Dale’s Fair Memories

Let’s take a detour from Main Street and talk about the fairgrounds.

Each passing day in August, more and more people start talking about Shawville’s biggest event of the year on Labour Day Weekend – The Shawville Fair.  

I couldn’t help but revisit some older stories I had done for The Pontiac Journal. What follows was published in 2012. It’s a piece that I can remember instantly. I suppose the tale of ‘Satina, the Goddess of Fire’ is one I still wonder about.

This October (2014), Dale Thomson, will be turning 87.

Dale sits outside of his home on Calumet Road on a warm August evening. “The Shawville Fair was really something we looked forward to,” he recalls. As a lifelong resident, Dale has seen many changes to the fair over the years and he shared some stories beginning from the late 1930s.

“The ticket office [at the main entrance] used to be on the right. It had this old-fashioned archway and there were men patrolling the fences. I was about 10 or 12 at the time and we could run like deer back then.” Run like deer? “Oh yes, we used to jump the fence to get into the fair. I never got caught, but some of them did!”

One of the main attractions was the horse racing. “As young lads, we’d walk a horse after it raced to cool it off and maybe we’d get paid 15 cents. That was a big thing to go over and get a job there; 15 cents could buy a hot dog and a drink.”

The midway consisted of a Merry-Go-Round, a Ferris wheel and perhaps one other ride. “There were games where people would guess your weight or age and if they didn’t get it right, a cigar or maybe a stuffed animal was your prize. When I was really young, there was a ring where they brought in wrestlers and you could challenge them. Some of the bigger guys would try it and they would get some money for pinning them.”

Nearby to where the Lions booth is now used to be the grandstand, a structure that held a couple hundred people, but was eventually lost in a fire. Across from the stand was a big oval ring where the horse and cattle shows were held.

“Everything was outside then. The shows were very competitive between many of the local farmers, mostly all from here in the valley. It [the fair] wasn’t something that attracted people from the city much. Now, with the entertainment end of it, people come from all over.”

Dale spent 35 years working at Fraser’s, which was an exclusive men’s shop in town. “The fair was a busy time for us; it was a time to dress up and everybody wanted to have a new hat for the event. We sold a pile of them, either in wool or fur felt.”

Before becoming five days, the fair spanned only three and was held later in September. Occasionally the date would fall on the Shawville Lions’ meeting night, which was held in the Octagonal exhibition hall (photo) on the fairgrounds. Dale, a charter Lions member since 1949, described the hall.

“Downstairs were the exhibits, like garden produce; upstairs was ladies sewing and other items, while the back end was a kitchen and dining room.” He related one particular meeting that had some added entertainment because of the fair.

“Those days they used to have girly shows; strippers would come and put on a little teaser in front and then they would go inside the tent and people would buy tickets to go in to see the full show. One of the girls was ‘Satina, the Goddess of Fire’. She would swallow fire and spit it out. She was introduced as being so hot she couldn’t stay up in the Yukon. The lights were turned off and she began her performance. At one point, she takes a wobble, she might have had a drink too many, and one of the sticks that was on fire catches the plastic tablecloths. The cook ran out of the kitchen and got pails of water to put the fire out. It caused a hell of a commotion. It was priceless!” chuckles Dale.

Did that really happen?

“Everybody would have a story to tell about the fair,” he says.

No matter what your age or how many times you’ve been to the fair – new stories are just waiting to unfold.

By: Scott Campbell