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History tells how things really were.

We are blessed with a bountiful country and nowhere is nature's abundance more evident than in the Niagara region at harvest time. Markets and fruit stands are full to overflowing and in communities large and small, fall fairs and carnivals showcase the cornucopia of products offered by our farmers, food producers and wineries. At pumpkin weigh-ins, grape-king contests and food festivals we celebrate the largesse of our land.

It all began on October 21st, 1792, when His Excellency John Graves Simcoe, Chief Justice Wm. Osgoode, Alexander Grant and Peter Russell convened a session of the Executive Council of Upper Canada in the Council Chambers of Navy Hall at Newark in the County of Lincoln. Among other matters they considered that Sabbath day was a petition from the "Magistrates and principal inhabitants" in the Home District calling for the establishment of an Annual Fair to be held in the neighbourhood of the Town of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). The petitioners requested that a proclamation be issued to institute such a fair which they suggested should commence on the second Monday of October and extend "for and during the space of six days," beginning in the year 1793. >/p>

Simcoe was empowered by letters patent under the Great Seal of Great Britain, "to order and appoint such fairs, marts and markets." He was always anxious to promote agriculture and trade, so by and with the advice and consent of the Executive Council, Simcoe duly proclaimed that an annual fair should take place as recommended by the petitioners.

The proclamation specified that the fair, which was expected to benefit both farmers and colonists alike, would be for the "the purpose of buying, selling or exchanging all such Cattle, Grain, Provisions, Goods, Wares, and Merchandise." A good deal of the trade involved travel across the Niagara River. Although the American Revolution had ended in 1783, Britain still retained possession of Fort Niagara on the American side of the Niagara River and continued to do so until the summer of 1796. During this thirteen year period Fort Niagara was the focus of a good deal of traffic and trading by British merchants, who freely moved back and forth across the river.

Private ferries provided much of the transportation for settlers and their possessions and public ferries were used for military communication with the garrison. In order to manage this transit, strict government regulations were introduced in 1793 to regulate the operation of ferries at Newark, Lewiston-Queenston, and Fort Erie-Black Rock. To maintain their licences ferry keepers were required to observe various terms and conditions which included charging specified fares for passengers, animals and merchandise.

Passengers on foot crossing below Fort Erie were charged a quarter dollar, while those crossing at Queenston paid one sixteenth of a dollar. A rider and horse cost half a dollar. On payment of "full ferriage" - a dollar at Fort Erie and a half dollar at Queenston - passengers could demand passage at any other time. Even though the eastern side of the river was still occupied by Britain, no person was permitted to leave the province and cross over on the ferries without a passport effective for six days from the date of issue - and no longer!

When practicable ferries operated throughout the year at the hours of seven, ten and twelve o'clock in the morning, and at three and sunset in the afternoon. Ferry-keepers were required to maintain registers containing the names of those entering and leaving the province. Registers had to be submitted every three months to the headquarters of the commanding officer of the neighbourhood post.

Ferry-keepers who failed to comply with the conditions and responsibilities of their operation, were liable to forfeit their leases and face such other damages as could be proved against them. Complaints were to be addressed to the Commanding Officer of the neighbourhood military post.

Tolls were also charged to cross the river. Since these taxes were an extra financial burden for merchants and customers alike, they were considered by many to be an impediment to trade. In order to stimulate business and encourage the widest possible participation during the fair, it was decided to abolish tolls for the period of the October exposition. Therefore, effective during the six-day period of the fair, and two days before and the two days after, all persons going to or from the fair with their cattle, grain, provisions, goods, wares, and merchandise, were to "be conveyed to and from the Town of Newark toll-free." Red tape was cut in the cause of commerce and suspension of the tolls told all and sundry that Upper Canada was open for business.

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