Two weeks ago, the 98th annual International Plowing Match was held on the grounds of the St. Thomas, Ontario airport. By all accounts, it was a stupendous event, with more than 80,000 visitors and spread over 1000 acres. The Plowing Match resembles a huge county fair, but minus many of the commercial and carnival-type vendors, rides and displays. There were hundreds of booths and tents hosting an expansive variety of retail and wholesale wares, as well as crafts, of course food and even religion. Most of the vendors were definitely geared toward the farming industry and country living in general, and frankly it was refreshing and reassuring to see that our rural roots are indeed thriving, at least at the Plowing Match!
Plowing matches have been part of our agricultural history in Ontario for well over a century. History records that in 1846 when the first provincial exhibition was held in the city of Toronto, a special feature of the event was a plowing match. These matches not only gave farmers an opportunity to display their skill in the handling of a walking plow, but to show off their fine teams of horses, mostly Percherons and Belgians, many of which were imported or were from imported stock. Today's plowing match still highlights the skill of the single-row plow, plus a host of other competitions, activities and demonstrations.
The parking for the plowing match was very far from the actual activity, but there were volunteers helping us out. Once leaving the vehicle, we were directed to walk up to the road, where tractors pulling different types of wagons were waiting, like a nonstop assembly line. Yes, it did feel a little like cattle going to market!
The grounds of the match seemed to go on forever. Getting closer in the shuttle wagon, it was more and more difficult to imagine getting around and seeing everything in just one afternoon.
Once you made it through the gate, you could pick up a map and plan the sights and exhibitions that you wanted to see first. I just started walking ... there was so much to see!
One of the most amazing and hilarious displays was the tractor square dance. There were 8 couples on identical tractors, all "dancing" to the square dance caller. The funniest thing was that although there were distinct couples, each "female" partner was a man, complete with dresses with padded tops and long hair wigs. They put on quite the show!
There was also a rodeo at the plowing match, which I hope to upload in the next few days.