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 64th North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo 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 pot holes, with just a little bit of pavement at Rayleigh; and it took at least an hour and-a-half to travel it.”
Mel Schmidt, who also attended the 1950 Fair, becoming the associations 4H representative a few years later, says, “I was a 4H member for that first Fair. I belonged to the Barriere 4H 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 4H 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 foot work 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 more recent years as the Tolko Louis Creek Mill; since 2004 as the Louis Creek Industrial Park, and most recently the Barriere Southgate Industrial Park). The property cost $50 to rent for the one day event; 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 sheep dog 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.
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.”
Geordie Salle is a Life Member of the North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo Association and is still active as a volunteer along with husband Manna (pictured), who will turn 100 this year. They have four daughters, six grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and 16 foster children who have all been a part of the annual fall fair in Barriere.