County Fair in Canby Was Apple of State’s Eye

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After a bit of a false start up in Gladstone, the Clackamas County Fair found its permanent home right here in Canby.

In May 1909, the County Fair Association made it official — purchasing the “magnificent” 40-acre tract that would become the heart of the Clackamas County Fairgrounds from C.N. Wait, son and heir of former Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Aaron Wait.

Wait and the entire fair board packed into an automobile owned by Canby Canal President W.B. Moore and headed over to the Oregon City office of another fair booster, Judge Thomas F. Ryan, where the deeds were already prepared and just waiting to be signed. Money changed hands, and the deal was sealed.

“Very little time was consumed in this transaction,” The Oregonian later recorded. “Mr. Moore made the run with his auto from Canby to Oregon City, including the stop to pick up [Fair Association] President [George] Lazelle, in 22 minutes. On the return trip, 26 minutes were used in getting back.”

Plans were already being made to bolster the barns, arenas and other outbuildings that had been slapped together for the 1908 fair, including a grandstand capable of holding 2,000 spectators — and bleachers that could hold 2,000 more.

These, of course, were centered around the fairgrounds’ racetrack, which was already gaining a reputation as one of the fastest and finest half-mile tracks on the entire West Coast. Races were held throughout the year — not just during the fair — and regularly drew thousands of fans and large purses for the winners.

At the 1909 fair, though, it wasn’t only the horses that drew rave reviews.

“The apples of Hood River are world beaters but they have no edge over those of Clackamas County,” The Oregonian declared after the fair wrapped up on Oct. 3. “This fact is evidenced by the purchase of about 60 boxes of the finest apples of Clackamas County that were on exhibit last week at the third annual Clackamas County Fair.”

The man who bought them was none other than C.L. Rogers, a well-known grower and owner of two large fruit ranches in Hood River.

“The spectacle of a Hood River man buying Clackamas County apples is an unusual one,” the newspaper noted, “and has spurred the local fundraisers to further effort.”

The 1910 fair established a new tradition: the crowning of a queen to preside over the festivities. The Fair Association collected votes for a month, with ballot boxes at local drugstores. For a penny each, you could cast as many votes as you liked.

The race was open to any young woman of Clackamas County, and many were mentioned as candidates by newspaper coverage of the event. But when the ballots were tallied up, it was — appropriately — a “popular young lady of Canby” who was named Her Royal Highness.

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Ora Lee, the 20-year-old granddaughter of two of the town’s founders Philander and Anna Lee and cousin of “Mr. Canby” himself, M.J. Lee, was indeed Canby royalty, and the election, as it turned out, was not particularly close.

“Miss Ora Lee received 11,300 votes,” The Oregonian said, “while her nearest competitor received 3,200.” Ouch!

The 1910 fair drew nearly 6,000 — a record — with the exhibits and races drawing rave reviews.

“The fruit and vegetables were almost marvelous in their perfection,” a reporter later wrote, “and showed what Clackamas County and the northern Willamette Valley can raise when they try.”

The return of the “baby show” — sort of a pre-Steve Harvey version of Family Feud — was also popular, with more than 50 entries. The best-natured baby was owned by Mrs. W.M. Randall; the largest by Mrs. C.W. Fallert. The youngest entry was a child of Mrs. D.E. Bok — the oldest: C.H. Dye, an attorney from Oregon City.

And a dairy contest was instituted, which went over so well that fair boosters decided on the spot to make it a permanent feature.

In 1911, the city of Canby held its first Fourth of July celebration at the county fairgrounds and was, in the words of the Canby Tribune, a “big success in every way.”

“All the attractions were pulled off as advertised and from morning until night there was not a dull moment,” the newspaper recorded in its usual colorful, breathless way. “The day was ideal and a large crowd was present to help celebrate our Day of Independence. The day was ushered in with a salute of guns at sunrise that jarred the town like the San Francisco earthquake. Some even hint that saluters used dynamite.”

The Canby event featured horse races, baseball and other athletic events and, of course, fireworks. The Canby Band led a parade from the railroad depot down to the fairgrounds, the highlight of which was a “Liberty car,” drawn by four big sled horses.

“It was a thing of beauty,” the Tribune said, “from the decorations to the sweet little Goddess of Liberty and her fair maids, and the little tots representing the states all dressed in white and blue badges.”

The baseball game between the Chemawa Indians and Canby was taken by the home team, but only after extra innings. Canby took the 11-inning decision, 2 to 1.

Photo courtesy the Canby Historical Society.

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