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This park in the Village of London East (part of the city of London since 1885), was originally owned by John Salter and known as "Salter's Grove". He was a local pharmacist and dentist in the area. The land was part of the virgin forest and had huge oak and pine trees, some measuring more than two meters in diameter. Salter donated all of it to the Village in 1878 with the idea that it be kept as parkland.
That same year, a group of citizens petitioned London council to form a public park on the land. By 1879 they even volunteered funds in the form of a subscription, which meant that donations from various citizens were given to help offset initial expenses by the city for labour and materials required to start the park. The residents and businesses in London East raised funds to landscape and improve the parklands. This included fencing, flower beds, walkways, planting of deciduous and evergreen trees, and a bandstand. Improvements were made to an already existing 180-metre oval race track. (That track is today's Western Fair Raceway.) As a tribute to England's Queen Victoria for her 60th birthday, the area was renamed "Queen's Park".
Subsequent years saw sports competitions held with contests in such things as ball-playing, greased-pole climbing and The Greasy Pig Race. There is no reference yet to the rides at this location.
London had been hosting The (Ontario) Provincial Exhibition for Canada West. This fair had circulated around the province to various towns & cities from 1846 until 1857. That year, the circuit was reduced to Hamilton, Kingston, London and Toronto to start with the 1858 season.
It was held in London in 1861 and 1865 on a former military garrison property near today's Victoria Park. The London fair was so successful that in 1868, London began to host an annual event called The "Western Fair" while still continuing to host The Provincial Exhibition whenever London's turn came up. Its subsequent turns were in 1869, 1873 and 1877.
In the 1870s, Toronto vied to have the Provincial Exhibition be located permanently in Toronto. The other locations did not agree, so Toronto eventually broke away to host its own fair: The Toronto Exhibition. That began in 1879 and became today's Canadian National Exhibition. London's Western Fair continued on and presumably the Provincial Fair was no more.
In 1887, the Western Fair Association became a corporation and negotiated a nominal fee to lease the park for their annual exhibition. The Association removed many of the trees and built exhibition buildings but the rest of the park remained a nature area. The new location at Queen's Park, opened September 19th, 1887.
The main building at Western fair was a huge wood and glass structure called The "Crystal Palace". There had been an earlier "Crystal Palace" on Richmond Street, the fair's old location, but this larger, and more elaborate one was erected when the fair moved. Both buildings were named after Joseph Paxton's structure at the London, England world's fair of 1851. Many similar structures bore that name in the decades following the 1851 exhibition. It unfortunately would later be lost in a fire in January of 1927. Its replacement was The Confederation Building. (See The CEC Midway Exhibition Grounds and the 1851 World's Fair Books section for information on the 1851 Exhibition.)
London's Queen's Park survives today as part of the modern Western Fair, which has expanded a number of times over its life. To keep it as a public park, fencing is now only put up temporarily during the annual 10-day fall fair. In 1959, another amusement park was built here. See Frolic-Land.
|Thanks to Inge Sanmiya at The Western Fair Museum and Archives for additional information on this park.|
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