Skeena Valley Fall Fair: Honouring Our Heritage by Kelsey Wiebe

The Skeena Valley Fall Fair is a testament to the ongoing—if occasionally interrupted—interest in gardening in the Terrace area. Beginning in approximately 1915, according to historian Floyd Frank, Terrace had a fall fair in which ‘gardeners were able to fill the largest hall in town with a wonderful display of fruits and vegetables.’

The story of the fall fair is one of fits and starts: though early settlers proudly displayed the fruits of their homesteads, the fair went by the wayside in the early 1930s. Held in the Great War Veterans’ Association Hall–now Urban Colour–through the 1920s, the fair was an important recognition of gardening and baking prowess.

Terrace residents, often devoid of formal entertainment, bonded over the competition for the sweetest baking, the largest home-grown vegetables, and the tastiest jellies. Farmers brought livestock to be weighed, and women–and, apparently, a few men–presented their ‘home handicrafts’ and flowers to be judged. ‘In my memory,’ recalled Freda Hall Mallory, ‘the affair seemed larger than life.’

In the very early days of the fair, the ‘hotly contested’ prize for the best half-bushel of potatoes was a box of stumping powder, an explosive used to clear land for cultivation. For many, winning a prize or a ribbon at the fair was a validation of the efforts made to improve pre-emptions.

The fading of the fair in the thirties was certainly not because of a lack of prize-winning fruits and vegetables. There are numerous stories of Terrace residents getting through the Depression by living out of their gardens. More likely, the larger economic concerns of the Great Depression made the donation of prizes more trying.

It was not until after the chaotic years of World War II that the fall fair tradition was again revived. In the early 1950s, the fair was conceived of as a way to both ‘encourage hobbies, and draw the attention of surrounding townships towards Terrace,’ Maxine Brandis remembers. Through the 1950s, the fair was held in the Civic Centre, a Quonset-style building in what is now George Little Park (then known as Little’s Park).

At this point, recent immigrants, including Brandis, were invited to host small pavilions showcasing their home countries. The Aiyansh Native Brass Band, listed as ‘sensational’ in the 1953 Fall Fair program, marched in an accompanying parade. The best candy made by a child (thirteen and under) won a budgie, a prize sponsored by the local pet store.

The fair seems to have paused again in the 1950s and 1960s, but was resumed in the 1970s.

The fall fair continued, with interruptions of a few years here and a decade or two there, into the new millennium. Most recently dormant from 2006 to 2011, it has–in keeping with tradition–been revived by a group of keen volunteers.

The tradition of hosting a fall fair to showcase local produce and thereby reflect community identity is a long-standing, though frequently interrupted, one in Terrace.

Written by Kelsey Wiebe, Curator of Heritage Park Museum. Compiled using local history publications, oral histories from the museum’s collection, and resources from the Skeena Valley Fall Fair Committee. Article originally published in the 3 September 2014 edition of the Terrace Standard under the headline ‘Fall fair’s history full of ‘fits and starts.’