Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Faculty/School

Faculty of Arts

First Contributor

Cynthia Comacchio

Contributor Role

Thesis Supervisor

Abstract

This study examines the evolution, function and role of London, Ontario's Western Fair Association. Spokespersons for the Western Fair proudly remind their listeners that the Fair is as old as Canada. During the period, 1867 to 1947, the Association grew from a one-event agricultural society into a sophisticated, multi-dimensional corporate entity with local, regional and international influence and significance.

Analysis of the Association's rise to prominence illustrates the Canadian public's changing relationship with modem technology. Initially, the Directors and promoters of the Western Fair incorporated the voice and authority of technological knowledge and advancement into the exhibitions, displays and competitions. By lending legitimacy to technological innovation and use as the motive force for social and economic improvement, the Association leaders and members hoped to create a blueprint for future prosperity. At the same time, these influential men sought to establish a prominent role for the Association, and the City of London, Ontario, in local, regional, provincial and international development. After the Great War, and especially after World War II, Canadians became increasingly disillusioned with the expanded incursion of technology in the workplace, schools and homes. While the Fair organizers continued to exhibit a positivist faith in technology, many people had valid reasons for rejecting these beliefs.

Although the leaders of the Fair Association played an active role in the dissemination of technological knowledge, their operations of and decisions about programming, scheduling competitions and judging, corporate structures and capital investment in the organization's plant and facilities also reveals much about southwestern Ontario's rapid industrial expansion, changing gender roles, increasing urbanization, rural depopulation and changing social and political cultures and attitudes. Throughout the discussion period, Western Fair Directors and members grappled with issues such as municipal funding, local plans for housing and recreational development, increasing urbanization, rural depopulation and the economic crisis of the 1930s. When Canada declared war on Germany in 1939, the Department of National Defence appropriated the entire plant and facilities of the Western Fair Association. No one involved with the Fair Association realized that this decision would bring an eight year halt to the Association's operations. Efforts to rebuild the Western Fair Association took place during 1944 through to 1947. Because of the strength and influence of enterprising Directors and supporters, the Western Fair Association was well positioned to reclaim its pre-war status as an agricultural, educational and recreational event centre.

At times, concepts and ideas about the social and economic benefits attributed to technological development were overshadowed by social, political and economic emergencies. However, the Association leaders persisted in the promotion of technological knowledge even as they responded to the challenges to maintain, improve, and expand the organization. As Keith Walden has observed, “there is little point...in trying to measure degrees of influence.” Because the Western Fair Association attracted wide audiences and drew from a diverse pool of resources, the following analysis cannot be confined to a technological framework of analysis. This examination of the Fair, which evolved rapidly into a complex social institution, demonstrates how the ideas and ideals about technological advancement intersected with, and sometimes competed with, social and cultural constructions of gender, class, ethnic diversity, and community development.

Convocation Year

2002

Convocation Season

Spring

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