Howard Agricultural Society
From a paper written for Ridgetown District Agricultural Society, 1984.
Compiled by Mrs. Wayne Jackson.
As white settlement gradually opened up the southern part of Howard Township the same problems were to be met by these pioneers as faced by others all across Ontario. Survival depended on their ability to grow or raise food for their families. Other necessities were obtained only by trading what they could grow above and beyond their own needs.
Many of these men were soldiers or tradesmen who had little farming knowledge. Even the experienced farmer now had to cope with a different climate and type of soil than he was accustomed to. An added disadvantage was the lack of quality in their livestock and in the seed that they were able to obtain. At the township’s first public auction sale of sheep, which took place in 1853, the stock offered were so poor that they brought only 75c to $1.00 per animal. Farmers were advised to upgrade their animals if they expected more reasonable prices.
This, then, is the setting for the formation of the Howard Branch Agricultural Society in 1854.
With the improvement of the standard of crops and livestock as their goal, a group of men met in February, 1854, to frame the bylaws under which the people of the Township could join together in a co-operative organization. During the first year 114 memberships were collected at $1.00 each.
The first purchase made by the Society was to buy several rams which were placed equally across the township for use by the members. Great improvements in township flocks resulted from their use.
As improvements began to show up in their livestock and grain, the area farmers were keen to display their accomplishments. By comparing the farming practices that they used, the knowledge of those most successful was shared by all. The best opportunity for the exchange of ideas was at the local fair held annually in the fall and the plowing matches in the spring. The competition was high and taking home a first prize meant that a man gained respect in the community for his farming skills – that is, of course, if everyone agreed with the judge’s decision.
The first Howard Township Fair was held east of Morpeth on the farm of Cyrus Smith. Approximately 100 people attended with a total of 137 entries in classes such as sheep, swine, cattle, knitted goods, homespuns and home-cooking. It was a banner year as recalled by Mr. Freeman Green who at the age of 8 accompanied his father Levi Green. They travelled there from their home on the Eleventh Concession, by oxen and lumber wagon. Levi Green was the son of the original Freeman Green, who came to settle on Lot 77 TRS after the war of 1812-14.
On October 15, 1857, the first joint fair of the Howard and Orford Branch of Agricultural Societies was held in Morpeth, the two branches having joined during the year for financial reasons. During the next few years the fair location alternated between the townships.
In 1863 the exhibition was held in the drill hall in Morpeth. The society had donated $25.00 toward building this hall. The partnership of Orford and Howard however was dissolved in 1865. The year 1869 saw the first fair held in Ridgetown. By the following year the permanent exhibition ground was purchased for $400.
Down through the years the Agricultural Society has done much to influence farmers to try to better themselves to make this surrounding area a prosperous and fruitful area.
Of local interest is the fact that the main portion of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Van Wolde’s home, which he has completely renovated, once served as the ticket office for the fairgrounds in Ridgetown. Mr. Stan Betts, now a retired music teacher living in Thamesville bought the building back in 1856 and moved it to his property at the top of the ravine along the paved road that stretches from Morpeth to the lake.