Above photo: An aerial view of the show ring featuring 25 six-horse hitches (150 horses)!
Since 1863 on the fourth Saturday of September, the residents of the townships of Huntley, Torbolton, Fitzroy and March have congregated in this little rural village on the western outskirts of Ottawa, Ontario, to showcase all things agriculture. The Carp Agricultural Society hosts the Carp Fair which is known throughout the Ottawa Valley as “The Best Little Fair in Canada.” Archives refer to the formation of an agricultural society as early as 1855. The original 20 members of the agricultural society remained in place through 1870 under president Richard Kidd. The early fairs were held on the site of the current day Diefenbunker (a shelter built from 1959 to '61 to house Canadian leaders during a possible nuclear attack, but now serves as Canada's Cold War Museum), and moved to its current location in 1880 when two acres of the land were purchased for $200.A distinguishing architectural feature at the fairgrounds is a large, charming, octagonal building which was constructed in 1897 by W.R. Cummings, of Hazeldean, for $1,025. It is now a major part of the Exhibit Hall. Painted red with white trim, other smaller building structures echo this unusual design. The grounds also house two large heavy horse barns, an arena, show barn, beef and dairy barns, a storybook barn, a seniors building, dining hall, fair office, curling rink, baseball diamonds, outdoor skating rink, two light horse show rings and the very impressive 200' x 400' grass heavy horse show ring. Local Clydesdale breeder Stan Carruthers was instrumental in organizing the very first World Clydesdale Show, which was held at the fairgrounds in August of 1999.
This being the 150th anniversary, many special activities were planned for this year’s Carp Fair. The dignitaries arrived in McLaughlin’s Clydesdales' magnificent antique coach, drawn by four beautiful Clydes with Ray McLaughlin on the lines. However, the highlight of the celebrations was assembling 25 six-horse hitches, totaling 150 horses, in the show ring all at one time. Exhibitors worked very hard to help achieve this spectacle, which was extremely well received, and may have achieved a world record. Over 55,000 people attended the three-day fair.
Every year Carp Fair offers extensive line and hitch competitions which attract over 300 heavy horses. The winner of theSupreme Champion Clydesdale and Ultimate Supreme Draft Horse was Magic, a tremendous Clydesdale gelding owned by John Newell, Karvelton Clydesdales, Richmond, Ontario. Supreme Belgian was the mare Produce Acres Verna owned by Southridge Navan Belgians, the McWilliams family, Navan, Ontario. Supreme Percheron was also a mare, Egan Home Ice's Ryann owned by Egan Home Percherons, the Egan family of Low, Quebec. The Fair offers two North American Six-Horse Hitch Series classes, drawing top hitches from all over Ontario, Quebec and the U.S.A. Both classes were won by the Wilson Farms Percheron hitch, Vankleek Hill, Ontario. The size of the show ring allows for even larger hitches to compete. One year, 11 eight-horse hitches were exhibited. This year Glencal Farms Percheron hitch, Schomberg, Ontario, won both eight-horse hitch classes. In addition, this year an incredible three ten-horse hitches were shown, with Wild Rose Percherons, Carp, Ontario, taking the winner’s ribbon.
While the faces, the names, the grounds and the buildings have changed over the past century-and-a-half, one thing has remained a constant: the Carp Fair's commitment to promoting the great agriculture in this community. Along with the heavy horses, over 250 light horses, 250 beef cattle, 150 dairy cows and 150 sheep annually compete for prizes. Sponsorship is obviously essential for such a large endeavour, and Carp Fair is very grateful for their major sponsors, including: Waste Management of Canada Corporation; Karson Group; Thomas Cavanagh Construction Ltd.; and Molson Canada. Of equal importance, a significant number of individual class sponsorship across the agricultural and home craft divisions help to bear the burden. Local support, involvement and volunteers makes such a great fair in a small community such as Carp possible.
Many fairs have been forced to focus on entertainment, motor sports or the latest trends to keep up with societal interests and financial concerns. While you won’t see a demolition derby or the latest and greatest celebrity reality show in Carp, what you will see is barns and exhibit halls FULL of horses, cattle, sheep, swine, crops and home crafts.The Carp Agricultural Society consists of a board of 13 Agricultural directors and 14 Home Craft directors. This is the only agricultural society known in Canada which operates in a fashion where all directors rotate on an annual basis through each section in their respective division leading up to their final year, when they then become president of their division. The outgoing presidents of the year elect a new board member to replace them in the chain to make their way through the ranks. While this system has been subject to much criticism it has allowed for a great exchange of fresh ideas and support over the years. It also insures that each successive president is fully aware of the functioning of each section within his/her division.
The Carp Fair 150th anniversary will be remembered as a wonderful success, fostered in a supportive community dedicated to showcasing the best in agriculture.