June 1, 2020
Written by John F. Walsh and Robert Macdonald
I have read somewhere that the original fall fairs for the Arthur area were not held in Arthur, but in the Kenilworth area. Mr. William McQuinn wrote a history of Arthur and published it in the 1950′s. He stated that the original fairs held in the village took place on a lot approximately six acres in size and located opposite the present Senior Citizens Hall on Isabella Street. The property ran back from Isabella to Eliza Street and is now part of the playground of the old public school.
Mr. Arthur Bristow had forwarded to Mr. McQuinn, a write-up of the first fair in October 1881. It was published in a paper with the title ″Mount Forest Free Press, Arthur, Luther, Proton, Egremont, Normanby and Minto Advocate″. The prize list wasn't very extensive. The pioneer exhibitors were content with the honour of winning first prize for their exhibits. There were no buildings on the property and it was used for the field lacrosse games that were very popular in those days.
About 1890, The Agricultural Society purchased land in a triangle shape, bordered by Eliza, Domville, and Tucker Street. It was known as the Village Common, as many farmers retiring into the village would bring a cow or two with them from the farm. After the cows were milked in the morning, they would be turned loose to wander up to the common pasture. Mr. McQuinn recalled seeing 30 to 40 cows pasturing here when he was a boy.
In 1896 the society started construction of the half mile oval race track, which was officially opened on Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, June 20, 1897. It proved to be one of the best tracks in Western Ontario. Later a grandstand was built that held at least 600 people, along with a judge’s stand. Horses could be stabled under the grandstand. On Halloween night 1978, the grandstand burned to the ground. The judge’s stand was taken down in 1995 or 1996 because it had become unsafe. The early 1980's saw the last horse races held at the fair. In the early 1920's the Agricultural Society built an agricultural hall on the grounds. Contractor John Ashwood of Kenilworth was hired to build the arena at a cost of $2.90 a square yard, the Agricultural Society provided the gravel and cement. Some material was salvaged from and old arena on Frederick St. The total cost of the project, including drilling a well was $15,000.00. This building served as the arena for over 50 years, until it was condemned in 1976. The new arena complex, costing $750,000.00, consisting of an ice pad, lacrosse floor, and two halls and meeting rooms was built across the parking lot in 1977.The Arthur Curling club purchased the old ice pad and erected a building over it for their use.
In 1956, stone gate posts were presented by the Ontario Dept. of Agriculture in recognition of 100 years of service and to honour the pioneers of the community, and all those who, during the past 100 years had served the cause of Agriculture in the Arthur Area. Many of the stones used in the construction of the posts were from the foundation of the United Church shed.
In 1958, the Agricultural Society “sold” the property over to the Village of Arthur for a $1.00, to be used as a recreation centre, with the agreement that the Agricultural Society would have the use of the grounds and facilities for a total of 16 free days each year. Due to amalgamation that agreement is now with the Township of Wellington North. In the 1980's a barn was erected for use during the cattle shows and in the 1990's a 100' x 200' ring was put in for the horse shows.
Presently the Arthur Fall Fair is held in September on the weekend following Labour Day, making full use of the centre as well as the grounds.
With the arena, curling club, ball diamonds and the swimming pool on the old Village common grounds, it is usually the most popular spot in the community.