County Fairs are ingrained in the fibers of this country and the Annual Comber Fair is going to continue a tradition of excellence. Where else could you go to get the great entertainment and competition of a county fair while providing the community with family values and good memories?
In searching for information regarding the local society is has been found that the first record is contained in a Report of the Board of Agriculture of Upper Canada, 1855. It lists a society under the name of Maidstone, Rochester and Tilbury West and it is thought this may be the fore runner of the present society with a possible organization in 1853.
There is a note to the effect that in 1854 the society had 76 members, total receipts were 18 pounds, 1 shilling and 8 pence. Donations were 18 pounds, a government grant of 29 pounds, 15 shillings and amounts expended on purchasing and maintaining or livestock were 23 pounds and 10 shillings. The total disbursements were 23 pounds, 12 shillings, and 2 pence.
There is also an item prepared by the secretary at that time whose name is not shown and we quote as follows:
“This Agricultural Society comprises the Township of Maidstone, Rochester and Tilbury West, lying along the south side of Lake St. Clair in the County of Essex.
The soil is clay, containing a considerable proportion of lime and here And there ridges of sand. When reclaimed from the forest, it is covered three to four inches of black muck.
For a few years as long as the muck is not completely absorbed by the clay, excellent crops of Indian corn and tobacco can be raised. When the muck is gone the soil is on the very best composition for wheat crop, for is consists of clay, strongly impregnated with phosphate of lime, which is found to be the very best soil for raising fine plump wheat. The county appears to be level but at the same time,. It has a descent to the north of half a inch to an inch to the chain length, which is sufficient to drain the land by open drains. The land, when drained is also good for raising roots, grass, oats and peas. Wheat is raised here of the best quality when put in early, so as to escape the rust. The rust is an enemy to late shown wheat, but seldom damages the early sown.
In the present state of the county the raising of horses, cattle and sheep, has been remunerative, the wild pasturage being so great on account of the large quantity of unenclosed lands.
The object of this society has been, for the last three years, to improve and native stock, by introduction of improved breeds of bulls, rams, and boars. Grade bulls we have had, as yet, but the state of the funds of the society now warrants the purchase of purer breeds. Our present stock of young cattle is much superior to the old stock.
We this year purpose to introduce some of the best kinds of roots and seeds to distribute among the members of the society, to try the capabilities of the soil farther than we heretofore done.”
Initially the fair was held east of Comber on Middle Road, (old 98 hwy). The location was later moved to just south of Middle Road to its’ current location after the land purchased from Doctor Abbott for $1,500. The ground represents approximately 15 acres and was originally used as rented pasture land and the last entry was rented to Harry Lee for $10.00 a year in 1932. But as Comber grew so did the need for recreational activities. In the 1933 the society began renting the land to the Sportsman Association of Comber which used the grounds for trap shooting and baseball games.
In the 1950’s the directors for the society decided they could not maintain the grounds from gate receipts alone and sponsored weekly bingo events and the occasional $1,000 draw.
Like other smaller fairs, Comber Fair is primarily agricultural. The midway is a compliment for the people coming to see the displays of produce and home craft competitions.
During the lean, depression years of the 1930’s the fair continued to operate. It was difficult but people still came. To continue to provide an escape from the everyday pressures the society even eliminated the admission charge for a few years to draw crowds to the exhibits. But the directors managed to keep it going.
Comber’s Fair started its second century of service to the community as one of three remaining fairs in the area. Harrow and Leamington still operate but Woodslee, Essex, Windsor, Merlin and Ridgetown have fallen by the wayside.
Remember Comber Fair is older than Canada itself
Before the Industrial revolution people depended on agricultural for their means whether it be swapping products or whatever to survive. The fair has survived 2 world wars, countless other wars and many recessions and depressions because on one thing the competitive nature built into us as humans. You know when it started one farmer said my horse is faster than yours or my wife can cook better than yours and so on.
The history of our community was focused on agriculture and it is true “FARMERS FEED CITIES.”
Going back over articles’ available you will find many surnames that formed what we are today. You have the Rowsoms that where involved is clearing the land in 1859 which is now the present day grounds. You have the Elliott’s, Keith’s, Morris, Ainslie, Reamue, Marentette and etc. just to name a few and if you check you will see many of the same surnames are still on the board of directors.
That is family dedication that seems to be part of the family values the society has achieved and proud of it.
As for the writer my mother’s maiden name was Elliott. We have the picture and article that 100 years ago my grandfather won a prize for having the largest family arriving at Comber Fair in a Ford car (what the article does not tell you is that the Keith’s were the Ford dealer). By the way the Keith Ford dealer was my grandfather’s father-in-law. So you see it becomes a small world at times and it looks like I got a double dose of Comber Fair fever.
Without the family tree of dedication Comber Fair would also be going by the wayside.
Robert Hornick (Elliott, Keith)