Burford Years Ago

By: Clayton Barker

A photo of boy and a dog (which appears to be very comfortable), supposedly taken in a tent at the c1880 Burford Township Agricultural Exhibition. (Photo Clayton Barker’s personal collection).

A Brief Bit About Burford’s Annual Exhibition
PART 2: The last exhibition to be held on the King Street property was in 1869, two days after Prince Arthur and the Governor General of Canada, Sir John Young, passed through this area on their way to Long Point.

1870 Show in a Swamp:
It was agreed at the annual meeting of the Society that the 1870 Burford Township exhibition would be held on the King Street property; however, the directors were late that year in making final arrangements to hold the fair. Though the King Street property was available, the directors picked a completely different place near the village of Burford, but was said to be a “mud-hole”. A temporary building, without any windows at all was hastily put up as an exhibit hall.

1871 Harley, at the Annual Show:
In 1871 it was decided that the annual exhibition needed a fresh new start in a fresh new location, with new ideas and new directors, so it went to Harley. Harley had become the “seat of government”. The annual “show,” as it was known, remained at Harley for 22 years, during which time it had been situated in two locations: the first site was east of the main corner on a 4-acre parcel owned later by the Bennett family, then the second location was a 7-acre property north of the village of Harley where a “Crystal Palace” exhibition hall was erected.
The annual “Harley Show” exhibition was held on the 4-acre fairgrounds for nine years and this was the first official Burford Township Agricultural Society fairground. This site came complete with a blacksmith shop, located near the general store, and the Ag. Society continued to lease it to a blacksmith for $2 per year for eight years. There was the stipulation that the blacksmith couldn’t operate his business on the “Show Day(s).” The local hotel, on the north-east corner of the village, was where the Agricultural Society and the Township Council held their meetings and the annual exhibition dignitary’s meal was held there, as well.
The Harley Show was renown throughout the Province as an event where entertainment consisted of actual fist-fights, whiskey tents and drunken brawls. Gambling and wheels of (mis) fortune were common place and “fakirs” (scam artists) were allowed into their grounds.
Violence turned to major-league property damage and one time a fist fight broke out in a whiskey tent and the lanterns were overturned and lit the tent and most of the fair on fire. It spread to neighbouring buildings and it was said that nearly “half the town was put to flames.”
Guns were also common at such celebrations and events and throughout the usual sounds of the midway and the carnival barkers, could be heard the sounds of gun-shots fired off by well-inebriated fair-goers. Stray bullets buzzed off into neighbouring properties etc. and one time, a bullet whizzed past a wagon driven by a woman from Princeton. Apparently, the bullet came close to connecting to human or horse flesh!! However, it bade its merry way farther beyond them, but killed a dog that was in a neighbouring yard.
You have to realize also, that for the first few years, Burford Township was not serviced by a railway so those attending the exhibitions would have to get there by either horse-power or foot power. When the Brantford, Norfolk and Port Burwell Railway was partially completed in 1876, it literally put Harley and the Harley Show on the map. People from far and wide could now take a train to the show and the railway would put special “excursion” trains in service during the show, from Brantford.
The exhibition at Harley got such a bad reputation that one year the press was refused admission to the fair by the President because he didn’t “give a darn if the show was reported upon or not.”
The 1875 exhibition was opened to exhibitors from across the province whereby the winning of some categories or divisions would result in a prize including entry into the Provincial fair to compete. The 1877 Harley Show exhibition was the first two-day exhibition but was also opened up to the entire world and was known as the “Harley World’s Fair.” This meant that the winners of some classes of exhibits would therefore automatically be entered into the World’s Fair, which was generally held in far off large cities such as Chicago or New York…continued
The Conklin hotel burned, so a new hotel was constructed cater-corner to it, which was called the “Harley House” hotel. In order to keep the Township Council and Agricultural Society meetings (“seat of government”) at Harley, the new hotel was constructed very quickly and it came complete with a meeting hall in a separate building (now the home of the Burford Township Historical Society).


Burford Years Ago

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