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A day at the fair was often the family’s vacation

Joyce Walters reflects on fairs of the past - and the future
Reflective Moments by Joyce Walter

The midway trucks are moving up and down the Prairie highways, set to bring once-a-year excitement to the communities along the many miles they travel in a season.

Despite my advancing years I can still produce some vivid memories of the screaming times on the carnival rides that came to the old fairgrounds where the mall now stands. Oh yes, those four days in early July provided an opportunity to spend some of the money grandparents and aunts and uncles gave me for passing into the next grade.

A trip to the Moose Jaw Exhibition was the highlight of the summer, sometimes being considered the family’s only vacation from the business of delivering oil and gas and tending a huge yard and an even larger garden.

I wasn’t aware back then that some of the rides were a bit shabby and that certain sideshows were not meant for my young eyes. My attention was solidly riveted to the bumper cars, ferris wheel, merry-go-round and a whirly-gig ride that made some riders loser their lunch. I was not a brave person so I was quite content with rides that were more sedate and favourable to weaker stomachs.

Although I had my own money in my pocket, I still relied on the Parent to supplement my finances with some of his own hard-earned funds. It was, after all, a parent’s duty to provide food and drink even if the food was of questionable nutritional value and the drinks were heavily laced with sugar and a bit of ice and  a dribble of flavouring. And don’t forget the cotton candy, caramel corn and the candied apples.

There was a family rule: one good meal had to be consumed during our stay and we found those homecooked meals along the edge of the fair grounds in booths operated by a number of church organizations. A roast beef dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy and homemade pie wasn’t my young idea of a good time but I knew when to pick my battles. Come to think of it, that food was pretty darn tasty and is often missing from modern exhibitions.

Another rule was that the fair had to be an educational experience and a good time for the parents as well as their offspring. That meant time in the Armoury building looking at the knitting and sewing, baking and canning, and at the huge display of competitive school exhibits.

It was like a treasure hunt in the school area as I searched for my posters and samples of handwriting and chortled with glee when I discovered a red or blue or white ribbon, signifying a winning entry. Unfortunately the monetary rewards were sent to the school over the summer, to be distributed to the students in the fall. Imagine how many rides or candy apples that prize money would have purchased.

The trade show of that era was in the curling rink along Saskatchewan St. and it was somewhat amusing to stand in line for food samples or a kitchen tool. It was especially entertaining when the floor-washing demonstration squirted water at the audience instead of absorbing it into the fancy machine. I suspect a few sales were lost as a result.

The Civic Centre contained an indoor stage where talent contests were conducted by CHAB’s Cy Knight. The winners were selected via applause meters, not by talent alone so large families were known to have an effect on the outcome.

Perhaps that is why, for several years in a row in my early teen years, our accordion band won first place honours on that stage. I do think though that talent was a definite factor — who now is around to challenge that opinion?

And so the 2024 fair season begins, with considerably improved and more efficient rides with trained operators. What hasn’t changed is some of the excitement exhibited by youngsters who stand in line to be spun and whirled for a few moments, a thrill like none other right here in their home community.

Please take note: it is my wish to ride the ferris wheel in my 90th year. Perhaps there will be an older seniors’ rate offered by the carnival owner. And maybe my photograph will be published in the newspaper!

Joyce Walter can be reached at

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