May marks 25 years since Richmond Hill’s final Spring Fair

City’s rapid growth meant interest in agriculture waned, writes Mary Jane Celsie

Mary Jane Celsie
Richmond Hill Liberal

Published in the Richmond Hill Liberal, Thursday, May 6, 2021

A poster for the Richmond Hill Agricultural Society’s Spring Fair in 1852. This month marks the 25th anniversary since the closing of the society, as well as the city’s final spring fair. – Richmond Hill Historical Society

It may be hard to believe now, as we drive up a Yonge Street lined with plazas and highrise condos, but only a few decades ago, Richmond Hill was flanked east of Bayview and west of Bathurst with family farms.

Farms that had been an integral part of the community, well before the village of Richmond Hill itself was incorporated in 1873.

The Yonge Street Agricultural Society was formed in early April of 1849, and by May 2 of that year had organized a one-day agricultural fair, held on a site west of Yonge Street and south of Arnold.

It was a simple beginning, consisting of mostly farm animal exhibits and competitions, but there was added entertainment in the form of a tightrope walker, performing on a rope stretched above Yonge Street between two hotels, and horse races held on the street itself.

Community historian Mary Dawson, writing in the Liberal years later, tells us that “Since there was no public address system available, a man with a loud voice, mounted on horseback, made the rounds of the hotels calling out the list of events, summoning the thirst quenchers to participate.”

It must have been quite the lively scene.

By 1851, the Fair Committee had settled on the date of the fair as Queen Victoria’s birthday, on or about May 24. Still a one-day event, the fair moved from venue to venue (usually a farmer’s land) until 1866, when it was held at the Town Park at Arnold and Church for the first time.

Since council had asked for a fee of $25 for use of the grounds, admission had to be increased to 25 cents for adults, 10 cents for children and 10 cents with each exhibitor’s entry form.

Fortunately, these fees also covered the cost of the Teston Band, which played live during the festivities for $20.

Initial prize lists focused on livestock judging, as well as harness racing, but in later years other sporting events such as human foot races and a football tournament were added.

By the 1960s, the prize lists had been expanded to include domestic sciences such as needlework and flower arranging, and even prizes for schoolchildren, such as essay writing, penmanship and arts and crafts.

Equine events included show jumping and a Western Horse Show held under the lights in the evening. By now, the fair itself was held over an entire weekend and a small midway was added as well.

For both the fair and the Agricultural Society, 1985 was a significant year, with the election of its first female president.

Kathleen “Kay” Smith, who had worked with the Society for 25 years, was elected, finally acknowledging the dedication of the women behind the scenes in organizing, cooking, baking and arranging events.

In the words of Fred Thomas, a former president himself, “Kay’s the best president they’ve had for quite a few years. She works hard.”

This was also the year the fair moved from the constrained conditions of the Town Park to Richmond Green, where exhibitors and attendees could enjoy purpose-built facilities such as the Pig Barn for animal exhibits, as well as an expanded midway.

However, with the rapid growth of Richmond Hill during the 80s and 90s, the family farms were developed into housing, and interest in agriculture waned.

The Richmond Hill Agricultural Society, and its Spring Fair, ended in 1996, after 147 years. This brief history, therefore, marks the 25th anniversary of its passing.

Those of us who grew up in Richmond Hill in the 1960s remember it fondly.

Mary Jane Celsie is a member of the Richmond Hill Historical Society.

President’s Message (May 2021

Hi everyone,

So we are really into Spring now, though it’s certainly been cooler than we would like. A definite sign is that I mowed the lawn for the first time yesterday – it was very necessary. It’s hard to believe that it’s the second spring of the Covid 19 pandemic, but here we are, still under a lockdown and still trying really hard to stay safe, and watching the vaccination numbers slowly (it seems) rising. I received my first shot at Richmond Green in late March, and was told that my second shot would happen in July. I’m really hoping that vaccine supplies become enough that the July date happens much sooner!

The main purpose of this message, as usual, is to remind you that our regular monthly meeting is coming up on May 17th at 7:30 PM, by Zoom. Anyone wishing to attend this virtual meeting on Zoom is invited to contact us at r.hillhistsoc at hotmail.ca.

Our speaker will be Mr. Don Holmes, whose topic is Canadian-made hand tools: there must be a better way. I expect that we’ll learn some things that we just never knew!

I sent you a special message last week about an opportunity to tell the city that Heritage Matters, as part of a consultation process regarding a new Master Plan for Richmond Hill. A series of virtual workshops have been scheduled, dealing with specific areas in the city, and I know that some of you have been participating. The first two dealt with the Bathurst Street and Highway 7 area and the Yonge Street and 16th Avenue area. The next one is scheduled for tomorrow night (May 11th) at 7:00 PM and deals with the Village and Richmond Hill GO Station area. You can register on the City website for that session.

The last three workshops are the Bayview and Highway 7 area on May 13th, the Oak Ridges Centre Area on May 18th, and the East Beaver Creek and Highway 7 area on May 20th. The link to register can be found at Official Plan Update – City of Richmond Hill. I would encourage you to participate – this is an important opportunity.

I hope many of you spied Mary Jane Celsie’s article in the Liberal last week, describing the history of Richmond Hill’s Spring Fairs. Mary Jane did a great job on this latest in the series of articles – what I call Heritage Vignettes – that the Historical Society has been preparing for the Liberal over the last few years. I hope you are enjoying them – we’re working on the next one as we speak.

At our last Executive Meeting we discussed a suggestion from Cameron Telch that, as we think about getting back to normal and having regular newsletters again, we consider sharing some members’ stories about their pandemic experiences and how they coped. We could include them over a number of newsletters. So please give some thought to what you might be able to contribute – I think we could all benefit from this kind of sharing

Thanks for your attention, everybody. Don’t forget our next meeting – Monday, May 17th, at 7:30 PM.

Please stay safe.

Jim

Richmond Hill Official Plan Update 2041 – Have Your Say

Richmond Hill Official Plan Update 2041

This is your opportunity to say that heritage matters here in Richmond Hill.

Richmond Hill residents are invited to join these City run, on-line workshops to discuss the vision, character, and function we would like to see. At these meetings the staff does present provincial and regional direction or parameters. But there is a real need to share your knowledge about the local context. It is our opportunity to work together to discuss how the different areas can develop over time.

Here is the schedule (use the link below to register):

  • Bathurst Street & Highway 7 Area (May 4, 2021)
  • Yonge Street & 16th Avenue Area (May 6, 2021) – Register here
  • Village & Richmond Hill GO Station Area (May 11, 2021) – Register here
  • Bayview & Highway 7 Area (May 13, 2021) – Register here
  • Oak Ridges Centre Area (May 18, 2021) – Register here
  • East Beaver Creek & Highway 7 Area (May 20, 2021) – Register here

All workshops are scheduled from 7 to 9 pm.

Here is the link to the Official Plan Update – City of Richmond Hill.

There are surveys that we should complete too.

The city has invited us to the table and we should come.

Please invite others.

Upcoming History Programs at the Richmond Hill Public Library

Photograph of the Richmond Hill Heritage Centre and Amos Wright Park sign.
The Richmond Hill Heritage Centre and Amos Wright Park at 19 Church Street North

The Richmond Hill Public Library is excited to welcome Richmond Hill Heritage Services for two upcoming library programs. In May, we’ll look at spaces, places and stories of our City’s unique heritage; and in June, we’ll learn about how Heritage Services acquires and collects artifacts and go on a tour of the Artifact Storage Facility. Both programs are free, but preregistration is required.

Heritage Designation
Saturday, May 8, 2021
10:00 am – 11:00 am; via Zoom

Under the Ontario Heritage Act, municipalities can pass bylaws to formally designate properties of cultural heritage value or interest – acknowledging a property’s heritage value to a community. At the same time, designation helps to ensure the conservation of these important places for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. In this program you will learn more about how we can protect our city’s cultural fabric. Visit Eventbrite to register.

A Museum Collection
Saturday, June 5, 2021
10:00 am – 11:00 am; via Zoom

Attend a virtual behind-the-scenes tour of the Artifact Storage Facility. Learn about what we collect, how to acquire artifacts, and how to preserve them and get a preview of the newly renovated Heritage Centre. Visit Eventbrite to register.

To learn more about the Richmond Hill Public Library, please visit www.rhpl.ca/.