History of the Fredericton Exhibition
- Exhibition Palace
- Second Building
- Prize List Of 1878
- Further Changes
- Post War
The Fredericton Exhibition, as fair patrons know it today, owes its origin to the enthusiasm of Sir Howard Douglas. As Governor of New Brunswick from 1824 to 1831, he proved himself one of the best administrators of the Colonial period. He did much to encourage road building, agriculture and education; and he promoted New Brunswick’s first exhibition.
Sir Howard called a meeting in the Province Hall in Fredericton on February 17, 1825, to stimulate agricultural effort in the Province. In addition to the elected members of the Legislature, Sir Howard also invited prominent citizens from all the Counties and in his opening address outlined a plan for the formation of a central agricultural society. During the meeting an organizing committee was formed, the membership of which included Hon. Judge Botsford as chairman, Harry Peters, then Speaker of the Legislature, Col. John Allen, Samuel Nevers, Peter Stubs, Hugh Monroe, Charles Simonds, David B. Wetmore, William Crane and Samuel Scovil.
The committee presented a report at the second meeting held on March 5, 1825, and from this report the New Brunswick Agricultural and Immigrant Society emerged. Chief Justice Bliss became president; Hon. Judge Botsford and Hon. Thomas Baillie, vice-presidents; Ward Chipman, Peter Fraser, Harry Peters, Peter Stubs and Jedediah Slason as additional member of the executive. Sir Howard became patron of the newly formed Society and, in a speech of acceptance, announced that he had been authorized to grant from the King’s casual revenue the sum of $ 25 for the aid of an Agricultural Society in each County of the Province.
At the annual meeting of the Agricultural & Immigrant Society held in Province Hall on February 19, 1827, the members voted in favor of holding a Provincial Cattle Show on the grounds of the Fredericton Race Course on October 9.
By mid-century the Exhibition was a well-established event in the life of the Capital City. The association with the Provincial Government had been preserved and a building called the Colonial Palace had been erected in 1852 on ground directly facing Old Province Hall.
When William Watts was designing the pavilion for the great Provincial Exhibition of 1852, he probably did not dream that an art gallery would supersede his early cultural effort more than a century later. The Beaverbrook Art Gallery now stands on the ground so briefly occupied by the pavilion.
In 1850, the New Brunswick Society was formed for “the encouragement of agriculture, home manufacturing and commerce throughout the province”.
The Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Edmund Head, was patron of the Exhibition, and Hon. George Frederick Street was president.
William Watts at the time was editor of the weekly called “The Headquarters”, published by James Paul Agutta Phillips in a frame building at the corner of Queen Street and Camperdowne Lane. In addition to designing the Pavilion, Watts also composed “The Song of the Great Exhibition”, which was set to music by Col. S.K. Foster of Saint John and arranged for the Masonic Band by Micheal White.
The Pavilion was designed to suggest the Crystal Palace of the London Exhibition of 1851. The Ladies Gallery at the east end and the Music Gallery at the west end would accommodate 100 people each.
John McInnis, manager of the newly formed gas company, was in charge of the lighting. The gas company had been founded only in 1850, so the new-fangled lights were still something of a novelty. Great winged dragons carved from wood formed the chandeliers. The monsters faced north, south, east and west and flame sputtered from the mouth of each. Below, heraldic griffins belched gaseous light upon the display shelves.
The Pavilion must have presented an imposing front to the thousands of visitors coming to Fredericton by the riverboats. The lower part of the building was made of boards, the clerestory of the glass and the roof of canvas. A 12-foot Britannia, supported by the Lion and the Unicorn, stood over the main entrance. The point of her trident was sixty-five feet above the ground. Sixty flags floated over the roof of the Pavilion.
The porch of Province Hall served as the beginning of a passageway that connected the older structure with the Pavilion. The various offices and chambers of Old Province Hall made valuable exhibit space.
The Pavilion “was crowded to overflowing with horticultural produce, agricultural implements, tools, fish, cheese, butter, honey, leather, ropes, ship’s furniture and paper”. In all, about 1,000 competitors made over 4,000 individual entries.
The grand opening was 12:00 noon on Tuesday, October 5. One round fired from a cannon manned by militia artillerymen was the signal for the take-off of a grand procession. Leading were the band and pipers of the 72nd Regt., then in garrison, known as the Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders or the Seaports.
Next came the uniformed Fire Companies of Fredericton and Saint John complete with fire engines, while the Masonic fraternity in full regalia brought up the rear. After the parade the local Fire Companies tendered a luncheon at the New Market Hall on behalf of the visiting units from Saint John.
Promptly at two o’clock, Sir Edmund Head, attended by a Highland Guard of Honor, entered the Pavilion to a salute of 19 guns. Hon. George Frederick Street, as president of the New Brunswick Society, received the Lieutenant-Governor.
Sir Edmund and Lady Head, with their numerous trains, then occupied places of honor on the dais placed under the Music Gallery. A massed choir from the churches of the City occupied the Ladies Gallery and these were balanced by the full band of the 72nd Regt. in the Music Gallery.
When the combined volume of brass, reeds, drums and vocals let go on the National Anthem, the occasion seems to have been some kind of musical moment. Immortalized in yellowing newsprint the scene unfolded like this:
“The weather up to this point had been wet but at the moment the voices and instruments blended in the strains of the National Anthem, a burst of radiant sunshine flooded the spectacle”. (Doubtless a token of Divine Approval of the Great Exhibition.) The formidable combination of band and voices afterward rendered the Doxology and The Song of the Great Exhibition.
There followed “the customary exchange of addresses and tour of the Exhibition”.
Wednesday, October 6, was given over to the cattle show at the Grove, a beautiful tree-shaded area that once extended northwestward from the present Queens Square. Over the main avenue was an arch decorated with flowers and evergreens.
In the evening the officers of the New Brunswick Society and the general public attended a lecture in the New Market Hall given by Hon. L.A. Wilmot.
Thursday, The Grove was given over to athletic sports. At the regatta, held the same day, the gig races were reported “very fair” and the canoe races excellent.
After such pleasures, the public appetite may have become jaded but there was a revival of interest when it became known that the Provincial Exhibition might be held in Capital in the autumn of 1864 if a suitable structure were available. A public meeting was called for April 10, 1863, by William McLean, then Sherrif of York County, to discuss the proposition for erecting a public building to accommodate the next Provincial Exhibition to be held in the city.
The local supporters must have decided to go ahead and one M. Stead of Saint John was asked to submit a design. The resulting Exhibition Palace was built at the corner of Westmorland and Saunders Streets. It took the form of a Greek Cross, measuring 167 feet each way and covering three-quarters of an acre. The dome in the center of the building was 80 feet in height and it had a row of windows all the way around it. Immediately beneath the dome was an 18-foot gallery, suitable for displays of pictures and other light exhibits. The exterior was decorated with a number of carved figures of rather heroic proportions. There were colossal figures of men and women, as well as wreaths and garlands. Britannia and her trident measured a full 12 feet. The Lion and the Unicorn fought for the Crown over a good-sized Coat-of-Arms.
The Provincial Exhibition in the famous Palace was opened by Sir Arthur Gordon, Lord Stanmore, the Colonial Governor of the Province, on October 4, 1864.
The Provincial Exhibition was again brought to the Palace in Fredericton in 1870. The official opening was on October 3, Lieutenant Governor Wilmot then presiding.
The great Exhibition Palace was destroyed by fire in 1877. Speaking of it some years later, Mayor George E. Fenety said: “Not withstanding its exposure, from lack of caretaker living on the premises, the building was not even insured. Consequently $30,000 was thrown into the fire and destroyed in a couple of hours…”
A second, though lesser, Exhibition Building was built in 1881. The new structure was on a site west of Smythe Street and back of Saunders, which would place it roughly on the present fairgrounds. It was designed by Croft and Camp of Saint John. It was an oblong measuring 200 X 75 feet and the long sides were flanked by sub-structures 20 feet in width and 75 feet in length. The building had a central tower 100 feet high and a 17-foot gallery all the way around the interior, a total distance of 550 feet. The musicians’ gallery was raised four feet above the rest of the gallery. Four grand staircases connected the two floors. This building followed its predecessor in flames on July 11, 1882. Again we quote Mayor Fenety: “The second Palace arose upon the ashes of its predecessor out of funds provided by the Government, but the City and by private subscription… Not withstanding previous experience in not having a caretaker living on the premises, there was sad neglect again in this respect. Not only so, but there was no insurance outside the City’s interest in the building, which was $4,000, and upon which $3,000 protection was placed”.
PRIZE LIST OF 1878
The industry, arts and crafts of the time are reflected in a Fredericton Exhibition Prize List of 1878, now held by Provincial Archives.
The classes for cattle, sheep, swine and poultry closely resemble those of today; but under “horses” there were classes for “trotting, carriage or road purposes” before “draught or agricultural”.
Of course there had to be rules to govern all this, so the board laid down that:
“The Exhibition will be open for livestock, agricultural, horticultural, domestic and dairy products, manufacturers of all kinds, mineral and arts.”
“Animals may be Provincial bred or imported, but must be the property of a resident of the Province and, if imported, must have been the property of the exhibitor for at least three months.”
“Agricultural, horticultural, domestic and dairy products, manufacturers, minerals and other articles must be the growth, product or manufacture of New Brunswick to be eligible for a money prize.”
“Exhibitors must come prepared to have their horses and cattle led into a ring when directed to do so by the superintendent of the grounds, precisely at the time specified. All animals not so brought forward will be ruled out of competition.”
“Manufacturers are requested to furnish with their article exhibited, the quantity they can produce or supply, and the price for the information of the judges, whose decision will be based on the combination of quality, style and price, and the adaptation of the article to the purpose or purposes for which it is intended.”
All this and much more was given under the signature of “Julius L. Inches”, secretary for agriculture.
The Agricultural Society for District No. 34, York County, was incorporated by Letters-Patent passed on the 25th day of March 1889, under provision of the Agricultural Act 1888.
The fondly remembered “big building” was built on the present site around the turn of the century. W. Storey Hooper became secretary in November 1902 and would continue in office until the end of 1922. John A. Campbell of Springhill was elected president in 1903, thus beginning a term of office that would continue until the end of 1918.
Almost on the outbreak of World War I the military authorities obtained equity in the plant, although one wartime Exhibition was held in the autumn of 1915. The midway was brightened by a new ride called the Ocean Wave, while the concessionaires were offering Charlie Chaplain and Kewpie Dolls for the first time.
During 1917 and the early months of 1918 the Exhibition Building became barracks for the 236th MacLean Highlanders, of which Lt.-Col. P.A. Guthrie was Commanding Officer.
The end of the war brought an early revival of interest in the Exhibition. At a meeting on February 13, 1919, it was “decided that the Agricultural Society No. 34 hold an Exhibition in the fall of 1919… and that the dates be from Saturday night, September 13 to Saturday night, September 20?.
At a meeting in the Mayor’s office on June 20, 1919, “Vice President W.E. Farrell reported fully on the settlement with the military authorities for restoration of the Exhibition property, advising that the matter had been closed out and the sum of $8,925 paid into the Society’s funds”.
At fair time the Ben Williams Shows provided the midway, offering the famous “Whip” ride for the first time. “As will be seen from the Treasurer’s report,” state the minutes of a wind-up meeting on November 28, “the Exhibition was a financial success”. Music and amusements had cost $1,993.66, of which $800 had been paid for “a jazz band from New York”, which had cause no little comment at the time.
The continuing association between the fair and the harness racing is reflected in the minutes for February 17, 1921: “Moved and carried that the Directors of the Fredericton Exhibition pledge themselves, if satisfactory arrangements can be made, to take over from the Fredericton Park Association their rights in the Trotting Park and to make the Trotting Park a part of the Fredericton Exhibition and operate it as a part thereof, beginning with the present year (1921)”.
At a meeting on January 12, 1922, Mr. Winslow outlined proposed changes in the by-laws: it was “Resolved that the Agricultural Society No. 34 transfer its assets to a company to be known as the Fredericton Exhibition Ltd., a charter for the latter Company to be obtained under the New Brunswick Joint Stock Companies Act of 1916?.
On the afternoon of February 28, 1922 a meeting of the provisional directors of Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. was opened. Letters-Patent incorporating the Company were submitted to the meeting, approved and adopted as the charter of the Company. At a meeting of the Agricultural Society No. 34, held on April 5, 1922, the necessary transfers and conveyances were carried out.
A joint meeting of Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. and representatives of the Fredericton Park Association was held. After discussion it was:
“Resolved that the Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. take over the liabilities ($955.58) of the Fredericton Park Association as well as its assets; and further”
“Resolved that the Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. assume the responsibility of guaranteeing the permanency of the Race Track as such and conduct racing providing conditions are favorable.”
A Racing Committee of the Fredericton Exhibition was appointed at the same meeting, composed of Roy W. Smith as chairman, J.D. Black, A.C. Flemming, P.S. Watson and Ald. G.T. Feeney.
At the annual meeting on November 30, 1922, William Cruikshank was named secretary, effective the beginning of 1923. The election of officers meeting on December 11, 1923, elected W. Story Hooper as president, in recognition of his many years of service as Secretary. He would hold the position through 1924 and 1925.
A decision taken on December 27, 1923, to hold a fair in September 1924 seems to mark the end of the biennials and beginning of the annuals.
Motions for the payment of dues seem to indicate that the Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. had become a member both of the United States Trotting Association and of the Canadian Association of Exhibitions by 1924.
The Amusement Committee heard a proposition on May 16, 1928, offering 26 musicians for Saturday night opening and throughout Fair Week for $1,000.00.
The local boys did not make it. On May 30, 1928 the Amusement Committee voted to sign with the Masonic Concert Band of Halifax at $1,500.00 for Fair Week.
The last pre-war Fair would be held in 1938. By that time George A. Hamid Inc. of New York City were providing elaborate grandstand shows for the fairs and Bonnie Brownell’s Continental Revue, paced by standard circus and vaudeville acts, was a big attraction that year.
An unpleasant beginning in Europe on September 1, 1939, made an end of all the big fairs for some time to come. The main building of the Fredericton Exhibition promptly became barracks for the 89th Battery, RCA, of Woodstock, and thereby probably became Fredericton’s first casualty of World War II. It was burned in November 1939.
The fair resumed in 1950, making do with wartime housing that had been erected on the grounds. The Bill Lynch Shows made their first appearance on the midway, a spot they would fill annually with one exception (1951) until the present time. W. Raymond Crewdson had his first baptism of fire as secretary-manager of the Fair.
A building in Douglas owned by the New Brunswick Livestock Breeders Association was moved from its former location to the Fredericton Exhibition grounds in 1954 and the first livestock show was held in conjunction with the Fair that year. A new coliseum with a seating capacity of 2,400 was begun in 1959 and first used during the Exhibition of 1960.
A new barn with accommodation for 700 head of cattle was built in 1962, with aid from the New Brunswick Livestock Breeders Association and both the Federal and Provincial Governments.
The year 1968 saw the raising of a steel structured grandstand with a seating capacity of 1,500. The walkways on the grounds were paved the same year. In 1969 a 65? X 165? barn for draft horses was built.
A saliva test building was built at the Raceway in 1971. Three years later, 1974, the accommodation for race horses was greatly extended. A 160? X 69? barn capable of stabling 70 horses was added, as was a 60? X 44? race paddock barn with 32 stalls.
The Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. resumed direct control of the Raceway in 1975, after having leased it to various organizations for 18 years. One of their first steps was to up-date the track lighting system.
Ray Crewdson had brought the Fredericton Exhibition of 1970 to a successful conclusion and promptly took off for a short holiday. He died suddenly in Skowhegen, Maine, on his way to Montreal.
Mrs. Doris O’Hara, erstwhile Girl Friday to Ray Crewdson, became Secretary-Manager, continuing from February 1971 to December 1975. William B. (Wiff) Miles followed in her footsteps, a position taken over by Brian Embleton in 1979. O’Hara remained on as Secretary until she retired in 1987 after 33 years with the organization.
A major fire in 1982 destroyed the Livestock barns and a year later the New Brunswick Livestock Council, with the help of the Provincial Government, constructed two new Livestock barns next to the Coliseum. At the same time a new Welcome Building was built along Saunders Street. Tim Horton’s and Williams’ Seafoods opened on the property during the mid 1980’s.