06 September 2007

Town fairs and world's fairs

Martin's World's Fair Album Atlas and Family Souvenir, 1893
Our family spent much of this past saturday at the 149th annual Paris Fair, a local event held in the lovely town of Paris, half an hour to the west of Hamilton at the confluence of the Grand and Nith Rivers. It is basically an ordinary town fair, like many occurring across North America during the summer months. With her zoological proclivities, our Theresa loved seeing the animals, especially the poultry. We were all amused at Clarol the Clown's antics. We saw a pony show. And, of course, what fair would be complete without a midway, boasting various rides and amusements.

Although most such fairs tend to reflect local agrarian pursuits, with their horse and cattle shows and the like, world's fairs have highlighted industrial and technological accomplishments. In fact, the very label "midway" originated in one of the most famous of world's fairs: the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, which I mentioned in passing in a recent post on Daniel Burnham's Plan for remaking that city. The fair was located in Jackson Park, on the south side of the city along the shores of Lake Michigan. Extending west from the Park was the Midway Plaisance, whose other end connected to Washington Park. This was the first "midway," boasting amusements from all over the world, including a gigantic wheel created by George Ferris for the occasion — one that would dwarf most future Ferris wheels.

Century of Progress Atlas of the World, 1934
Although world's fairs are still held, the heyday of world's fairs extended from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, beginning with London's Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, showcasing the achievements of the British Empire, and ending (for all practical purposes) with Montreal's Expo 67, coinciding with Canada's centennial celebrations and marking my own introduction to this country. During this period fairs were held in, among many other places, Paris in 1889, St. Louis in 1904, again in Chicago in 1933-4, New York in 1939 and Seattle in 1962.

Incidentally one assumes that the Rockton World's Fair, in Rockton, Ontario, does not have the official sanction of the Bureau International des Expositions to call itself such.

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