When North Thompson Valley farming and ranching families first got together in the fall of 1949 to talk about holding a fall fair, we wonder if they had any idea where that goal would take them? Those families understood how important agriculture is to everyday living, and through their vision, dedication, and enthusiasm we are now embracing the 70th North Thompson Fall Fair this year.
The first meeting of the Lower North Thompson Fall Fair Association (NTFFA) was called in March 1950 by chairman Ernie Schmidt, in the Chinook Cove Hall. Jack Grey, a Kamloops District Agriculturist, assisted. Seven or eight men, and three women attended that very first gathering. All agreed that there was enough interest to try to have an agriculture fair in the fall of that year. Someone then suggested that notes be kept of the meeting, and this was when Geordie (Bradford) Salle took up her pen and thus became the first secretary/treasurer of the association. Len Johnson of Heffley Creek/Rayleigh was appointed manager.
“We wanted a fair to accommodate our 4H youngsters,” said Geordie during an August 2009 interview for the fair’s 60th anniversary, “They needed an outlet to present their livestock and projects, without having to make the drive into Kamloops over that horrible road. It was gravel, and full of potholes, with just a little bit of pavement at Rayleigh; and it took at least an hour-and-a-half to travel it.”
Barriere’s Mel Schmidt, who attended the 1950 Fair, becoming the associations 4-H representative a few years later. “I was a 4H member for that first Fair,” said Schmidt, “I belonged to the Barriere 4-H Beef Club which was formed in 1943, and Willie Watt was our coach. When we showed our animals in Kamloops most of the people in the North Thompson Valley never got to see the 4-H animals that the kids had raised, because they didn’t drive down that road unless they had to.”
The next meeting of the group in April of that year drew a much larger turnout, word was starting to spread, and as a result Ernie Schmidt, Geordie Salle, Len Johnson, Harry Leavitt, Bill Steward, Clayton Gardiner and others did a lot of footwork to set up the association. They made numerous trips over a very rough highway, to Mr. Gray’s office in Kamloops to draw up bylaws and a constitution for the North Thompson Fall Fair Association.
The first fair was held on the September Labour Day Weekend at the Native Sons of Canada Hall in Louis Creek (a property known in later years as the Tolko Louis Creek Mill (which was destroyed by wildfire in 2003); and the land is now known as the Louis Creek Industrial Park.
The property cost $50 to rent for the one day Fair; and a 12 page Fall Fair catalogue promised: “To make your Labour Day a real holiday, a full round of entertainment during the day and evening is assured.” The catalogue included 11 sections for competition, with a large section devoted to ‘Women’s Work’ including such classes as ‘Embroidery on flour sacking for household use’.
Geordie reminisced about that first fair. “We had lots of fun holding competitions like cow milking, 4H calf catching, and a man gave a sheepdog demonstration. I remember how amazed I was when all of a sudden the sheep started to run away towards Squam Bay, and that fellow just pointed at his dog and it whistled right up and brought them back – I’ll never forget that.”
Five hundred attended that first fair. “The bulk of people came from the Valley, or Kamloops,” said Mel, “But some came from the Lower Mainland to look at the bulls we had here.”
A contest to find the first Fall Fair Queen also took place in 1950. The Queen was chosen in the early days by requiring candidates to sell tickets to the fair. The one selling the most tickets was named Queen. Thirteen-year-old Sylvia Sheaves received the crown and stated, “My grandma spent her whole pension cheque buying tickets from me.”
Mel noted that he had the honour of driving the new Queen in a democrat buggy with his team of mules in the first parade. The parade route took them to the Louis Creek grounds where on arrival she was officially crowned queen on a stage constructed for the occasion.
There was also the finals for the Valley Cup baseball tournament (which Vinsulla won), track and field events, horseshoe pitching contests, games, hall exhibits, judging, and concessions filled the day. In the evening everything was cleared out of the hall and a dance was held.
Geordie says she missed a lot of the fun because she was in a booth handling the money as it came in. “I was awed, we took in over $1,000,” said Geordie, “That was a lot of money in those days.”
Mel notes, “In 1950 a carpenter made approximately .90¢ an hour, or $36 per week.”
When the dust had settled the NTFFA realized the 1950 fair had exceeded everyone’s expectations. Expenses showed at $1,161.69, income at $2,413.69, profit $1,252.
Within a few years the Native Sons Hall and six acres of property was sold to the NTFF for the sum of $1 – the annual North Thompson Fall Fair was well-underway.
Unfortunately, the Native Sons’ Hall burned down during the winter of 1956-57 as a result of a chimney fire.
“Arnold Jones was there; he hauled out the piano (he was the musician) and the rest went up in smoke,” said Mel, “I don’t know how he got that heavy piano out by himself.”
Due to the loss of the hall, the 1957 event only held 4-H achievements, and no queen contest was held for that year.
In 1958 a new hall was built following plans for an agricultural building that could be used as an exhibit hall during the fair. The plans were acquired from the University of B.C. by Bruno and Ulrich Schilling.
In 1969 Fadear Creek Lumber offered to exchange properties with the NTFF because they needed the site for expansion for log storage. Due to the fact that the NTFF realized water was impossible to find at the Louis Creek site (many holes were dug and other possibilities had proved unproductive) they accepted the offer, stating the move to Barriere would be good because of the closeness and availability of water at the new 13 acre site.
“We can remember going to events at Louis Creek and being asked to bring a can of water with us,” said Mel and Geordie.
To complete the transition to the new property Fadear Creek Lumber agreed to move the hall in three sections from Louis Creek to its new home (where it stands today) on the present East Barriere Lake Road site. Bleachers were moved, a 10×60 concession erected; a horse, sheep, poultry, 4H steer, and bingo shelters built, and four toilets. The NTFF built fencing, cleared and seeded the property, and constructed a dairy shelter.
Expanding on youth involvement with the fair, teacher Bob Corrigan’s class from the Barriere Secondary School undertook to sketch the plans for the lay-out of the new fairgrounds. These plans were closely followed although many, many additions have been added in the years since the move.
“We had such a good representation of animals at the fairs in those days,” said Geordie, “Dairy, beef, goats, pigs. The greased pig contest was always a lot of fun. Lude Proulx donated the first greased pig to the fair; I remember Harold MacDougall caught it wearing a white shirt – what a mess – but he won the ham.”
“When we were setting the hall up for the dance if the exhibits weren’t cleared out we’d have an auction, and sell the pumpkins, squash and whatever,” said Mel.
As the number of visitors and entries to the fair continued to grow in 1971 it was decided to extend the fair to a two-day event; and in later years a three-day event.
As the fair grew in popularity, so did it’s size; and in 1972 another adjacent lot on the Dunn Lake Road was purchased and cleared for parking. Then a second lot was purchased by the NTFF, using funds borrowed from a member of the organization. This second lot was leased to the Curling Club, who built and own the Barriere curling rink; which in turn houses all the Exhibit Hall entries during the yearly Fair.
“It was a good community thing to do with the curling club,” said Geordie, “But then we had to work like the devil putting on dances and things to pay for the land. We always felt it was important to own our own land.”
The popularity of gymkhana and other horse events continued to grow over the years during the fair. A large horse show and cowboy games and races were an annual highlight.
NTFF horse show manager of the time (and later, arena manager until his passing early in 2013) Dick Ross, during the 60th anniversary fair, remembered the first horse show had 12 entries, then 35, and in the third year 75. “All the entries were taken the morning of the show,” said Dick, “Our entry secretary was overwhelmed, and pretty mad at me for getting so many horses.”
The horse shows were outstanding entertainment with a favourite being the Saturday Night Cowboy race where riders had to ride down the arena, strip down to their bathing suits, wet themselves down from a bucket, get dressed again and race back across the finish line, amidst good-natured heckling from the crowd.
The pony chariot and chuckwagon racers became a part of the fair a few years before the rodeos, and continued right up to 2018.
The Barriere High School Rodeo Club assisted in building the rodeo facilities at the fairgrounds. The first fall fair rodeo was then held in 1973, and continued each year until the 40th event in 2013. It is now a three day sanctioned British Columbia Rodeo Association (BCRA) event, and hosted the BCRA Polaris Championship Finals in 2018 and will agin in 2019.
There have been many improvements to the fairgrounds over the years; a new poultry barn in 1972, a new beef barn in 1983, a new goat barn and show ring in 1985, and also in 1985 new rodeo chutes. The large new grandstand greeted visitors at the 30th Annual Fair, a new roof over the seating area for the outdoor entertainment stage in 2009, and of course the North Thompson Agriplex first greeted visitors at the fair in 2011. Most recently a new 20 stall horse barn has been added giving the fairgounds 84 horse stalls undercover.
Geordie said she still has fond memories of all the past fairs, “There was the Mister and Misses Trophy put up by Ernie and Mrs. Woodward for the couple getting the most points from exhibiting at the fair,” said Geordie, “Johnny and Gertrude Uppenborn won it the first year, and I remember Karl and Inge Rainer won it another. Johnny and Gertrude started the dinners at the fair (called Johnny’s Beanery); I remember they had great big copper tubs full of potatoes and other food.”
She says she appreciated the generosity of Kerry Long, “Who always gave us $100 every year to support the fair – pretty good money in those days.”
“One year we made a great big three-tiered cake for BC’s anniversary, and then we balanced it on a truck and put it in the fair parade,” remembered Geordie, “Then another time we all got dressed up in old-time clothes and made a covered wagon, putting it in the parade for Canada’s birthday. I wore that same dress again 50 years later for our Canada Day and North Thompson Homecoming at the fairgrounds in 2008.”
Mel stated he remembered William Louie from Kamloops, “He put up a trophy every year for grade 7 and under for the ‘Best Essay’ in the school work section. He always wanted people to be able to read and write.”
Both laughed over a parade float from the past that had little kids sitting under a giant crow and chickens constructed on top of the float, “It was so hot the kids almost died from the heat!”
Asked what she thinks of how the fair has matured over the years Geordie replied, “I think the fair today is awesome, it’s a really good family fair, and that’s what we wanted to create – a place for 4H, agriculture, and families. I think the fact that young families are involved – they volunteer and take on jobs – is because their folks were involved so long ago; the Rainers, Salles, Schillings, Johnsons, Stewarts, Schmidts, Wilsons, Frasers, and so many others.
“Some things have changed, but the base stays the same. I absolutely enjoy the Fair. It’s like a family – a thing you don’t want to let down. It makes it so rewarding when the families carry on – not just my family, but other people’s as well – they all seem like mine with the Fair.”