A brief history of Ormstown Exhibition
Written in 1965 by Carlyle Dickson.
During the year 1909, local livestock enthusiasts decided that a Spring Exhibition should be developed in this district and that it should be held at Ormstown. The first Exhibition took place in May 1910. The cattle were housed in this very building on the area where curling was and is still carried on during the winter months. The judging was carried on outdoors on the face of the hill, which can be seen from here.
The horses were shown in what was then the new skating rink, having been built two years previously, and was situated close to the site of the present Exhibition grounds. At that time, nearly every resident in the village had a horse stable with several stalls and all of these were pressed into service to house the horses entered for the show.
During the autumn of 1910, "the Livestock Breeders´ Association of the District of Beauharnois was formed with a charter granted under the Quebec Companies Act. Capital Stock was sold at $10.00 per share. The community was canvassed for many miles around and the response was most gratifying; not only from agriculturalists but also from the merchants and citizens of the village of Ormstown and other towns including owners of businesses in Montreal who required dray horses and also horses for bread and milk wagons, and were, therefore, deeply interested in the horse raising industry. It is interesting to note that during this canvas, several livestock breeders subscribed for a $1,000.00 worth of shares and while a thousand dollars is not looked upon as a large sum of money today, back in 1910, that amount was not easy to gather together, surely this is a striking indication of the faith which the founders had in the organization which they were creating.
While the canvass was still in progress, the 1911 Show was held, with the horses again housed in the skating rink while the cattle were housed in a huge tent on an adjacent lot and were judged outside.
The Association then bought the first farm adjacent to the village utilizing 28 acres of this as an Exhibition site. Some stabling accommodation was in readiness for the 1912 show and the steel frame of an Arena had been erected, with bleacher seats built around it to accommodate the spectators. Electric lights hanging to the steel girders provided illumination for the shows. The sky provided the roof for this particular show.
By the time the 1913 show was held, the present Arena was ready for use. We cannot but again, pay tribute to the founders of this Exhibition for providing it with a closed Arena for exhibition purposes at a time when this was much more the exception than the rule. A further indication of the caliber of the founders is indicated by the fact that the portraits of two of the early presidents of the Ormstown Exhibition now hang in the Agricultural Hall of Fame at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, these being the late Dr. Duncan McEachern C.V.S. and the late Hon. R. R. Ness, M.L.C. M.B.E.
We are often asked by Ormstown Exhibition is held so early in the summer instead of late August of September which is usually looked upon as "Fair Time". Well, if we dig back, we can usually find a reason for everything; in this case remembering "that spring is always referred to as mating time" and recalling that during the early years of this Show, many of the horse breeders of this district owned one or m ore stallions and were most desirous that they might have an opportunity of displaying their equine favourites early in the season so that prospective users might see them wearing their show regalia, hence the reason for an exhibition which in the early years, was often referred to as the Ormstown Spring Show.
Many changes in exhibition customs have taken place since the first show was held, but in no direction is this more noticeable than in the transportation of livestock exhibits. In the early years of the Exhibition, I can recall seeing a herd of exhibition cattle being driven past our farm on foot, staying in a pasture field near the village over night after walking ten miles, then moving into the Exhibition Grounds the next morning, often after running over the lawns of irate citizens, on their way along the village streets.
In those days, all livestock outside the walking distance arrived by rail from as far away as Prince Edward Island; there would be so many freight cars back again for re-loading after the show was over; this because the mile long siding at Ormstown would not accommodate all the cars.
Improved roads have changed all this; most certainly no livestock arrived on foot today. All exhibits now arrive by special livestock transports or Horse Pullman. In the early days, it was cattle exhibits that cam from the greatest distance, now it is the horse exhibits that come the furthest, modern motor livestock vans being able to make five to six hundred miles in a fifteen hour run.
During the recent years, the Exhibition grounds have been enlarged and improved, eight acres have been purchased, providing enlargement on both sides of the original grounds, this giving greater space for commercial exhibits as well as increased and improved accommodate for livestock and poultry. The increased requirement for livestock seems never ending. During the past year, an additional horse stable was built but at the moment we still find ourselves with an accommodation headache. However, this is the type of headache that the present management is most happy to wrestle with, for what better proof of growth could we have than the evident desire of so many exhibitors both old and new who wish to show their horses at the Ormstown Exhibition.
Horse exhibitors in the Montreal area have been supporters of our Exhibition since its early days, but this has broadened out to include exhibitors from the Sherbrooke area, the Ottawa area, the Toronto area and many points in between and beyond as well as from our American States. In the early years of our Exhibition, 125 horses would be a large turnout, however, entries have increased and by the time the 1964 Exhibition rolled around 340 horses were entered and it appears at this time that this figure will be surpassed at the forthcoming Exhibition.