The first Western Fair was held in September 1868 in downtown London, northeast of the current location of Victoria Park. Organizers had hoped to use the Crystal Palace Barracks as the main exhibition area. Livestock shows took place on the parade grounds outsite the The Crystal Palace.
In 1887, when the fair gained legal status through the Provincial Charter and Act of Incorporation, it moved to 900 King Street in east London, where the fairgrounds remain today. The present Fair Grounds were purchased for $65,000. Except for an eight-year period between 1939 and 1947 when the Canadian Department of National Defence occupied the grounds, the Western Fair has operated on the new site.
John Huse Saunders was President of the Western Fair Association (WFA) for 22 years. He devoted more than 50 years to the Western Fair and was known throughout North America as a poultry breeder. After receiving Honorary Presidential status the WFA changed the by-laws and limited the term to three years.
The Western Fairgrounds are open 12 months a year. Apart from the fair itself, the Western Fair Raceway, slot machines, the former Western Fair Museum and Archives (closed in 2005), an agricultural complex, and the former IMAX theater (also closed in 2005) were located there.
Raceway and slot machines
London's primary standardbred horse racing facility is the Western Fair Raceway. A slot machine facility on the site was opened to the public on 28 September 1999, as authorised by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. As of April 2008, the facility contained 750 slot machines and has seen 9.4 million people, supported by a $15 million staff budget.
Museum and Archives
The Western Fair Museum and Archives began with the efforts of Inge Sanmyia, who was working on her Ph.D. in history at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario in 1997. Her three-month summer research project soon became the foundations for the Western Fair Museum and Archives. Since 1997 she has designed historical displays for the Fair and written its history: A Celebration of Excellence: The history of the Western Fair. During its existence, the WFA Museum and Archives accumulated material from the Western Fair, members of the public and historians. Through the acquisition of these materials, the museum put on regular short and long-term displays as well as distinct displays during each fall fair. For example:
- Transportation and the Fair 1999
- The Great War 2001
- Ann May (Dingwall) Queen of the Cowgirls 2002
- Tings to Remember 2003
- London Firefighters 2004
In its efforts to record and catalog the material it had acquired, an extensive systems of records and labelling was set up and a Finding Aid was designed and installed in the in-house computer system for easy access. The Museum was affiliated with: CMA, CHIN, and Virtual Museum of Canada.
Examples of Headings
- WFA = Western Fair Association
- WF = Western Fair
- HS = Horse Show
- LSC = Livestock Catalogue
Examples of Series codes by Box
- 1 WFA 1000A
- 6 HS 7000
- 7 LSC 7000
Examples of Archival Box Contents
Box #29 RW 3000
- Complaints 1980-1990
- Government Horse Industry 1980
- Harness Tracks of Ontario 1980
- Harness Horsmans Strike 1984/85
An IMAX film theatre was situated at the Western Fair site for nine years, closing on 30 September 2005, due to low attendance (an average of only 100,000 patrons per year). After the IMAX equipment was removed, the theater was leased and renovated by Dale Henderson, a retired engineer and former leader of the Stardust Orchestra, who opened the London City Music Theatre in October 2007.
Other Canadian annual and/or agricultural fairs
- Canadian National Exhibition - Toronto
- Calgary Stampede - Calgary
- Edmonton K-Days - Edmonton
- Pacific National Exhibition - Vancouver
- Central Canada Exhibition - Ottawa
- Canadian Lakehead Exhibition - Thunder Bay
- Markham Fair - Markham, Ontario
- Red River Exhibition - Winnipeg
- Royal Agricultural Winter Fair - Toronto
- Royal Manitoba Winter Fair - Brandon, Manitoba
- Schomberg Fair - Schomberg, Ontario
- Sooke Fall Fair - Sooke, British Columbia
- Streetsville Bread and Honey Festival - Mississauga
- Western Fair Raceway at OLG Slots
- "Betting on success". London Free Press. 18 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-12.[dead link]
- Sanmiya, Inge Vibeke (2000). A celebration of excellence: The history of the Western Fair. WFA. ISBN 0-9687675-0-8.
- Sanmiya, Inge Vibeke (2002). A spirit of enterprise: The Western Fair Association, London, Ontario: 1867-1947 (Ph.D. thesis). Wilfrid Laurier University.
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