Fall fairs – A part of our rural communities

It’s fall fair season. Do you have plans to attend one in your area?  Do you know why fairs started in the first place and their purpose?

Fall fairs are run by local agricultural societies. Much like mutual insurance companies, agricultural societies have been part of the fabric of rural Ontario and Canada since well before Confederation.

A history piece on the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (OAAS) website written by Guy Scott, OAAS Past President, states:

“Fairs are almost as old as recorded history. There were two types of ancient fairs: trade shows and festivals. From the biblical “Fairs of Tyre” to Sturbridge Fair in medieval England, fairs were used as market places and carnivals. In the 1700s the British crossed the agricultural improvement society with the traditional trade fair/carnival and agricultural fairs were born.”

“These agricultural fairs were transplanted to the colonies by the earliest British settlers. The concept of fairs soon flourished in agrarian North America. In Canada, the first agricultural society was formed in 1765 in Nova Scotia. Ontario followed suit in 1792 with the Agricultural Society of Upper Canada based at Niagara on the Lake. From the Ontario strongholds, the concept of agricultural fairs spread west with the first settlers.”

“After a few false starts, the system of agricultural societies and their fairs spread all over Ontario in the 1800s. They were organized by county and township and at one time numbered over 500 in Ontario alone. While agricultural societies used many methods (of varying success) to improve agriculture and the rural lifestyle, their most enduring and endearing legacy was the agricultural fair. Industrial exhibitions and festivals came and went, but the fairs just carried on.”

The mention above of British society crossing the agricultural improvement societies with the traditional trade fair/carnival is a key point. The Saskatchewan Association of Agricultural Societies and Exhibitions also states that organized agricultural societies helped settlers and pioneers to exchange information on crop and animal husbandry and display their crops, livestock and domestic arts and crafts. The societies also provided an opportunity for social gatherings that were essential to the early Canadian pioneers.

The friendly competition amongst neighbours when exhibiting at fairs has driven rural folk over the years to breed for better conformation in animals, grow bigger pumpkins or continue to perfect that elderberry pie. Striving to better a breed of animal or crop has led to great advances in agriculture over the past centuries.

The Ontario Agricultural and Horticultural Organizations Act states the objectives of agricultural (ag)societies are ‘to encourage an awareness of agriculture and to promote improvements in the quality of life of persons living in an agricultural community’. They do this by:

  • Researching the needs of the agricultural community and developing programs to meet those needs
  • Holding agricultural exhibitions featuring competitions for which prizes may be awarded
  • Promoting the conservation of natural resources
  • Encouraging the beautification of the agricultural community
  • Supporting and providing facilities to encourage activities intended to enrich rural life
  • Conducting or promoting horse races when authorized to do so by a by-law of the society.

Not every ag society does all of these activities (for example horse racing), but all societies are involved with activities that encourage agricultural awareness. They work towards educating and connecting rural and urban communities together through their fairs and other events. Do you know what activities your local agricultural society does in your community and what is going on at this year’s fair?

Check out these upcoming area Fall Fairs for their schedules and lists of activities. There is sure to be something that you and your family will enjoy!

Mitchell Fall Fair Sept. 1-3

Tavistock Fall Fair Sept. 8-10

Embro Fall Fair Sept. 15-17

Stratford Fall Fair Sept. 21-24

New Hamburg Fall Fair Sept. 14-17

Listowel Fair July 2018

Woodstock Fair August 2018


Your local agricultural society is run by a group of local volunteers who have a passion for agriculture and being involved in the rural community. Several South Easthope Mutual employees serve on local ag societies, while many more exhibit in and attend fairs. We hope to see everyone at a fair!

Youth involvement in fall fairs has been a focus for decades.

Friendly competition at it’s best. (Photo courtesy of Stratford and District Ag Society).







Thank you to the Stratford and District Agricultural Society for some of the photos used in this blog post.

Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies https://ontarioagsocieties.com/

Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan Association of Agricultural Societies and Exhibitions http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/saskatchewan_association_of_agricultural_societies_and_exhibitions.html