The Fair for Britain
During World War II, the Canadian National Exhibition was closed from 1942 to 1946 when the site was taken over by the Canadian Armed Forces so it could be used as a training and recruitment centre. The closing of the CNE did not stop its midway provider, the entrepreneur and showman J.W. (Patty) Conklin Founder of Conklin Shows! He scoped out other available spaces in the city and wound up staging a “Fair for Britain” in Toronto’s Riverdale Park, just north of the Don Jail.
The strategy behind the event was to support the war effort by donating a percentage of the midway proceeds to the Toronto Evening Telegram’s British War Victim Fund while at the same time “helping to sustain the morale of citizens through entertainment” and “providing work for unemployed carnies and others during hard times”. Records indicate that the Fair for Britain took place in 1942 and 1943 until difficulties with City Hall erupted and the Fair for Britain came to an end. This Owen Staples 1942 painting features the Lancaster flying over the Fair for Britain. The CNE re-opened in 1947.
The Artist: Owen Staples (1866-1949)
This painting of the Fair for Britain was created by Owen Staples, the Canadian painter, etcher, pastelist, cartoonist, author, musician and naturalist.
Born in England, Staples and his family moved to Hamilton, Ontario in 1872. Abandoned by their father, the family moved to Rochester, New York in 1876. After the death of his mother in 1881, Staples was hired as a messenger boy at the Rochester Art Club, where he was given the nickname Poe. There he began his art training with Horatio Walker and Harvey Ellis. After nine years in the United States, Staples moved to Toronto in 1885, to study under George Agnew Reid. That same year, he was hired by John Ross Robertson, founder of the Toronto Telegram. He was granted a leave of absence from the Telegram in 1886 to study in Philadelphia with Thomas Eakins and Thomas Pollack Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. From 1888 to 1908, Owens worked for the Toronto Telegram as a staff artist, reporter, political cartoonist and illustrator for the J. Ross Collection. Thereafter, Staples became a well-known artist, illustrating a number of books, executing commissioned murals, and producing a vast oeuvre of paintings, watercolours and etchings. Staples also had a long association with the Group of Seven. His watercolours and his ability to “catch the light” were a big influence on the young Tom Thomson. He introduced the 18-year A.J. Casson to the local arts scene through the Arts and Letters Club. Staples also hosted lively open houses on Sundays which attracted a vibrant cross-section of Toronto society, including a number of artists who would become members of the Group of Seven.