When I moved to Dawson Creek nearly a year ago, there were two things I knew: we are Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, and it was a shame I moved too late to attend the Fall Fair.
I’m here for it this year, though, and I thought it sounded like the perfect event to explore for my August article. Now, I knew the Fall Fair was big, but I was in no way prepared for just how enormous it is, both for the region now and historically speaking.
One article is nowhere near enough to explore even a tiny fraction of all that we have in the archives related to the Fall Fair. From pictures and newspaper articles, to programs and paraphernalia, it was a truly daunting task to even begin contemplating writing this. Here’s a little bit of what I discovered.
Old timers report that the first stampede in the BC Peace River district was held on July 2nd and 3rd, 1919 in Rolla. It didn’t stay in Rolla for very long though, in 1922 the first stampede was hosted in Dawson Creek, combining a rodeo and sports days on land owned by William S. Bullen in what we now know as the Willowbrook area.
This first event in the old town Dawson Creek was made possible by volunteers. For three successive Sundays the half-mile racetrack laid out by Bullen was ploughed, disced, harrowed and dragged; corrals were built, and a grandstand was erected. Then, on July 2nd and 3rd, the first stampede was hosted, and a nearly century long tradition began.
The earliest printed record that the South Peace Historical Society Archives has related to a Dawson Creek stampede is a copy of the program from 1928, the Eighth Annual Stampede and Sports Day. And, while there is documentation of the formation of the Dawson Creek Fall Fair Board in April 1939, with Spencer Tuck of Pource Coupe as president, the second World War forced a suspension of stampeded activities for the next eleven years.
A true revival of an annual community fair began in 1951 with the Fiesta of the North, suggested by Jean and Curly Freeman. The highly successful fiesta was coordinated by the Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce, and had many residents enthusiastically dressing in Spanish costumes including sombreros, authentic Mexican bullfighter costumes and serapes. Some of the events included: a Queen contest, carnival and midway, mock bull fights, wrestling, boxing, racing, baseball, horseshoes, stage shows, and a variety of colourful events to involve everyone in the area.
The resounding success of the Fiesta of the North proved that community involvement can be a lot of fun, but requires commitment, organization, and hard work. A tradition that prompted the revival of the Dawson Creek Rodeo with the addition of an Exhibition that is continued today.
Only a year later, in 1952, the Dawson Creek Fall Fair and Exhibition began to evolve into the format as we know it today. There were livestock and horse shows, horticultural displays, home baking, home arts and crats exhibits, and let us not forget the full midway and stage show. It was in 1955, however, that the Dawson Creek Fall Fair and Exhibition Association truly came into its own. After only a year since its incorporation in July, 1954, the Fair Board urged the then Village of Dawson Creek to purchase a quarter-section of land from Charlie and Alice Collins, part of which became known as “Collins Exhibition Park” and is the site of the present fall fair and rodeo grounds.
This is where the history of the Fall Fair and Exhibition truly takes off. 1956 saw the first Fair on the new site. In 1957, Fred Sandy was elected as president of the association in recognition of his efforts which resulted in the completion of a race track which allowed flat races and chuckwagon racing to take center stage. The grandstand project was completed in 1958, giving the Fair Board the very true feeling that at last, the Fall Fair had a permanent home. Then in 1959, the Dawson Creek Fall Fair became a class ‘B’ Fair.
The rest is not, as they say, history, but rather a story that is we are still writing and experiencing. With the first Stampede and Sports Day held in 1922, this year marks the 96th Anniversary of “the Greatest Show in the Peace”, meaning that a 100th Anniversary is only four years away!