The History of the Emsdale Agricultural Society
Originally formed in 1889 as the Perry Township Agricultural Society, the small group soon realized the benefits of expanding its membership by including residents of neighbouring McMurrich Township. By 1890, it became formally known as the Emsdale Agricultural Society. The fairgrounds located on Highway 11 (now Highway 592) quickly became the focal point of the bustling village. As one of the 16 agricultural societies in District #11—the formation of the District itself came about on March 6th, 1914—at a meeting held in Emsdale. Mr George Boyer attended as the representative from South Muskoka Agricultural Society, and was elected the first secretary-treasurer.
Fall Fairs played an important role in the early days of settlement, not just in Emsdale. All the fall fairs in the district attracted huge crowds year after year up to the start of WWII. But by then, things had changed dramatically, interest had waned in fairs and people became preoccupied with the war in Europe. When the war ended, the Emsdale Agricultural Society found itself heavily in debt. Drank Rowley, George Brown, Erwin Marshall and Edgar Belfoy, rallied to save the Society by organizing year-round Monday night dances at the agricultural hall. By providing the music for the dances, the group managed to raise the $300 to get the Society out of debt.
In the late 1940′s, the Society borrowed money to have a basement put underneath the Hall. The cost of this was $2,600. In the 1960′s, the side addition, which is the kitchen and office, was added to the Hall. About that same time, a chain link fence was constructed and the log building for the Museum was moved and erected on the Fair Grounds.
By the 1950s there was a renewed interest in area fall fairs as people returned to their agricultural roots. Now debt-free, it allowed the Society to turn around and borrow $2,600 to have a basement put under the hall which by this time was in full use as a community centre. With membership on the rise, by the 1960s the Emsdale Agricultural Society enlarged the hall with the construction of a side addition that houses the kitchen and an office space.
On December 2nd, 1971, an agreement was reached between the membership and Perry Township that the agricultural hall and property would be assumed by the municipality with a community centre board created to oversee its operations. Included in the deal was the clause that allows the Emsdale Agricultural Society to continue using the facility and grounds in perpetuity.
The Emsdale Agricultural Society is a registered non-profit group that uses fundraisers to provide financing of the fall fair. After the hall and grounds were turned over to the Township, Ernie Thorne began weekly bingo games that continue to this very day. But it’s not just the bingo games that keep the Society afloat. The membership hosts a number of events throughout the year which include plant, bake and craft sales, a farmers’s market and of course, the Fall Fair.
The Emsdale Agricultural Society, together with the Emsdale Community Centre, the Pioneer Museum and the Perry Township Public Library, represent a substantial part of the heritage of the citizens of Emsdale and area. The strength of the pioneers, the foresight of our forefathers and their goals constitute a heritage of which we can be very proud.
The running of the Emsdale Agricultural Fall Fair takes place annually in August beginning with the popular parade. The hall and fairgrounds will come alive with fun events that will please every member of the family. Because of the continued efforts dedicated Society members, volunteers and exhibitors along with the sponsors, the Emsdale Fall Fair continues to be a bright spot on the calendar for Almaguin residents.