By Greg Clark, September 8, 1934
“Now for the fall fairs,” said Jimmie Frise.
“Ah,” I said, “champion punkins, country sausage by the yard, cider just the least bit stiffened, the biggest horse in the world – only ten cents to see it!”
“Trottin’ races,” said Jimmie.
“Games of chance,” I said. “Radio salesmen. Prize quilts.”
“Things carved out of roots, like dogs, snakes and moose,” said Jimmie. “The product of a retired farmer’s idle hours.”
“If country folk do us the honor of coming to our Toronto Exhibition,” I stated, “city people, ought to return the compliment by attending at least one country fair.”
“They don’t know what they are missing if they don’t,” agreed Jim. “There is more human interest in a country fair than in the whole of a great city.”
“Slow motion,” I remembered. “The feeling of a country fair is like seeing a slow motion picture of King and Yonge streets. There are the tents and, in the bright September sunlight, the country people lazily strolling and sitting about.”
“Mostly sitting,” confirmed Jimmie. “Rather large ladies sitting with red faces on anything that is sittable and fanning themselves with their hankies.”
“Nobody in a hurry,” I said, “Even the radio salesmen from the city have caught the tempo and they stand, with faraway looks, not even trying to highjack any customers.”
“I often think,” said Jimmie, “that the people in the country are a distinct race of creatures from city folk. For several centuries there has been going on a sort of breeding process. All the eager, crafty, up-and-at-’em sort of people have left the country for the city and only the simple-easy-going, honest people stay in the country.”
“That’s a clever idea, Jim,” I said.
“And in time,” said Jimmie, “we will breed two races as distinct as, say, a Clydesdale is from a pony. The cities will be filled with crooked, scheming, pale, slit-eyed, villainous-looking creatures. And out in the country you will find only the big, strong, open-eyed, rosy-faced race, honest as the day, happy as larks, simple as children.”
“Gosh, Jimmie, I like country people.”
“When those two races are evolved,” went on Jim, who loves to get hold of a theory by the tail and see where it drags him, “the city race will try to prey on the country race and the country race will be entrenched, as you might say, against the city race. Skinny, sly city men will try to worm their way into the country to marry the beautiful, buxom country gals and there will be dramas in which great six-foot, three-hundred-pound farmers will discover their daughters carrying on with hundred-and-ten-pound city foxes, and there will be shotguns firing down lanes, and beautiful two-hundred-pound gals being turned from their three-hundred-pound parents’ doors out into the blizzard, where weazened, little city villains, with waxed moustaches, will go ha-ha-ha in the storm.”
Our System of Avoiding
“You really think that is coming?” I asked.
“The gulf between city and country people is widening every year,” said Jim. “Just visit a country fair and see. Here we are streamlining in the city. And what are they doing in the country? Just the reverse. They are tublining. Look at the shorthorn cattle. Square at both ends. While we in the cities are shaping everything for speed the country people are shaping everything for comfort.”
“You can’t imagine a streamline hen or a streamline sheep,” I agreed.
“Our philosophies,” said Jim, “the city philosophy and the country philosophy, point in opposite directions. One is for honesty, the other for guile. One is for honest production, the other is for trick production. In the city we are developing a vast system of avoiding. We are re-shaping everything to avoid friction, to avoid effort, to avoid use, to avoid work, to avoid men. In the country they still get eggs the same old way. Beef is built as usual. Wheat and hay can’t be streamlined up out of the earth. In the country everything is based on honesty. In the city everything is based on evasion.”
“I love the country,” I submitted.
“Let’s go to a fall fair and see and feel that great, homely country honesty for our souls’ sake!” cried Jimmie. “I am suffocating. My soul is all puckered. Let me sit in the steep grandstand and watch honest races. Let me throw darts at bullseyes, let me guess the number of beans in a jam jar.”
There are not many fall fairs so early in the season, as they don’t dare to compete with the big Toronto show. But Maryvale was holding its fair on the time-honored date, a date selected back in the days of William Lyon Mackenzie, and no upstart city fair could come along a half-century later and try to steal the show from Maryvale.
Maryvale has no fair buildings now. It had fine fair grounds buildings sixty years ago, but fire and time removed them, by which time it was found easier to rent big tents from the people who rent big tents to fall fairs.
Jimmie and I drove in about three p.m. and parked our car for 25 cents along with a hundred other cars, buggies, wagons and trucks in the field next the fair grounds of Maryvale.
There was a great throng of over 300 people, many of them sitting in the aged grandstand and others leaning on the fence around the trotting track. The horses and their little sulkies were as usual getting ready to start, pacing sweatily and anxiously back and forth on the track. I have been to dozens of fairs with Jimmie and I never saw a race really run yet. Jim says you have to get up on the grandstand and sit there, resolutely, and sooner or later you will see a race. But I am too impatient to move about and see the exhibits and mingle with the people to waste hours hunched up on a grandstand.
There were government moving picture shows, there were booths for radios, washing machines, agricultural implements; one tent housed a mammoth show of sixteen performers, mostly gaunt looking ladies in red lustre dancing costumes, an East Indian in a frock coat who did magic, and two comedians of the kind you never see in cities any more.
And then there were games of chance. Rolling balls, throwing rings, flinging darts.
“City types,” muttered Jim to me as we paused at the games. “Slit-eyed, look at them.”
“Let’s look at the prize vegetables and the cattle,” I suggested. So we spent some time in the tents where the fruit and vegetables were shown, the cakes, bread, pies, preserved fruit and jellies. We chatted with the patient, smooth-faced old ladies who sat, with large laps, amidst the fruits of their labors. We visited the cattle, hogs, sheep and horses. Jim went and sat in the grandstand for an hour or two while I, with my hat on the back of my head and my front hair pulled forward to show under my hat brim, wandered happily amidst the slow motion.
Crown and Anchor Boys
I ate home-made ham sandwiches and fried onion sandwiches of homemade bread. I drank wondrous lemonades and fruit punches, all with the same taste. I got into a dozen political discussions with emphatic strangers. A man showed me how to milk a cow with a machine. Another man offered me a genuine Highland sheep dog. regularly worth $50 to $75, for only $2.50.
I joined Jimmie and found him down behind the grandstand talking with three country gentlemen.
“Come here,” said Jim. “Let me introduce you to these gentlemen. This is my friend. These are three of the head men of the fair.”
“He don’t look big enough,” said one of the country gentlemen.
“He has a big voice,” said Jimmie.
“What is it?” I asked, scenting trouble.
“Listen,” said Jim. “Down behind that shed there at the foot of the field two crooks have got a crown and anchor board and they are fleecing the country boys out of plenty of money.”
“City toughs, I suppose?” I said.
“That’s it,” said the committee.
“Now the constable,” said Jim, “is acting as starter for the races, and anyway, the committee don’t want to make any trouble. All they want to do is to chase those crown and anchor boys off the grounds, see?”
“It would give the fair a bad name,” exclaimed the committee, “if it got into court that we had arrested gamblers on the grounds.”
“So what?” I asked.
“We wondered if you two gents would come along. One of you is tall enough to look like a policeman, and the other, that’s you, mister, can yell, ‘Make way for the provincials,’ or something. And in the scare, these guys will make a getaway. And stay away.”
“That is easy.” I said, clearing my throat and getting my lungs ready. “But isn’t it against the law to impersonate police?”
“You won’t be impersonating,” said the committee. “All that will happen will be you yell in a big deep voice, ‘make way for the provincials,’ and then your tall friend, with his hat over his eyes, will come charging into the crowd.”
“Are there many down there?”
“There’s quite a mob, and we three will go down, too, and be ready to help stampede them.”
“Let’s go,” said I.
“Just a minute,” said the committee. “We will go down, and you two follow and wait just out of sight by the end of the sheds. Then when I give you the signal, you come on the run.”
“Right,” said I.
“And be sure and don’t come until you get the signal,” insisted the committee.
“Correct,” said Jimmie and I.
The committee hurried off down the field towards the shed and Jim and I followed slowly.
We arrived at the shed and took up a waiting position at the corner. We peeped around and saw about twenty or thirty men surrounding something, and we could hear a voice either making a speech or exhorting the crowd to some sort of iniquity.
“City voices,” I said to Jim. “Hear how harsh and unmusical they are.”
“Clear your voice,” warned Jim.
We waited and waited. As we stood there, half a dozen newcomers came along and passed us, to join the group behind the shed, and they cast curious, not to say, suspicious glances at us.
Breaking Up the Game
After about twenty minutes, we saw one of the committee emerge hastily from the throng and come gesticulating towards us.
“Let her go,” he hissed.
Jim charged. I bounded beside him.
“Make way for the provincials!” I roared, in the deepest bellow. “Make way, there!”
And like a battering ram, Jim, with his hat jammed fiercely over his eyes, crashed into the ring where the two other committee men were making a spot for him. They beckoned him through and it made it easier than crashing strangers.
The effect was astounding. Men flew in every direction. I had time only to let loose the one bellow when thirty men were racing in all directions and the three committeemen were kneeling on the ground around a small square of oilcloth, and scooping money, silver, bills, everything, into their pockets while Jimmie stood above them glaring fiercely at the fleeing men.
Quickly the committee raked in the money and snatched the oilcloth square and then they too leaped up and raced around the end of the shed.
“Well?” I said to Jim.
“I guess we had better go, too,” suggested Jim, starting to run. So we ran down the field to the marquee tents again and mingled with the throng.
“That was a funny one,” I said.
“Very funny.” agreed Jim. “Did you see those two gamblers go? They took the fence like a hurdle and kept on down the road like greyhounds. They must have a car parked down there.”
“That’s what happens to city men when they come to the country.” I declared. “Your theory is working out. These honest country folk won’t put up with gamblers.”
Down by the cattle ring, we met the committee.
“Come down back of the grandstand,” they said. “Follow us at a little distance.”
Behind the grandstand we formed a little ring, and the tallest committeeman reached into his pocket and pulled out two small rolls of bills bound with elastic.
“There was $47.30 on the board,” said he. “Split five ways, that gives you two boys $9 something. We made it $9 even. How about it?”
Jim cleared his threat. “How about what?” I asked.
“Nine bucks,” said the tall one, genially. “Even split.”
“What is this?” I asked.
“The money off the board,” said the tall one.
“Huh?” said Jimmie.
“It’s just a little country lark,” said the committeeman. “We three gentlemen worked up a big game and got the two gamblers to set up a lot of money, and then you came at the right time…”
“Jimmie,” I cried, “this is dishonest! I thought you were committee men!”
“We’re a committee we appointed to keep the morals clean at this here fair,” said the tall committeeman.
“Who appointed you?”
“Divide our share amongst yourselves,” I said, sadly. “We are city men. We have old-fashioned ideas.”
“It’s O.K. with us,” said the tall committeemen, breaking our rolls open and dividing all the dirty ones and twos amongst his friends. “You city fellows are funny. If you aren’t crooks, you’re pious.”
“I guess it’s the same in the country,” Jimmie said.
So we went up in the grandstand, and I saw my first trotting race, and Jim lost three dollars on it.
Editor’s Notes: William Lyon Mackenzie was the leader of a rebellion in Ontario in 1837.
Maryvale is a real place, currently a neighbourhood in the Scarborough area of Toronto.
Crown and Anchor is a popular gambling game.