A tradition that goes back more than a hundred years.
When people think of the quintessential fall fair, they often think of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair at Exhibition Place in Toronto every November. It’s among the largest and most prestigious, and people come from far and wide to attend as both exhibitors and spectators. But despite turning 100 years old this year, it’s definitely not the oldest. In fact, one of the fairs held annually in Durham Region has it beat by nearly double. In 1830, farmers in Hope Township began to express an interest in forming an agricultural society, where they could share learnings and get support. A subscription list was circulated in the community, and in December 1830, the first meeting of members was held. The history books cite January 20, 1831, as the official founding date for the Port Hope Agricultural Society.
Today, after various evolutions, it is known as the Port Hope & District Agricultural Society. Fall fairs have been a staple in the community since the inception of the society. The early fairs were more like farmers’ markets, but as time passed, the annual event grew in scope and size to include equipment demonstrations, the sale of livestock and the exhibition of domestic arts. In 1875, a parcel of land was leased for use as fairgrounds for $80 a year, with a nine-year term. The location was known as Exhibition Park. In 1889, the fairgrounds moved to the present site, known as Town Agricultural Park.
The entrance of the park is marked by a decorative stone pylon and commemorative plaque gifted to the society by the provincial government in 1945, in recognition of more than 100 years of service. The Port Hope Fair, as it is now widely known, is more than 190 years old and is held annually in September. Other longstanding fall fairs exist in the area, including Campbellford, Picton, Marmora and Belleville, each celebrations of their agricultural communities. After two years of cancellations for many of these fairs (some of them only previously called off during the war years), 2022 will be an extra special year after making it through the most tumultuous time in recent history.