.

The first event was held in 1868 at what is now known as The Park Hotel London. Londoners voted to host the annual event in Queens Park.

In 1887, the fair was moved to the former Salter’s Grove Park and 75,000 people attended.

After the 1939 fair, the Western Fair was on hiatus because of World War II. The space was used as barracks and training grounds up until 1947. Instead, a smaller event known as the Harvest Festival was held in October 1940. The fair returned in 1948. 

The Fair dealt with five days of rain in 1950

Fall fairs are the best during cool, dry, September days with the smell of funnel cakes. Unfortunately, we cannot always control the weather. Such is the case with the fair in 1950, where the five days of rain shut down the futurity races because of the track conditions. Rides and concession stands also closed for a bit due to weather.

Somehow, the fair that year achieved record breaking attendance, proving that anyone who loves the Western Fair will gladly attend, regardless of the forecast.

The fair implemented the ticketing system for rides and games in the 1970s

It’s standard to use either tickets and/or ride-all-day wristbands for the rides and games, but even that didn’t come to play until much later in the fair’s timeline. 

5 Facts about the Western Fair's past. The ferris wheel at the Western Fair in London, Ontario. Photo by Emily Stewart.
Midway tickets were introduced in the 1970s. Photo by Emily Stewart

Because of factors in the 1970s like an increasing unemployment rate, rising operating costs, an energy crisis impacting the nation, and an economy stagnating, the Western Fair developed a midway coupon system. In addition to selling individual coupons and packs of 20 coupons, 2-for-1 ride passes were available so families could afford to go to the fair.

Now, advanced tickets, admission, and passes can be bought before the fair begins. 2-for-1 admission is also offered Monday to Thursday.

Many aspects of the current agricultural climate were implemented in the 1990s

Agriculture is traditionally significant to the Western Fair, but the interactive and educational programming first came to the fairgrounds in the 1990s.

Sheep at the Western Fair in 2017. Photo by Nicole Borland.
The Western Fair has had a petting zoo since the 1990s. Photo by Nicole Borland

In 1989, Livestock 2000 came to the fair, which featured milking and sheep shearing demonstrations. The interactive Rural Route Discovery program was implemented in 1996. The petting zoo, biotechnology displays, and areas to see newborn farm animals were added to the programming. 

The Western Fair Farmers Market Building used to be a former gravesite

Yes, there was a grave site at the current fairgrounds long before people even thought about the Western Fair, starting in 1848. St. Paul’s Cathedral had their cemetery there, as they needed burial grounds outside of London. East London was not annexed by the city at the time. Wesleyan Cemeteries, along with Salter’s Grove Park, could also be found in the area.

A bylaw enforced in 1879 banned East London burials. Therefore, every grave was moved to the Woodland Cemetery between 1880-1886.

The second Crystal Palace took over the spot, but it burned down in 1927. The Confederation Building, which houses all of the artisans at the Western Fair Farmers Market, replaced the palace.

Most of these facts were uncovered from “A Celebration of Excellence: The History of The Western Fair Association 1867-2000” by Inge V. Sanmiya. Kym Wolfe and Cheryl Radford’s “Hopping into History: London’s old east village” and “London Free Press From The Vault: A Photo-History of London” by Jennifer Grainger were also used as sources for this article. All of these books can be found in the London Public Library. I strongly recommend reading them to find out more about the Western Fair!

In the meantime, don’t forget to stop by the Western Fair, which runs until September 16. 

Featured photo by Emily Stewart 

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