It’s Maui Fair time, a tradition that goes back to 1916. The whole community pitched in to make the first Maui County Fair a success. Plans included a “department of domestic arts” that would show home products, including cookery, household decoration, and fancy work; commercial exhibits from Honolulu houses of business; and the foremost focus: agricultural improvement demonstrations. The fair would offer the latest and best in livestock and farm products. There would be dancing and a grand ball with music by two bands.
Spread out under the white tops of tents across 10 acres of Wailuku (near today’s Wells Park), the fair drew thousands over the Thanksgiving weekend. It began with a parade of nearly 3,000 children led by the Hawaiian Band of Honolulu. Daisy the elephant, shipped in from O`ahu, was a major attraction. Pictures show the poor creature looking rather beleaguered, with a seat placed on its back to give rides to fair-goers. With expenses of $5,000, the fair grossed $7,000, netting a profit of $2,000.
There was one ominous note. Gov. Lucius Pinkham addressed the fair-goers and warned that they should begin to prepare for war. Indeed, World War I was just around the corner, and for the next two years there would be no fair. In the meantime, the fair joined ranks with the Maui Racing Association, and the next fair, in 1919, was put on by The Maui County Fair & Racing Association. Horse racing was now an essential component of the fair, and would be for years to come, with a race track set up at the longtime Fairgrounds in Kahului in the area where Safeway is now located.
For decades, the Maui County Fair was the biggest event of each year on Maui. Things have changed. There are no horse races, and it’s not even called the county fair anymore. The dedicated space in Kahului has been replaced by temporary quarters at the War Memorial complex. But while more sophisticated entertainment opportunities abound year-round for Maui residents, the fair still pulls them in. And sometimes it seems as if half the island is in the parade that opens the fair on Thursday evening, while the other half stands along Ka`ahumanu Avenue to cheer them on.