66 years in the making

Canadian County’s annual fair next week at new ‘permanent’ home

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Canadian County Fair Board Vice Chairman Dan Wedman (left) and Fair Board Secretary Brad Tipton stand in front of the new Canadian County Expo & Event Center, which opened in early July. The site, just south of Interstate 40 and east of Highway 81 in El Reno, hosts the 67th Annual Canadian County Free Fair next week. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

EL RENO – Canadian County residents will gather next week for the annual Canadian County Free Fair at a new “permanent” home.

The Canadian County Expo & Event Center has been built on 50 acres at Alfadale and Jensen roads just south of Interstate 40.

“This has been 66 years in the making,” Canadian County Fair Board Secretary Brad Tipton said. “That’s a long time.”

The 67th Annual Canadian County Fair will be presented Aug. 23-28 at the new county fairgrounds’ complex. Canadian County use tax revenues have funded construction of the project’s $15.2 million first phase.

“I think pride is the best thing this facility brings out in folks – not to mention the economic development,” Tipton said. “For that first event (a regional team roping competition in early July), there were 500 cowboy hats renting rooms around this county.”

The Canadian County Expo & Event Center features a 19,000 square foot event center, 46,000 square foot indoor arena and 19,000 square foot open-air pavilion, along with around 15,000 square feet of office space. There also is an outdoor concert park and outdoor arena.

“This facility will create excitement that we’ve never seen before at our county fair,” Tipton promised. “How can you not be excited when you walk into that building?”

A ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony will be 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23 at 3001 Jensen Road East in El Reno.

Director Nathan Smith has booked various programs into 2022 at the new Canadian County Expo & Event Center. Among them are gun shows, wrestling events, livestock competitions, and horse shows.

Canadian County in spring 2019 bought the property for $1.25 million from the Jensen Family. As part of the real estate contract, the county has an option to purchase up to another 50 acres for future growth.

Dan Wedman, a Canadian County Fair Board member since the early 1990s, led efforts to develop a larger fairgrounds’ facility for many years.

“We’re one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, and we want to see the county continue to grow,” said Wedman, the fair board’s vice chairman. “This hopefully will be one of the attractions to this county from states away, distances away.”

Canadian County’s official population from the 2020 U.S. Census totals 154,405 – about doubling the total from 30 years ago.

For the past 66 years, Canadian County Free Fair has been presented at a fairgrounds’ facility on N Country Club Road.

In fall 1954, the Canadian County Fair Board “purchased a piece of land west of El Reno, just north of the Thunderbird Coliseum,” according to an article written by Carolyn Barker for a Canadian County history book.

“It had two concrete structures on the land. A livestock barn was erected in time for the 1955 Canadian County Free Fair.”

FIRST FAIR … IN 1914

The first Canadian County Fair was presented Sept. 16-18, 1914.

“The Convention Hall on Rock Island was used to display the agriculture exhibits,” Barker wrote. “The livestock was shown in the large brick livery barn on Bickford.”

The article informs readers a “permanent home” for the Canadian County Fair was identified 100 years ago.

A 7-1/2-acre tract of land east of the El Reno Cemetery (near U.S. 66 and Highway 81) was chosen in June 1921.

Funds for the purchase of the land and construction of a fair building were obtained through the sale of city-owned property northeast of El Reno.

A photo from the archives at El Reno’s Carnegie Library shows volunteers working in September 1921 on a new Canadian County Fair building.

“On Wednesday, September 6, 1921, almost 200 volunteer workers labored to finish the building,” according to Barker’s historical account. “It was thought the volunteer labor could complete it in two days. But they didn’t quite finish the job.

“The north wall of the building was blown down on September 11 during a storm, just three days before the fair began. That portion of the building was not used. But the east and west wings were not damaged and were used for the fair exhibits.”

Fast forward a century as members of the Canadian County Fair Board are confident the “new” permanent fairgrounds at Alfadale and Jensen will hold up for the 2021 fair activities.

For the complete schedule and entry information about the 67th Annual Canadian County Free Fair, visit www.canadiancountyexpo.org or call (405) 422-5400.

Canadian County Fair Board Secretary Brad Tipton holds a map of the new Canadian County Expo & Event Center. A ribbon cutting and dedication will be 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23 at 3001 Jensen Road East in El Reno. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)
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