Many people affectionately recall the St. Marys Agricultural Fair on the Flats. Traditionally a fall event, the Fair was forced to leave its long-time West Ward location at the end of 1970 when that property changed owners. Lloyd McLean, 1971 Fair Board president, proposed a three-day Fair in July to be held on the Flats. The Fair stayed there until 1987 when it moved again, this time to the Arena and Com-munity Centre on James Street South.
In many ways, the Flats was a great location for a summer fair — highly visible and close to the downtown; merchants capitalized on the occasion by holding sidewalk sales. The newspaper ad reproduced in this column (originally published in the Journal Argus, July 14, 1971) is a reminder of the various components of this much-loved event, starting, of course, with the big Fair Parade on Friday evening.
In 1971, the organizers had worked hard to create appropriate areas on the Flats for all the traditional attractions and competitions. The midway was close to the entrance — its bright lights, noise and movement drawing in visitors. Large tents accommodated displays of baking, preserves, needlework, horticultural arrangements, school entries in the Arts and Crafts division, poultry and rabbits.
Because this was a summer fair, there were fruit and vegetable entries but no grain crops — traditional mainstay of fall fairs. There was, however, a horse ring at the north end of the Flats and a quiet corral near the river for judging cattle and 4-H calves. Featured entertainer in 1971 was Gordie Tapp who performed first at the Flats and then for a sold-out dance at the Water Street Arena.
There were drawbacks to the Flats — mostly weather related: humidity, heat, mosquitoes, flooding. Sometimes the grounds became so muddy and rutted that it took weeks to get them back into shape for other uses. The James Street location promised level, drier grounds and indoor facilities close at hand for entertainment and exhibits.
The final St. Marys Fair was held in 2007 — in spite of the heroic efforts of its board of directors to keep it alive. The Kinsmen have preserved a bit of its flavour. The arrival of the Summerfest midway in July brings many warm memories and confirms the Flats as a wonderful community gathering place.
NOTE: The records of the Agricultural Society’s 160-year history are at the St. Marys Museum.