175 Years of History
The Agricultural Society in Puslinch: 1840-2015
The 175th anniversary of our local fall fair approaches. Initially farmers met in local inns in the 1840s to discuss the importation of seeds and stock.
The first ‘Puslinch Show’ is believed to have been held in a field near McFarlane’s store and the McMeekin Inn north of the village of Aberfoyle. The earliest prize list was reported in the November 2, 1847 Guelph Herald of competitions held on Mr. McFarlane’s land. It was the first fair since the annexation of Puslinch into Wellington District from the Gore District. Besides classes in livestock and grains, there were classes for butter, cheese, maple sugar, fulled cloth and white flannel.
The fair was held mid-week in the month of October for over a century. A fair dinner, following the show, was held at McMeekin’s tavern in a room called, "The Town Hall, McMeekin’s Inn” by the press. The Town Hall in Aberfoyle was not constructed until 1867. Council approved the use of the new Hall and grounds for Show Day each fall, and the fair has been held there ever since.
The after-fair dinner was important to the exhibitors, as judges offered frank commentaries about the quality of exhibits and opinions on the state of farming in the area. An all-male event with many toasts, there was always a special toast to "The Wives and Daughters of the Farmers of Puslinch”.
The Treasurer’s Books dating back to 1852, show accounts recorded in pounds, shillings and pence until 1858. They also record calf raffles, oyster suppers, and garden parties as fundraisers. By 1882, nearly 2000 people were in attendance and the press began using the phrase, "The Great World’s Fair in Puslinch”. In 1889 a noon lunch, for members of the Society and their guests, replaced the all-male fair dinners. For many years this was at Lehman’s Hotel in Aberfoyle (no longer standing) and then in the basement of the Aberfoyle United Church.
By the turn of the century flower competitions, foot races and carriage classes were popular, and School Fairs became part of the day. Baby contests were held briefly in the 1920s. The first 4-H classes were introduced in the 1940s, and by 1967 the Board of Directors voted to move the fair to the second weekend in September to make it accessible to more residents of the Township. Its name was changed then to the ‘Aberfoyle Fair’.
The earlier ‘Domestic Manufacturers’ became the ‘Ladies’ Division’ with its own separate Board of Directors. It always received full support for any requests, but women were not part of general meetings until the 1960s. Moving from the original Township Hall into the new Community Centre in 1982, their displays continue to strengthen the fair today.
Livestock and produce competitions are gradually being replaced by exhibits of each, as the nature of the Township changes, but the school fairs are reflected in the youth classes and local 4–H achievement days continue.
-compiled by Lynn Crow