Eugene G. Faludi
Wartime houses on Glastonbury Drive
The Stratford fairgrounds
Former entrance to the Stratford fairgrounds. Construction of the main entrance gates, off Churchill Circle, were started by a local mason to mark the 1941 centennial of the Stratford Agricultural Society. Delayed due to wartime restraints, they were completed in 1948. They were large fieldstone gates, with gate posts and a pylon, all with square-beaded mortar. The pylon included a flagpole and a bronze plaque presented by the Ontario Department of Agriculture to commemorate and honour the work and achievements of the local society. The fairgrounds were an important cultural feature for Stratford and the neighbouring agricultural community for 130 years. They were the site of the annual fair and numerous other events. Still in place, the entrance gates are the last evidence of the fairgrounds, which are now being repurposed with housing. The fair has been moved to the Rotary Complex, in the northwest corner of the city. Source: Stratford Beacon Herald
Crystal Palace fairground building with the racetrack in the background. Source Nancy Musselman.
Racing standardbred horses was a long-held tradition in Stratford, and most celebrated at the annual fall fair. Dave Pinkney, a sportsman who owned the Queen's Hotel (see Ontario Street), was a key player in the business of harness racing. He was a veteran promoter, owner and sometimes trainer of trotters and pacers. On race days in Stratford, he set aside a special room at the Queen's, where horsemen were paid their purse money upon the conclusion of day's the race card. For many years in the 1950s, he made Stratford one of the top racing venues in the province.
Clint Hodgins appears in the Stratford winner's circle after a win behind the locally-owned NOW. A huge crowd is evident in the background. Photo from London Free Press Collection, D.B. Weldon Library, Western University
Lucky Lott, hell driver
Douglas Neal "Lucky" Lott (1921-1998) thrilled Stratford kids and adults alike with daredevil driving stunts and death-defying feats at Stratford fall fairs for years before his retirement in the 1950s.
It all started with his older brother, Lee, who was known as "Lucky Lee" Lott. In 1934 in Odessa, Tex., they wowed a crowd with a head-on crash of two junk cars. The following year, they got a farmer in their home state of Illinois to rent them a field, put together a July 4th event, and cleared $900.
The die was cast, and Lucky Lott's Hell Drivers were born. The brothers usually worked separately, with Neal more in Ontario and Quebec.
Lucky Lott Diorama: About 15 years ago, Vince Gratton built a little diorama in 1.45 scale of a Lucky Lott show from back in the early 1950's. Used old dinky toys and painted them up and decaled them for authenticity. His Dad's old tow truck is a part of it as he and Lucky were good friends. Dad supplied the jump cars for the crash demos.Vince would go with him in the wrecker and had an inside seat to all the pit action. His diorama was shown at numerous collectors shows and it was a big hit with the locals for old memories. * Click Lucky Lott Dare Devil Dinky Toy Thrill Show for Youtube Video.
Stratford Agricultural Society
The Stratford Agricultural Society has been serving Stratford and area since 1841. As Dean Robinson noted it his book, Reflections: A History of the Stratford Agricultural Society 1841-1991, it has faced bankruptcy, homelessness and indifference. It has survived drought, Depression, war and the Temperance and Moral Reform Association. And it has given Stratford a fall fair in almost all those years, from its beginning in 1841. The society also established the Stratford Farmers' Market, one of the oldest in Ontario, in 1855 on Market Square behind the original city hall (see Market Square).
For the most part, the ag society has been a proving ground for rural-urban harmony. It continues to rely on volunteers and that may be one of the key reasons for its endurance.
It has been able to stay in tune with the changing face of agricultural Ontario. However, a technological shift has quickened the pace and the future is no longer straight-forward. Source: Dean Robinson, Reflections: A History of the Stratford Agricultural Society 1841-1991.
Early Agricultural Society History. The formation of this agricultural society included four prominent pioneers whose names are familiar to Stratford's early history. On Nov. 22, 1841, Alex McDonald, William Jackson, William Smith and John James Edmonstoune Linton (see Linton Avenue) met at the Shakespeare Inn in Stratford, Ont., to discuss information from the Oxford Agricultural Society's rules, and to review the 1837 act of the provincial parliament of Upper Canada governing the formation of agricultural societies. McDonald was the Canada Company's local agent, Jackson an Englishman who had lived some of his formative years in Jamaica, and Smith, a man embarking on a life of prominence in the history of Stratford and Perth County. It was Linton, who made the most impact on his adopted home as a teacher, lawyer, writer, abolitionist and political organizer. He was intelligent, well-educated, outspoken and iron-willed. The meeting of this quartet was 13 years before their settlement was granted village status and 15 years before it was served by a railway.
They wrote to influential farmers in the district, proclaiming their conviction that "nothing would contribute more to the advantage of the settlement than the formation of an agricultural society." They invited them to a meeting at the Shakespeare Inn on Nov. 27, 1841, for the purpose of establishing such a society. They met again in December and set the rules rules and regulations. They also signed up 67 neighbours as members that first year, and charged each 15 shillings to join thge society. William Jackson was installed as the first president, and John Linton as secretary. Linton was not a farmer but he held that position for nine years.
According to the Stratford Agricultural Society’s history, “the first exhibition was held on Friday, Oct. 14, 1842, amid primitive surroundings and was voted a splendid success. It was held at the Shakespeare Inn," run by the Sargints. (see Sargint Street). Exhibits were placed inside the hotel and livestock pens were built on the street outside, in an area that came to be known as "Shakespeare Place." The first classes for prize money included “cattle, sheep, pigs and best yoke of oxen.” Inside prize money was given for “solid of butter, homemade cheese, 10 yards of homemade cloth, wool to be grown and spun by exhibitor, woollen mitts, blankets, hooked rugs, potatoes, pumpkins, wheat and homemade farm implements.”
When the Shakespeare Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1849, the SAS moved its headquarters across the street to the Union Hotel, which was farther east, near the intersection of Waterloo Street, and later to the Farmers' Hotel at the corner of Huron and Mornington streets, and finally to land where the Stratford Public Library now stands. All this between 1841 and 1858 when a permanent site was secured.
PLowing Match History. In 1846, one other noteworthy event took place when the first plowing match was held on the farm of James Rankin. That tradition continued and by 1930, Perth County hosted their first International Plowing Match and drew about 100.0000 people over three days. In 1972, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was on hand to open the official match.
Permanent fall fair locations: The first permanent Stratford fairgrounds were said to be located in 1858 on the triangle bounded by Downie, St. Patrick and George streets, land owned by Donald McDonald. It was at that location that grounds were fenced and fairgoers were charged admission to help defray the society's expenses.
The next location fronted Albert, Front and Brunswick streets, with the racetrack on a plot of land bordered by Front, Brunswick, Douro and Queen streets. After several years, it was moved to Huron Street, near Forman Avenue, and then to Ontario Street, where Avalon Fabrics and Kroehler Field were later located. In 1911, several sites were considered and, in 1913, the first permanent exhibition building was erected and named the Crystal Palace at the old fairgrounds at the end of Britannia Street and Glastonbury Drive, at Churchill Circle as it was then known.
A snapshot of the fair in 1913: This Crystal Palace, at the old fairgrounds, was built by Charles Neilson and W. R. Bradshaw for close to $15,000. A crystal palace building and a racetrack had been part of the fairgrounds since 1878. This palace had been a two-storey structure and cost $2,240. The second Crystal Palace (and its annex added in 1921) would was eventually destroyed by fire in May 1928. It had been insured for $8,500. Architect James Russell (see Shrewsbury Street) designed a stucco replacement that was built by John L. Youngs on the same site in time for the fair that year.
In 1913, architect Thomas Hepburn (see Ontario Street) laid out the grounds and racetrack on the old fairgrounds for what was then called the new Stratford Industrial and Agricultural Park. Mayor Chalmers M. Greenwood proposed a bylaw for an additional $10,000 to complete other fair buildings. The new permanent structures were expensive, but so were fees for the large tents the Society annually rented out for the display of exhibits. The Stratford Bridge and Iron Works (see Erie Street) was unable to complete its building of a 600-seat grandstand in time for the fair, but still, there was harness racing in the afternoon as well as a five-mile motorcycle race. For the youngsters, only boys at that time, there was a novelty race in which each entrant had to harness a horse, walk it and its cart a quarter mile, and then pace or trot the horse home.
Not all the barns and shed to house livestock were completed for that first year, 1913, at the old fairgrounds, but there was a large merry-go-round, refreshment booths and music by the Grand Trunk Railway employees band. About 1,000 people attended the fair at night, which established a nocturnal attendance record.
By 1915, directors of the fair recognized the contribution of women to the Society by naming six female patronesses. The next year, the same women were referred to as directors. By 1924, the Junior Farmers' Association was formed, and by 1936 the female counterparts of the junior farmers' clubs were junior institutes. It wasn't until 1947, that the two groups were united under the name Junior Farmers.
The last year for the fair at the old fairgrounds was 2011. Its current location is the Agriplex and Rotary Complex on McCarthy Road. The agricultural society created in Stratford was initially a county Organization, but since at least 1941, it has been known as the Stratford Agricultural Society.
Sources: Ellen Thomas, Reflections, Perth-County Archives, June 2020. and Dean Robinson's, Reflections: A History of the Stratford Agricultural Society 1841-1991.
Aerial view of the Stratford agricultural grounds, fall 1961 Photo: Stratford Beacon-Herald
The new Coliseum had been completed and the racetrack and bleachers were still in place when this photo was taken.
Buildings in the top left corner of the photo are the barns which were used by local horsemen, including Dave Pinkney, a city sportsman and hotel proprietor. The entrance gates from Churchill Circle can be seen in the bottom right.
See article above for additional information on Dave Pinkney and horse racing in Stratford. Source: Dean Robinson, Reflections: A History of the Stratford Agricultural Society 1841-1991. Compiled by Gord Conroy
The stone pylon near the entrance of the Stratford fairgrounds was built to help mark the 100th anniversary of the Stratford Agricultural Society. However, its construction and dedication were delayed seven years because of the Second World War. Photo: Stratford Beacon-Herald.
The plaque reads: "Stratford Agricultural Society 1841-1941. Presented by Ontario Department of Agriculture in recognition of one hundred years' service, September 15, 1947." The inscription date is a year earlier than when the plaque was unveiled. Source: Dean Robinson, Reflections: A History of the Stratford Agricultural Society 1841-1991.