Near the small town of Walton in Huron County, the country will come alive with the rural event known as the International Plowing Match & Rural Expo, Sept 19-23. To host and celebrate the 100th match this year, volunteers have dedicated thousands of hours to making this event a success. You may wonder, how and why the Plowing Match got started. Read on to find out more.
The following information is gleaned from excerpts and summarized from “God Speed The Plow,” by John Fennell. He was a former Secretary Manager of the Ontario Plowmen’s Association and wrote the book in 2000. Of course, we’ve only featured highlights here, but for the full history and a great read, we recommend getting a copy of his book!
Plowing has been used as a method of tilling the soil and weed control for 8,000 years. God Speed the Plow notes that competitive plowing first started in Scotland where plowmen would compete to see who could plow the straightest furrow. Neighbours would look over each other’s land. In time, a committee was formed to evaluate the work and give a prize to the best plowman. The first plowing competitions in Canada were held in Nova Scotia in 1819.
The Agricultural Society of Upper Canada was formed in 1818 to ‘create competition and emulation among the farmers in the Province’. The main reason for the formation was for improving livestock, but plowing matches were included in the program. Over the next few decades as immigrants came to Canada and cleared land to farm, most agricultural societies in Ontario organized plowing matches in conjunction with their annual fairs. The plowing matches allowed farmers to see the latest plow designs and cultivation techniques.
From 1867 to the late 1880s, groups interested in plowing began to form separate plowmen’s associations in their areas. The reason being, folk felt having a fair and a plowing contest held at the same time was not practical. Many local plowmen’s associations were formed and matches held over the years.
In the fall of 1910, a meeting of members of the local York associations was held to discuss the possibility of organizing a provincial plowmen’s organization. At a subsequent meeting with 64 in attendance on January 6, 1911, a motion to form the Ontario Plowmen’s Association was passed.
The following object (or objective) was in the first constitution.
The object of the Ontario Plowmen’s Association is to advance the interests of Agriculture:
- By encouraging its members to give greater attention to the thorough cultivation of the soil
- By establishing Branch Associations throughout the province
- By disseminating useful information with regard to the fertilization and cultivation of the soil
- By interesting father’s sons to become first class plowmen thereby largely increasing the yield and quality of the field crops of Ontario
- By encouraging annual Provincial, County and Township plowing matches
- By awarding premiums at such competitions
- By such other means as may be desirable.
The objectives have been rewritten in 1935 and 1997, but are similar to the originals from 1911.
The first International Plowing Match in ‘modern day’ (leading to the 100th being hosted in Huron County) was held at Sunnybrook Farm in 1913. It is now the site of Sunnybrook Hospital on Eglington Avenue in Toronto. It was a one day event and just a plowing match. Sunnybrook Farm was owned by a Mr. Kilgour. During the match he entertained the plowmen and their guests at a luncheon and arranged to meet the Metropolitan Transit cars at the Blythewood Station to transport people to the match. This match was only open to plowmen who had won a first or second prize at their local match. The second match was also held at Sunnybrook Farm in 1914.
The 1915 match was hosted by the City of Guelph. It was the last of the one day events. Four to five thousand people attended and those who came saw a plowing demonstration by a new technology, tractors.
The match increased to three days in 1916 and continued to move to different locations around the province for 1917. The 1918 plowing match was cancelled due to the ‘1918 Flu Epidemic’. It was to be held at the Federal Government’s Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. It was the only scheduled match to be cancelled. The first tractor plowing class, with the tractor to be operated by a bona fide farmer was offered in the 1918 prize book. Both tractor and horse plowing classes continue to this day. No matches were held from 1942 to 1945 due to war restrictions.
The plowing match continued to grow and move around the province. In 1920, there were demonstrations of many different kinds of farm equipment. The name of the event evolved from 1913 to 1916 when it was called the Ontario Provincial Plowing Match, through various iterations to the International Plowing Match and Farm Machinery Show then to the International Plowing Match and Rural Expo as it is known today. As the name has changed, so has the event to include activities for the whole family; entertainment, the famed Tented City and an RV park.
With the 100th International Plowing Match and Rural Expo upon us, we encourage you to make plans to attend. Celebrate the rich history of agricultural improvement, innovation and rural fellowship with an eye towards the future.
For full details on IPM 2017, visit http://www.plowingmatch.org/
P.S. Come visit South Easthope Mutual in the Ontario Mutuals tent at this year’s IPM. We hope to see you there!
Thank you to the Ontario Plowmen’s Association for the historical photos shown below.