Stew Slater Metroland Media
Bert Vorstenbosch rolls down the window and glances behind him to a trio of people who just stepped out of his pick-up truck. They’re walking down a neatly-defined grass roadway between exhibition-style tents, destined for the parking lot and their ride back to Toronto.
“That’s (Premier) Kathleen Wynne’s advance team,” Vorstenbosch beams, during an International Plowing Match (IPM) media day last week just outside Mitchell, which saw over a dozen reporters — along with event organizers like Vorstenbosch, and politicians from all levels of government — gathering at the 1,000-acre site of the upcoming five-day agricultural industry showcase.
There were speeches from the dignitaries, demonstrations of both old-time and modern plowing, and a guided tour around a sprawling outdoor venue which — by the time all the signs, tents, electricity poles, bandstands, plowing competition grounds, livestock pens, and sanitary services are put in place by opening day on Tuesday, Sept. 17 — will boast display booths for thousands of rural-themed business and community organizations, entertainment venues of various sizes, an RV park for all the vendors and visitors, plus acres and acres of parking.
The host farm for this year’s IPM, granted to the Perth County Plowmen’s Association four years ago as an opportunity for the county to put on its fifth International match in the history of the event, is Nulandia Farms on the northeast edge of Mitchell. But it isn’t just Nulandia — which had to alter its cropping rotation to ensure the site has no not-yet-harvested corn or beans growing between the rows of tents — which has accepted some sacrifices in return for the arrival between Sept. 17-21 of tens of thousands of ticket-buying visitors who need places to sleep, eat, buy souvenirs, and fill up with fuel.
Already, signs have been erected on nearby gravel sideroads and concessions, explaining that the roads will be closed to traffic during the duration of the show. Neighbouring farms to Nulandia have also offered up parcels of their land to ensure there’s enough parking space to accommodate all the visitors.
It was to this point Perth-Wellington MP Gary Schellenberger directed his comments, when asked to speak first to those gathered last Friday.
“This is one of the greatest events to showcase rural Ontario to urban people,” commented Schellenberger — sporting a bright red “IPM 2013” promotional golf shirt, a distinctly non-Conservative Party colour choice which elicited a friendly jibe from West Perth Mayor Walter Mackenzie.
MPP Randy Pettapiece agreed, saying he recently met a pair of downtown Toronto businesspeople on the golf course and got talking about modern agriculture.
“I think I’ve got them convinced to come to the IPM,” he said. “And maybe while they’re here, I’ll take them to a dairy farm and see a milking robot.”
“I think the whole purpose of this is to brag a little bit about our county and about rural Ontario, and to tell it how it is — that we do things differently out here,” added Perth County Warden Vince Judge.
Even the reigning IPM Queen of the Furrow joined the “Perth County proud” parade. That’s because Sara Little, who earned her crown a year ago at the 2012 event in Waterloo County, hails from just up the road from Nulandia Farms.
The event's master of ceremonies, Ron McKay, speaking to a reporter after the speeches, noted that Little has been a wonderful ambassador for this month’s event, and for rural communities at large.
“Sara represents something of the future in agriculture,” McKay argued. “She has two different degrees, she has had jobs in agribusiness and she could probably put her resumé in just about anywhere and get a job that would be absolutely amazing ... but she made the decision to come back home and farm with her parents.”
The main focus of the speeches, however, revolved around the fact that this year’s IPM is the 100th edition of the annual event. Several speakers highlighted the long history of the event, including Schellenberger and Judge recalling their experiences during the 1972 International Plowing Match in nearby Sebringville. The MP's recollections of that time are entwined with his memories of Paul Henderson’s historic goal for Team Canada in Moscow; the Warden, meanwhile, recalled the late John Diefenbaker’s address to the 1972 Sebringville audience.
According to McKay, honouring the heritage of the IPM has been a focus from Day 1 for the 2013 organizing committee.
“That’s why we have (Dublin-area farmer) John Dekroon plowing with his horses on all our posters, and that’s why he’s here today (at the media day) giving a demonstration, along with Sara Little giving a demonstration with a tractor of how plowing is done today,” McKay commented.
“It’s an all-around approach,” he continued, noting the Sept. 17-21 show will include all the attractions that repeat visitors have come to expect from IPMs. “But we do have some special features that speak to the history of the event and to the history of farming.”
That includes what he calls a “Heavy Horse Show” running the duration of the event, with Clydesdales, Percherons and Belgians that will make a once-per-day parade around the grounds. There will also be regular demonstrations of horseshoeing and other features at the horse pen.
The Heavy Horse Show is just one of the special attractions that was provided through a $350,000 provincial government grant under the Celebrate Ontario program. The 2013 IPM committee applied for the grant jointly with the Ontario Plowmen’s Association, and the application specified that the 100th-year heritage celebration would be part of the show.
Over the years, success — both financially and in terms of attendance — of International Plowing Matches has often hinged on the weather. Last year near New Dundee, attendance dropped due to rain, although strong financial sponsorship still allowed organizers to make sizeable after-the-fact donations to community causes like area hospital foundations.
The Celebrate Ontario grant, however, should help the 2013 event escape even weather-related uncertainty. The $350,000 paved the way for some truly extraordinary attractions: appearances on opening day by the Ontario Provincial Police’s Golden Helmets precision motorcycle squad; air shows by the Canadian Forces Snowbirds; and, in what could be the biggest attraction of all for both rural and urban visitors, a closing day concert by country music superstar George Canyon.
A native of Nova Scotia, Canyon built his profile in the Maritimes, then across Canada in the early 2000s, earning accolades such as East Coast Music Awards, JUNO Awards, Canadian Country Music Association awards, and SOCAN songwriting awards along the way. His big break south of the border came in 2004, when his wife persuaded him to submit a song for the USA Network’s Nashville Star contest. Canyon won it all.
There’s no special admission to the closing day concert; it’s all part of the admission to the 100th-edition IPM. For all the information you need about this month’s five-day show, visit www.ipm2013.org.