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Northlands Park - Memories Worth Keeping
community events

New Directions

Alberta has gone through several incarnations since European settlement, spending most of its early life affected by the powerful Hudson's Bay Company. Adventurers and explorers, many of whom immigrated under company auspices, sustained themselves in the off-seasons through hunting and trapping, as there were limited opportunities for permanent employment at the trading posts before 1850. A farmer works among his wheatThe latter half of the 19th century saw sweeping changes in the province, first with the introduction of individual and organized competition against the Hudson's Bay Company, followed by the Canadian government's acquisition of its holdings in 1870. In that climate, agriculture began to grow increasingly important, becoming the primary occupation for many newcomers.

A few hardy souls, who had taken up permanent residence in Edmonton even before the Canadian Pacific Rail expanded into the region in 1883, created the Edmonton Agricultural Society (EAS), in hope of showcasing the best fruits of the agricultural field.

Though the first EAS event, held in 1879, was greeted with optimism, organizers were not so lucky a year later. In fact, the Edmonton Bulletin (the forerunner of the Edmonton Journal) openly panned the group, claiming that the society had "gone to smash" as a result of poor attendance. Reporters later predicted that the city's future rested with manufacturing rather than farming, rendering the EAS obsolete. The organization responded to these predictions in part by changing its name to the Edmonton Industrial Exhibition Association (EIEA) in 1900.

Contrary to the Bulletin's predictions, later events would only serve to strengthen popular emphasis on agriculture as the bread-and-butter of the local economy. Stacked against a comparatively limited interest in manufacturing, farms were clearly winning as the dominant economic force. In response, the organization adopted a new name, the Edmonton Exhibition Association (EEA), in 1908.

Farm equipmentCore emphasis on agriculture did not stop the association from extending its reach, and board members called for the creation of permanent structures designed to attract the public, foreshadowing the games and rides that would become part of the fair years later. To that end, the wooden roller coaster and 'tunnel of love' were both built in 1918.

A new optimism carried the organization through minor pitfalls and modest profits for the next 11 years, culminating in their golden anniversary extravaganza of 1929, held only a few months before the stock market crash.

The subsequent drought and Depression served as reminders of how tightly Alberta's fortune was tied to the land, and as warnings to those who would rely entirely on the members of one industry for their patronage.

Seeing this, the Edmonton Exhibition Association expanded on the nature of its offerings, realizing modest gains for its ingenuity. The governing boards continued their programs of expansion and diversification through the following decades, always bringing their goals in line with economic reality in order to survive changes in the industry.

Lettuce on displayAgriculture became increasingly mechanized following the Second World War. As the more labour-intensive farming tasks were delegated to machines, greater numbers of people migrated into urban areas in search of work.

This began a trend that can still be seen today, wherein large industrial farms have supplanted smaller ones. With that, the focus of the EEA, which became Edmonton Northlands in 1978, had largely shifted from showcasing model agricultural achievements for knowledgeable rural residents, to exhibiting novel farming ideas as an educational service.

Because of Northlands' emphasis on linking up with the public, most of the agricultural shows and displays are held during or near the 10 days when the midway is operating. Crowds that have come to take in the variety available at Klondike Days, the Canadian Finals Rodeo, or cultural attractions such as the International Marketplace or Feature Show, are also treated to rural awareness activities such as the 4-H livestock contest.

Northlands also successfully hosts Farmfair International each November, in part using proceeds from summer activities.

Giant WheelMuch as their forbearers did when running Northlands a century ago, the current and future governing bodies will adapt the organization to meet the changing needs of the public. They will also continue in a long tradition of establishing key relationships and policies designed to benefit the community as a whole.

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Livestock shows
 and auctions

Machinery shows
 and auctions

4-H and other rural youth programs



New Directions

The Alberta Online Encyclopedia visit Northlands.com! visit the Heritage Community Foundation!