A Brief History – 1831 to 2021
We celebrate 1831 as the founding date for the Port Hope & District Agricultural Society. Farmers in Hope Township were interested in forming an Agricultural Society. The records show that the first steps for establishing an Agricultural Society were taken in November 1830, by the issue of a subscription list circulated among those desirous of becoming members and a meeting was held at Bletcher’s Inn, at what is now Dale Corners, in December of 1830. A constitution was drawn up and the Port Hope Agricultural Society became a reality on the 20th of January 1831. The Secretary was authorized to import purebred cattle in 1832. Durham and other breeds were introduced and sold at cost to the members. By 1834, the Society began to import good seed wheat.
Early fairs were similar to farmers’ markets where one could sell produce rather than just exhibit if. Such fairs often were spread over many days – the first day for exhibition of stock and giving of premiums, the second day included a sale of horses, the third day a sale of horned cattle and the fourth day a sale of domestic manufacturers. Shorter fairs were sometimes held in the spring, and in some years a local fair would be replaced with a larger regional event.
The population of Upper Canada as recorded in the 1831 census was 237,000 and that of the Township of Hope (including the village of Port Hope) was 1591. Port Hope’s newspaper was the Telegraph and the Cobourg Star was founded in 1831. The first breeding herds of Herefords were brought to Canada in 1831. They were smaller than today’s animals, averaging 45-50” in height.
Port Hope Agricultural Society was renamed the East Durham Agricultural Society in 1839 and in 1846 a provincial society was formed. After the union of Upper and Lower Canada in the 1840’s agricultural societies became even more active, and their exhibitions stimulated wider use of agricultural machinery.
The County of Durham in 1852 was divided into two ridings – East and West. Each riding formed its own society under the names of the East and West Durham Agricultural Societies. The East Durham Agricultural Society continued to hold its annual exhibition at Market Square in Port Hope with the Town used for exhibiting ladies’ work and fine arts.
In 1875 a large parcel of land was obtained for use by the Fair. The property was leased for $80 per year for nine years, and was bounded by Toronto Road on the West, Fraser Street on the North, Victoria Street on the East and Arthur Street to the South. This area was known as Exhibition Park. Spring fairs of the Hope Township Agricultural Society and union exhibitions of the East Durham and Hope Township Agricultural Societies were held at Exhibition Park until 1889. The buildings were then transferred in 1889 to the present site at Ward and Elgin known as the Town Agricultural Park.
Eventually the Agricultural Park was to consist of almost 22 acres after land exchanges were completed with Trinity College School in 1931 and 1949. The trade enabled the park to establish a soccer and baseball field adjacent to McCaul St. The 1997 Fair was the first to use the South Field, and the Town Park Recreation Centre and the Fall Fair Centre were ready for use in 2002.
In 1945, the Port Hope and District Agricultural Society installed a new gate entrance comprising of concrete pillars and wrought iron fencing which were constructed to coincide with the Ontario Ministry of Agricultural gift of a stone pylon and plague to the Port Hope Agricultural Society in recognition of over 100 years of service, which was unveiled on Saturday September 29th, 1945 by the Minister of Agriculture, the Honorable Thomas L. Kennedy who reported only four Fairs in the Province out of the 230 that are held are having a ceremony such as this in honour of the fact that it has completed over one hundred years of service in the agricultural industry further recognizing that the Port Hope and District Agricultural Society has been in existence for 115 years. The inscription on the plague reads “ Port Hope Agricultural Society 1831 – 1931 Presented by Ontario Department of Agriculture in Recognition of One Hundred Years Service. Sept. 29th, 1945”
Over the years, the Fair Board as an Agricultural Society was able to obtain grant money from the Province which was used to help with some improvements of the park. The more prominent items were the washrooms at the south west corner of the park, tile drainage in the whole park, steel frost style fencing around the big baseball diamond and around portions of the park perimeter. In 2002 the hydro extension onto the Trinity College leased lands was paid for by the Agricultural Society with contributions in kind by staff of the Municipality of Port Hope and local contractors. In 2003 the Agricultural Society entered into an Agreement with the Municipality providing for use of specific land and buildings for use by the Agricultural Society for which the Agricultural Society agreed to contribute $160,000 to the Municipality of Port Hope to be used by the Municipality to help pay for the construction of the new Town Park Recreation Facility, Fall Fair Centre, the tennis courts and lighting of soccer fields with contribution to the Municipality being provided yearly commencing in 2004 and paid for in full in 2010.
A Kid’s Guide to the Port Hope Fair was first published in 2006.The first Agricultural Education Day for Port Hope’s grade three students was held in 2007 and continues to be held the Friday morning before the opening of each year’s Fair.