A Brief History – 1831 to 2015
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 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 in the spring of 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 it. 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 Agricultural 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 Hall 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 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.
175th anniversary celebrations took place throughout 2006.