In 1786 the newly created province of New Brunswick was divided into eight counties; however, within each, older parish subdivisions were still retained.
In the case of Westmorland County, a parish of the same name paralleled the Nova Scotia border as far as Port Elgin; while the adjacent Cape Tormentine peninsula kept its designation, Botsford Parish. These two names were to be combined in 1849 when the Westmorland and Botsford Agricultural Society was established.
One of its main objectives was the holding of an annual exhibition or fair highlighting the importance of agriculture within the two parishes. In the beginning, exhibitions were held at Oultons Corner (now Little Shemogue) and Port Elgin. Ploughing matches were added as early as 1852 and created a great deal of interest.
Prizes were awarded for superior livestock; for example, the best 3 year old heifer or best ram lamb earned $2.00; with second place being awarded $1.50. Early records indicate that prize money was not the stimulus behind the event. Motivation came from the satisfaction of comparing prize livestock and produce; not to mention the fellowship of friends and neighbors; all enjoying ‘a day away’ from the farm.
By 1882 the Westmorland and Botsford Agricultural Exhibition had grown to the extent that a permanent home base was required. A small parcel of land was purchased in Port Elgin and sheds were erected for the protection of livestock.
Very quickly these became outdated and in 1896, a larger block of land was purchased. The grounds were cleared of bushes, a board fence was erected along with a grandstand and exhibition building. During the first world war, 1914–1918, the facilities were pressed into service for the initial training of local troops.
In 1921 the prize list had grown to a total of $2000, and awards were made in
all lines of livestock, including horses, cattle, sheep, swine and poultry; vegetables, grain, fruit, honey, dairy products, fancy work and domestic manufactures, canned vegetables and fruits.
By this time a raceway was an added attraction and a series of horse races were held during the summer months. Over the years many outstanding Maritime standard bred trainers were associated with the raceway. These included names such as: Joe O’Brien, Harley Harrison, Reg LeBlanc, Art Porter and Hal Ramsay.
In 1949 celebrations were held to mark the centennial of the Westmorland and Botsford Agricultural Society’s Exhibition. One highlight was an appearance by the later nationally famous
Don Messer and His Islanders.
Unfortunately, this was to be a turning point in the fortunes of the exhibition. Closure came in 1957 and the fair remained dormant until 1994 when the Society was reorganized. The revival was sparked by four founding organizations: the Chignecto Wagoneers, Baie Verte Horse Club, Tantramar Pony Club and the Port Elgin Horsemen’s Club.
Three new barns were constructed, along with an all purpose exhibition building, two show rings and an all weather half mile race track. A fourth barn is under construction and a covered arena is included in future plans.
Over the past three years an annual four day exhibition and numerous horse shows have been held. Regular harness racing meets have generated much local enthusiasm with upward of 3,000 people in attendance at one race. Clearly, the future appears bright for one of New Brunswick’s oldest agricultural fairs.
It is an understatement to note that none of this would have been accomplished without government and corporate funding, and more particularly, the thousands of hours of volunteer labour. The 1849 founders of the Westmorland and Botsford Agricultural Society would be proud of their modern counterparts!
The 1998 exhibition begins tomorrow, August 13th and runs for the next three days. See you there!
Appreciation is extended to Dick McLeod and Terry Oulton for their assistance in providing background material for this column. As a follow up to today’s topic, I am interested in obtaining information about the Sackville Raceway. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have information.