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Adapted from 'A Milestone in History' by Joclyn Sareault

130 years!  A milestone in Canada's agricultural history will be reached as the St. Andrews-St. Clements Agricultural Society presents its annual Triple "S" Fair & Rodeo Exhibition on July 11-13, 2008 .  This year's anniversary will be better than ever with the support of community volunteers and sponsorships.  There is much to be learned about the history of this Society as it has survived many hardships in terms of agriculture in the province and other historic moments in Canada.

Developing the Red River Valley
Manitoba's development of agriculture began hundreds of years ago when the fertile land in the Red River Valley was discovered first by Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Verendrye and then visited by Thomas Douglas, Earl of Selkirk..  People began attempting to settle the area because of the offer of free land and the opportunity to leave behind the struggles and hardships they were enduring in the British Isles.  Lord Selkirk was granted 116,000 acres by the Hudson's Bay Company with plans for the settlement to grow wheat,  hemp and wool for export.  A total of 18 people, the future of the Red River Valley and Manitoba, accompanied Lord Selkirk and began a new settlement far from the security of Canada's populated eastern shores.

The first crops the settlers tried to grow were peas, barley, oats, hemp, Indian corn and potatoes.  However, many disasters and hardships such as early frosts (typical!), plagues of grasshoppers, passenger pigeons and mice attacked these early attempts.  Twice the settlers were faced with near starvation and had to retreat to Jack River along Lake Winnipeg.  In 1814 the first recorded production of grain in the west was tallied as 23 10-gallon kegs of wheat, and in 1819 a new form of agriculture arrived by York boat - pigs.  In 1820 the colony endured more hardship as their founder the Earl of Selkirk died, having become the first to establish a permanent settlement in the prairies.  As well in 1820 the colony's seed grain was destroyed forcing some of the settlers to snowshoe south to Wisconsin to secure seed.  They brought back 250 bushels by boat and since then the wheat production on the prairies has increased steadily, even withholding the 1826 and 1850 floods.

The Start of the Agricultural Society
In 1867 Canada was born under the British North America Act, including the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  By 1869 the Red River colony was the only settlement of importance east of the Rockies.  By 1876 there were more than 200 people living and farming in the Red River community.  As the number of settlers and farming grew in the area, agricultural businesses and farmers found that there was much more power and safety in numbers.  A good crop yield, easy access to transportation and elevators for storage would benefit the community and the local farmers greatly.  Therefore the farmers banded together to form the St. Andrews-St. Clements Agricultural Society in 1878 under Charter No. 2 to serve on behalf of the farmer to advocate and to lobby policies and activities which would assist the agricultural community.

Agricultural Society Activities
In 1882 the home of the Agricultural Exhibition was incorporated as the Town of Selkirk.  Nearly 10 years later the population numbers in Selkirk had risen to 1,836 with farm settler pouring in now farther north near Gimli.  Since 1938 The St. Andrews-St. Clements Agricultural Society has been sponsoring the official Boy's and Girl's Club (which originated in Roland, Manitoba in 1913 and was recognized as the 4-H program in 1952).  Even in the early 1900's the agricultural society's main goal was to educate the public about agriculture in order to economically improve the community's future.  In 1939 meetings were held in the Legislative Building to discuss the recent plagues that had affected the country's crops.  As well, plowing matches were held faithfully during this time in Selkirk by the Agricultural Society because they were viewed as educationally valuable to the community.

Some of the clubs that the Society has assisted over the years were the Garden Club, Percheron Horse Clubs, Girls Homemaking School, along with Farmer Days, Achievement Days and Picnics.  The Dairy and Beef Calf Clubs were recognized in the Society's minutes extensively and one record shows that the opportunity for a $5 loan was given to members to buy a calf.  They were allowed up to 3 years to pay it off to the Society in 1939!

The Fate of Agriculture
The early 1900's were booming in agriculture; farms began to grow larger and the number of tractors doubled between 1941 and 1951.  It seems, however, that by the late 1900's there had been a decline in crops and farming.  Farms in the area now are small and far apart specifically due to urban sprawl of the City of Winnipeg.  Statistically, as of 1983 the average size of a farm was 240 acres and the age of the farmers running these farms was between 55 and 64 years old, which is a sign of a dying farm economy.  Agriculture may have started the communities in this area but it certainly cannot compete with the rise in technology and industry.

Agricultural Fairs
The oldest fair books held at the Provincial Archives building in Winnipeg are from the years 1883, 1885, 1890, 1892, 1895, and 1898.  Consistently at this time the Agricultural Fair was held in the Town of Selkirk at the St. Andrews Exhibition Hall the first weekend in October.  In 1883 there were but two sponsors, one of which was the W.H. Eaton & Co. in Selkirk and a local grocer.  Both these sponsors contributed to the $600 in prize monies given away at the Fair.  The following years parallel the success in agriculture that the community was having.  There was an increase in the amount of sponsorships and the prize monies at the fair also increased.  The main categories of events at the fair were horses, cattle, sheep, poultry, Agricultural products (wheat, barley and vegetables), needlework and manufacturers (soap and harness making).  By 1895 the pigs and educational categories were added.  The educational category consisted of penmanship, book-keeping and the best map drawn of Manitoba or the Dominion of Canada.  By the 1890's sponsorships began to come from Winnipeg.  One noteworthy one...the Occidental Hotel on Main Street in Winnipeg!

At this time all that is known about membership is from a small article in the Selkirk Record on October 22, 1886 stating:

  • President:  Mr. J.D. Campbell of Selkirk
  • 1st Vice-President:  Geo. Kingsberry of Clandeboye
  • 2nd Vice-President:  Geo. Ross of St. Andrews
  • 7 Directors were present, 1 Secretary/Treasurer and 2 Auditors

The Agricultural Society Today
Currently the Agricultural Society has 29 directors including the presidencies and secretary/treasurer.  In 1964 a semi-professional rodeo was added to the exhibition and continues today, providing crowds of people thrilling entertainment throughout the weekend.

The farming community is still alive and so is the Society they formed so many years ago.  This non-profit organization continues to provide a fun-filled family and agriculturally oriented weekend in the same hometown it did so many years ago.  Come out and join us in commemorating this milestone in Canadian history that the farmers of old created for us, the future.