2019 marked the 100th anniversary of the first Fall Fair in Smithers, which was held on September 30th 1919. To mark the occasion the Bulkley Valley Museum and Smithers Art Gallery came together to produce a joint exhibition of art and history that was displayed in both spaces. The exhibit featured the full history of the fair, as well as art and photographs submitted by the community.
Our call for Fall Fair photos began over a year ago, in August 2018. Over the course of the winter and spring the Museum received hundreds of photographs from community members as digital photos, slides, prints, and negatives. A few donors brought us boxes piled high with scrapbooks and let us look through and pick the images we wanted to use! The photos ranged from the 1950s to 2018, and truly showcased the ways the Fall Fair has changed and stayed the same over the years. Staff then had the difficult task of looking through the photographs and choosing which photos would be printed and mounted on foam core for display. In the end over 200 photographs were featured in both the Museum and Art Gallery. It’s been a great experience for our staff to watch visitors to the exhibit point out people and things they recognize, and share memories of past fairs.
Over the course of the production of the exhibit we were exposed to so many incredible images that it is very hard to pick favourites. However there are a few images in particular that the staff of the Museum and Art Gallery have really grown to love.
With so many photographs showing people enjoying themselves at the fair either as spectators or competitors, Assistant Curator Eric likes that this photo of three midway workers taking a break offers a unique look at some of the people “behind the scenes” at the fair. Consider how this scene differs from what it might look like today – no one is checking their cell phone, for instance. Later in this series of photographs (taken by the photographer for the Interior News) the woman in the center spins cotton candy, and the man on the left (looking a little like Frank Zappa!) runs a ball toss game.
Events like horse racing, show jumping, and the rodeo have been a significant part of the fair for most of its 100 year history, right back to the fair of 1922 when horse racing was featured for the first time. There have been so many photographs of these events taken over the years it is tough to choose favourites. However, this photo by Wendy Perry is definitely up there. The deep focus on the woman’s face, the angle of the horse’s body, the packed grandstand behind her – this image really captures why the fast pace and high drama of events like the rodeo have helped make the fair a success year after year.
This next photo is a favourite of our Curator Kira. The adorable dress on the little girl, the look on the little boy’s face as he enjoys that first bite of cotton candy, it all makes for a wonderful scene! When we began our call for photos we really hoped that we would receive photos like this one that featured local families just enjoying the fair together. We were touched by all the family photos we did receive, and thankful that so many people were willing to trust us with their prints, negatives and slides for digitization.
Our exhibit also featured some incredible art pieces that showcased the themes of agriculture, and the fair. Art Gallery Manager Nicole’s favourite piece in the show was the prize winning quilt submitted by Rosamund Pojar. “It is easy to dismiss work done with cloth as “craft,” says Nicole, “but the absolutely artistry of this quilt is so startling that you have no option but to see it as art. The way the patterns have been created and the fabric has been used in such imaginative ways had so many people just stop in their tracks in the Gallery. That is art. Having an emotional reaction to something someone else has dreamed up and executed. I hope this quilt help[ed] people to expand their notions of what art is. This exhibit was so successful at showing the art of our agricultural heritage. It was truly a blessing to be a part of.”
100 Years of the Fall Fair continues in the Museum’s exhibit space through the fall of 2019.