Paisley Agricultural Society
Taken from a history compiled by the late
Mrs, Russell Cumming for publication on
the occasion of the Society’s 100th Fall Fair.
As early as 1856, that healthy spirit of emulation which always characterizes the farming
community inspired the old settlers to organize an Agricultural Society.
In those days there was no Riverside Park with its “palace” and nearly a quarter of a mile of sheds for the accommodation of livestock, but the farmers were enthusiastic and in a proper frame of mind to overlook petty inconveniences.
The exhibits of fine arts, dairy produce, big roots and vegetables were displayed in Bruce’s building, where the Paisley Advocate office now is located. Those were the days when a virgin soil produced mammoth potatoes which were clean and white, and turnips which were a rare sight to see.
Livestock and other outdoor classes were exhibited, for the most part, on the flats near Rae’s bridge, at the north end of town, but the location for these exhibits frequently changed
The two major holidays of the year were the 24th of May and Show Fair Day. These events provided a welcome break in the monotony of pioneer life. After they were over, the settlers returned to their daily routine.
After the erection of the drill shed, indoor classes were exhibited there and the society rented for the outdoor show the field at the south end of the village where now stands the homes of Stuart Forrester and Dr. Milne. This provided a convenient location and was used until the fair outgrew the accommodation provided there.
In 1879 under the provisions of the Agriculture and Arts Act, a Riding Society was organized in North Bruce. A joint stock company was formed by citizens of the village subscribing stock, and the Corporation of Paisley also took stock to the extent of 85 shares, with a value of $1700. With the funds obtained the organization purchased from S.T. Rowe the property now known as Riverside Park, where they expended a large amount of money in buildings (see picture above). Levelling of the ground was done by the Turf Club and other organizations.
Although many of its members were enrolled from Greenock and other adjoining municipalities, Paisley’s first such organization was known as the Elderslie Agriculture Society. This group then amalgamated with the newly formed North Bruce Riding Society and the show was held in Paisley on the last day of September and the first and second of October 1879. This event eclipsed anything of its kind ever before held in the county. For several years these exhibitions were successfully operated. However, due to lack of harmony among the promoters, the affair began to decline until in 1887, it was abandoned and a spring show was substituted.
In the meantime the legislature had divided Bruce County into three ridings. The north and south already had their societies under the Agriculture and Arts Act. It was deemed desirable that Centre Bruce also should have its Society. As Paisley was not only the most central location, but the only place with the facilities to stage such a show, here the organization was established.
In September 1888, this group held its first exhibition. W.H. McFarlane who was an enthusiastic member of the old Caledonian Society, was one of the agriculture society committee who secured Bill Cody’s Wild West Show for the fall fair of 1889.
Many older folk will recall the races lining such horses as Captain Brino, owned by Harrison of Walkerton, and Two Strike, from the stable of “Ike” Stanley and Josephine, owned by Henry Cargill of Cargill. Old time racegoers will recall Josephine’s performance the day she completed the course with a driver-less sulky, obeying the starter’s bell.
In the year 1917, a machine gun battalion put on an exhibition at the fall fair. Those were the days when patriotic fervour was at fever pitch. The gunners fired hundreds of rounds from the fair grounds across the Saugeen River into the high clay bank on the north side, opposite the swimming hole. Incidentally the young fry swam the river to dig out the bullets imbedded in the clay, and for several years the odd bullet was turned up on the site.
During the early 1900’s other attractions were midway troupes including tight rope walkers and other acrobatic acts.
Some of the early secretary-treasurers were J.C. Gibson, Samuel Ballachey, William T. Hopper, Stuart Mutart, Mrs. E.D. Elwes, and then W.T. Hopper for a second term, followed by Mrs. Etta McGregor and finally Mrs. Jim Teeple.
From 1943 to 1956 bad weather and lack of attendance at the annual meetings dogged the fortunes of the fair, but because of the enthusiastic interest of a few loyal supporters the organization remained in a sound financial position and the 1956 fair saw a new attendance record set with 3000 thronging onto the grounds and splendid exhibits in all classes.
In recent years the horse show has been the highlight of the fair and entries have come from as far away as Oshawa and Barrie. The Fall Fair Parades have also been highlights with Bob Thomas’ team of Shorthorns and sometimes as many as nine handsome four-horse hitch and six-horse hitch teams in the parade.
The crowning of “Miss Paisley Fall Fair" has also been a popular event, with the winners going on to Toronto to compete at the Canadian National Exhibition.
In 1972 the “Palace” was re-sided with steel and the trim painted. So long as energetic, enthusiastic workers volunteer to carry on the duties involved in staging the annual event, the fair will continue to live up to the traditions established in the past.