The 2017 IPM Brussels Fall Fair was one for the ages
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
In the long and storied history of the Brussels Fall Fair – which will extend to 160 years with next year’s fair – one of the most memorable events has to be the 2017 fair, which was held at the International Plowing Match (IPM).
The 2017 IPM, the 100th in the event’s history, was held in Walton at the home farm of Jack Ryan and his family, as well as at nearly a dozen neighbouring farms. With the IPM set to take place in mid-September, it was due to conflict with the Brussels Fall Fair, a staple of the season that takes place less than 10 minutes up the road.
Rather than the two events competing, with the IPM no doubt siphoning off visitors, volunteers and resources, the IPM executive thought outside of the box and proposed hosting the fall fair at the IPM, something that hadn’t been done before in 100 years of the IPM.
Matt Cardiff was the president of the association in 2017. He was the youngest person to ever lead the association and he had a great family pedigree with the organization, with involvement dating back to his grandparents, his parents and many other family members.
At the time, he said the overlap of the IPM and Brussels Fall Fair dates seemed like a chance to do something new and different, rather than a challenge.
“It sounded like a great opportunity to do something different,” Cardiff said in an interview with The Citizen in 2017.
The proposal, however, dates back to 2014, before Cardiff was the president. IPM Chair Jacquie Bishop first floated the idea in 2014 and then formally put it to the society at its 2015 annual general meeting in January of that year.
What would follow were a number of monthly meetings during which the logistics and feasibility of hosting the Brussels Fall Fair at the IPM were discussed at length.
Those meetings culminated in a secret ballot vote among members of the society at their May 6, 2015 meeting at the Brussels Library in which 83 per cent of members voted in favour of holding the fair at the IPM. Bishop had been in attendance at the meeting to deliver her final pitch to the group, but then excused herself ahead of the vote to ensure members would be able to express their opinions freely.
With the immense positivity surrounding the proposal after several rounds of problem-solving sessions, the decision to host the fair at the IPM was met with a round of applause by the over 60 members of the Brussels Agricultural Society in attendance that night.
At the time, Bishop also applauded the decision in an e-mail to The Citizen.
“We feel that it is very fitting with the celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary to include a historic, authentic rural fair, which has been the fabric of our rural community longer than the confederation of our country,” she said. “We welcome the resourcefulness and vision that the fair members have and look forward to working with the volunteers from the community of Brussels and beyond with this endeavour.”
Once the decision had been made, the society struck a special subcommittee to handle all things associated with hosting the fair at the IPM, which included then-Secretary/Treasurer Brian Schlosser, former Presidents Dorothy Cummings and Nicole Noble as well as Cardiff.
One of the steps of outreach began at the 2016 IPM in nearby Wellington County, where society members distributed literature on the fair to those camping in hopes they would plan on attending the 2017 event in Walton and enter events into the fair.
The fair was housed in a tent that measured 60 feet by 150 feet, the largest in the tented city, and it included all of the staples of the Brussels Fall Fair. From displays to history to activities, the fair was set up in the tent so regular attendees and newcomers would both be able to experience the fair in 2017.
After the extreme downpour event on the first day of the IPM, which resulted in the closure and clean-up of the site for the following day, the fair continued. The fair’s annual 4-H beef and sheep competitions moved ahead at their traditional spot at the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre grounds, ahead of opening with the rest of the IPM the following day.
In an interview with The Citizen following the fair, Cardiff said he was “100 per cent sure” the society members made the right decision in holding the fair at the IPM.
Once the IPM grounds were reopened for the last three days of the event, society members said they marked banner days for the Brussels Fall Fair, with thousands of people coming through the tent every day.
One of the most popular attractions proved to be Schlosser’s barn quilt, which he put on display, asking visitors to sign. After it was adorned with thousands of signatures, Schlosser then sealed it and erected it on the side of his home barn for all to see.
Cardiff said hosting the fall fair at the IPM was a great marriage between two events for a number of reasons, but really, it was a victory for rural living.
“I think this was a good representation of something that’s very important to Huron County life,” Cardiff said. “I think it was a good thing to have that representation at the match site.”