The pros and cons of the Six Nations Fall Fair become evident only when viewed through the glasses of today’s struggles and sensibilities. To most, it’s just an annual event to end the summer. But there is much more to the story of how it came to be, and the political struggles it has been through, yet has never missed a beat in 148 years.
The late 1800’s was a time when some influential Six Nations families preferred to be recognized a British subjects to escape the sorrow and uncertainty of remaining sovereign, independent people.
One must always take into account the thinking of the day and not process historical data through today’s understanding.
In a small book published in 1942, recounting the history of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory’s Agricultural Society, some of the wording may be troublesome or even treasonous through todays eyes.
An example is a letter written by the Six Nations Agricultural Society to “the Right Honourable Earl of Dufferin, Governor General of the Dominion of Canada” in 1874.
In it, J.A. Beaver, President; Wm. Martin, Vixe President; Isaac Bearfoot, Secretary: James Styres, Treasurer; and Committee members Peter Garlow, Peter Hill, William Smith, Henry Hill and Jacob Davis proudly declare themselves Her Majesty’s subjects. Note that this was before 1924.
There are conflicting dates of the actual origin of the Fair, but the first mention of it was in a Brantford Expositor article dated 1875, and refers to it as the eighth annual. It is known that the site of the original seed that grew into the Fall Fair began at the farm of Chief Wm. Johnson at Mohawk Road and First Line Road.
In 1876, the weather was not cooperative and the Old Council House was used as a Floral Hall for the judging of flowers, as well as to display crafts and needlework. Outside there were several brass bands playing between downpours.
It was just before the 1880 Fair that Indian Affairs’ Superintendent, Mr. Gilkinson, urged the Six Nations Indians to take more interest in agricultural pursuits, so Six Nations Indians would excel their white neighbours and that the Fairgrounds should be fenced in and an Agricultural Hall be built. The ½ mile track was also added. The first agricultural building was in the shape of a Maltese Cross.
It is also assumed by modernists that voting was not how Six Nations did things before 1924. This myth too is exposed in the minutes of the Six Nations Agricultural Society of 1881.
At that time, a vote was taken to determine if they should set aside $200 in prize money for the fair.
The minutes were taken by SNAS secretary Josiah Hill, who was also the secretary of the Confederacy Council.
In the summer of 1908, the original building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground along with other buildings close by. Fortunately, the building was insured and the $1400 they received from the insurance company plus a $1200 grant paid for the second building, which served the community until a new Community Hall was built in 1935 at a cost of $9,000.
Between 1914 and 1918, the building served as an army barracks for Six Nations soldiers of the 114th battalion and the fairgrounds as a parade square.
The land the Fairgrounds now stands on was once the farm of Jackson Jamieson who purchased it from Thomas and Adam Thomas. The SNAS then granted it to the Council of Chiefs.
The Council and the SNAS were always closely associated. Around 1885, the SNAS was restructured top conform with Ontario standards so as to qualify for grants.
In the 1920’s the Chiefs Council eventually took control of the fair after controversy over how the SNAS voted on matters, by proxy, which was deemed as illegal.
A similar controversy in 1926, split both the Society and the Confederacy, some approving the change while others, including the Mohawk Workers, disapproved. For a time there were two fairs, one organized by the Society, who considered themselves Loyalists, and the other by the faction of the Council backed by the Mohawk Workers.
Eventually, the Mohawk Workers won out and there was once again one Six Nations Fall Fair but not run by the newly imposed Elected Council. This was overturned by Canada and the Elected Council was given the responsibility of running the Fair with Archie Russell elected as president and William F Powless as Secretary.
The Fair has been finding a way to keep going through good times and bad, and reflect the complexities of the Six Nations politic as well as the hopes and aspirations of Six Nations people during a very hard and divided time.
Enjoy the fair, knowing a little about why it is so important to the people of Six Nations, even today.