Burford Years Ago

By: Clayton Barker

The Log House, Burford: The larger, much older section of this building was the old Claremont House Hotel of the mid-19th century. Built about 1845 by Robert Hunt, it was the scene of many dignitary meals and meetings including the dignitary’s supper for first Burford Township Agricultural Society’s Exhibition in 1859 (Photo by Clayton Barker).

A Brief Bit About Burford’s Annual Exhibition

The Burford Township annual Agricultural Exhibition was moved to a 7-acre property north of the Village of Harley in 1880 and the old 4-acre property in Harley was sold and the buildings purchased and moved to various places in the area. One of these buildings, which was moved by the local medical man (Dr. Wm. Chrysler) can still be seen on a farm down the road from there. The fair had been held at the 4-acre property in Harley for nine years, however more room as needed especially for the “test of speed” and a new (probably half-mile) race track.
On the new show grounds, a so-called “Crystal Palace” was constructed (Note: this may have only been a normal-looking drive barn that just had several more windows located on the end-walls or front). The “Harley Show” or “Harley World’s Fair,” as it was referred to, was held at the new showgrounds for another thirteen years and because of the whopping crowds of about 4000 people each year, they needed another exhibit hall building, so a new 30-foot by 50-foot hall was built in 1887.
The Canada Temperance Act was enacted by the Parliament of Canada in 1878, which provided an option for municipalities to opt-in by plebiscite to a prohibitionist scheme. It was often known as the Scott Act for its sponsor Sir Richard William Scott. It was brought in here in Burford Township and was policed especially at the fairs starting in 1886.
By 1890, murmurings of people wanting the Burford Township fair to be moved back to the village of Burford had begun but still the show continued for two more years at Harley, and as per usual fakirs were on the grounds and bootlegged liquor was being “distributed,” which continued to fuel the fist-fights.
The exhibition was always just a one-day event until 1877 when the first two-day fair was held in Harley. The first three-day exhibition wasn’t held until 1948, which was also the first year the event was held on a Thanksgiving weekend. The earliest date of the exhibition was September 16th and 17th in 1940 and 1941 and the latest the fair had been held was the 21st of October in the year 1870.
1893 – 1919 The new Burford Show:
At the 1893 annual Agricultural Society meeting it was voted that the fair be moved back to Burford, where it has been ever since. The politics behind the location of Agricultural Fairs was the cause of much rivalry between communities.
Thirty-four years after the very first Burford Township Exhibition had utilized the old militia drill hall, at the east end of the village, that Drill shed was moved to the new Fairgrounds and combined with two other drive barn buildings and a hotel livery barn to become the new exhibit hall complex. This complex was utilized until 1917 when it burned. A new show building was hastily constructed that early autumn.
1918 – In September the Spanish Flu had made its dastardly way into Ontario and many local fairs and thanksgiving gatherings were in the line of fire, except that the authorities could not allow such a thing to ruin the annual Thanksgiving holiday. Lots of people’s obituaries started emerging in the news around that time except that they had all died of “pneumonia” and people didn’t seem that concerned that a pandemic could be at the root of it.
Burford, Norwich, Woodstock and Simcoe all had very successful fairs, earlier in the fall, as they were mostly held before the actual outbreak was reported in this area. I’m sure however, though people were obviously becoming sick by the dozens, nobody would want to even utter such a thing about an “epidemic” at that time, in case people would all be afraid to attend the fairs.
On October 17th it was announced that schools and churches and meetings were closed or cancelled the week prior, due to the “epidemic.” (Note: They called it an epidemic, though it was clearly a “pandemic.”)
It is sad to learn that many of these people travelled to visit their relatives and celebrate Thanksgiving with them and within a week of Thanksgiving they were dead from the deadly disease. It is also sad to learn that when the schools closed, because of the outbreak, frightened parents kept their children at home and they were forbidden from playing with their chums who might infect them.
By 24th of October Brantford “Emergency Hospital” reported that they had 130 cases, and by the end of October, Burford’s armoury was designated a field hospital for the sick and Burford’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Frank Johnston, who had suffered a bout of the flu himself, announced to the community that he had received notification from the Provincial Board of Health that a vaccine was on its way.
1919 – They had to move the new exhibit hall out of the way of the newly designed and constructed “George Street” (now park Ave.). They expanded the Burford Fairgrounds to the east and constructed a larger track as well that year and the area which had been the old show grounds was taken over by residential development. What is now Rutherford Street east was called “Park Ave.” as it had been the entrance to the show grounds but lead to the new Fairgrounds.

Burford Years Ago

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