1916 was the start of something spectacular – it was the year of the first Midland Empire Fair. This fair promised to have the finest agricultural, livestock and industrial exhibits ever seen. The Midland Empire Fair brought together communities from all over Montana and Northern Wyoming. This allowed people to show off their projects they had been working on all year in hopes of winning a blue ribbon and some recognition. With great excitement for this new endeavor, the fair board made special arrangements with the Northern Pacific Railroad to run a train from the depot to the fairgrounds. This arrangement gave special rates for riders of the train to travel back and forth from the fair to home.
With great success the fair continued to grow over the years but in 1919, it was bigger and even more elaborate than years prior. This 4th annual fair had several counties of Northern Wyoming involved in showing in exhibits and livestock. Wyoming recognized that the Midland Empire Fair was a great advertising tool in the northwest.
Midland Empire Fair housed the finest livestock in the region and people traveled from all over. Soon, Montana started becoming known as a state in which purebred livestock was a specialty. Not only were the exhibits and livestock but also the attractions of horseracing and rodeo. The annual horserace drew in thousands and the rodeo brought in cowboys from all over the nation. Both types of riders competed for the largest purses rewarded to winners.
The fair was a destination for exhibitors and a place where all the citizens from different counties could exchange helpful advice. They were able to discuss what worked for them and why as well as explain what didn’t work.
After having the name Midland Empire Fair for nearly 60 years, the fair board decided it was time for a name change and rebranded the fair as the Yellowstone Exhibition. The board felt that changing the name would help those that weren’t really sure what or where the Midland Empire was. Having Yellowstone in the name made the area more distinguishable. Also, they used exhibition instead of exposition because Great Falls used that in their name.
In 1969 came a great tragedy when the original Midland Empire Auditorium burned down. Though it was sad to see it go, the board used it as an opportunity to create a new facility that could be used year round and host more events than just an annual fair. Seven years later, the Metra was constructed. The name Metra came from an acronym for Montana Entertainment Trade and Recreation Arena.
The Yellowstone Exhibition lasted about for about 14 years until transitioning in to the MontanaFair that we have today here at MetraPark. Although the name has changed, the event still stays true to the original mission of celebrating agriculture and education and has become the largest event in Montana with 250,000 visitors annually.