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Then and Now: Sportsmen’s and Tourists’ Fair

Mon., April 21, 2014

Today’s business and tourism promoters talk about whitewater parks, “Near Nature, Near Perfect” and Spokane’s occasional appearances in top-10 lists.

Such promotions are not new. In 1920, as the frantic growth of the former frontier settlement began to slow, the Chamber of Commerce came up with a fair promoting the city’s proximity to fishing and hunting: the Sportsmen’s and Tourists’ Fair. Money was gathered from businesses, reporters and railroad dignitaries were invited to visit, and an exhibit area was prepared with a faux forest scene, ponds with waterfowl, and displays featuring stuffed or live, caged animals.

The first year, 7,000 people walked through the exhibits and attended luncheons and lectures. Resort operators from Loon, Deer, Newman, Liberty, Hauser, Williams, Badger and Fishtrap lakes bragged about the fishing. During the teens and 1920s, the Chamber paid to stock fish at area lakes.

Through the 1920s, the fair grew each year, from the assembly room at the Chamber offices to a makeshift exhibit hall under the rail trestles downtown. In 1924, the speaker at the opening reception was El Comancho, whose given name was W.S. Phillips. The author, adventurer and storyteller showed up in puttees, corduroy breeches and coat, a dark flannel shirt, black neckerchief, Stetson hat and a monocle to regale visitors with stories of adventure and his many years of living with the coastal Chinook Indians.

Reducing it to dollars and cents, J.E. Griffith, chamber secretary, said, “I believe that this party of newspaper writers (at the fair) will give Spokane national publicity worth as much as it cost to put the fair on this year.” The Great Depression, then World War II, ended the show’s run.

The Inland Northwest Big Game Council, later the Wildlife Council, formed in 1951, bringing together outdoors enthusiasts who have sponsored the annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show every March since 1960.

– Jesse Tinsley


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