As the fall fair season winds down, let’s glance back to the beginnings of the Dunchurch Agricultural Society, stager of over 120 annual agricultural fairs.
Bill Quinn tells me that last month’s edition of the Dunchurch fair was judged a success. I assume that Bill, a society director for nearly 40 years, was thinking in financial terms, and I can second that. It cost $4 at the gate, and when my brother’s grandson Mark Macfie and I teamed up to enter the crosscut-saw contest we scored $5 apiece in second-prize money, an immediate 25 per cent profit on my investment.
Bill added that an infusion of younger members is keeping the organizations arteries from hardening. While we laboured over the crosscut saw, I noticed a “Director” ribbon flapping on Mark’s shirt, evidence that he is part of this new blood. Mark, you might be unaware of how deeply involved your great-great-grandfather Frank Nicholson Macfie was in the formative years of the Dunchurch Agricultural Society, so what follows is for your enlightenment.
Frank Macfie was a Dunchurch pioneer and a habitual jotter-down of facts, figures, and whatever else popped into his head. One of his surviving notebooks contains random notes made while he served as “Secy. Pro Tem” of what was initially called the Hagerman–Croft Agricultural Society.
The jottings span the years 1891 to 1893. By then, the society, formed in 1888, had already staged two or three fairs. The earliest directors’ meeting recorded in the notebook took place on May 3, 1891, with “Messrs French, Johnston, Quebec and Macfie” present. The main business concerned plans to erect a board fence around the fair grounds, directly across Dunchurch’s main street from the present day community centre and fair grounds. At 25 rods (over 400 feet) to a side, this required the purchase of a whopping 13,000 board feet of hemlock lumber costing $69.
Why the costly fence? Just to thwart freeloaders from avoiding the admission fee? To help finance the job, it was “agreed that we should have a Pic Nic on Dominion Day… proceeds to go towards the defraying of the cost of fencing the grounds.” Gate receipts for this affair totalled $28.35 (and for a Thanksgiving social, $9.80).
On July 4, five directors met to discuss “the appropriation of receipts from the 1st of July Celebration,” and the “means of finishing the remainder of the fence round the grounds etc.” They decided to call a bee for the following Saturday to finish the job, and to offer the baseball club the use of the grounds, three nights weekly for $3. And lastly, that “a Hasp & Padlock be bought for the gate.”
That lock would soon be called upon. At the next meeting, on August 8, the secretary was instructed to write to H. Quebec, keeper of the fair grounds, instructing him to “lock the gate until a satisfactory answer be given to letter sent to [the baseball club] regarding rent of the grounds.”
At some point, my grandfather summarized the society’s investment in the fair grounds as follows: $80 for purchase of the land, $90 for lumber, $28 for cedar posts, and $35 for labour, for a total of $233. To this point, $101 of the debt had been paid “in cash & kind.”
Society membership appears, from the outset, to have numbered around 50 or 60 citizens. Part of the annual membership fee of $1 went toward prize money. Citizens also put up special prizes. Plans for the 1893 edition of the fair included a ploughing match, for which storekeeper William Robertson donated a prize of a stove, while Frank Macfie, not to be outdone, countered with a plough. The local physician, Dr. William Ryerson Wade (who died in the diphtheria epidemic of 1896) added a $2 third prize.
However, back in 1891 the prize list had to be “reduced by about $20.00 from last year” due to a money shortage. Yet at the same meeting the directors passed a motion to build an agricultural hall, measuring 40’ x 24’, with Ben French and Frank Macfie appointed as a building committee.
Frank’s notes imply that 8,700 board feet of lumber was duly purchased for the purpose, and teamed down from Ahmic Harbour, but the hall was never built. Instead, the society rented, and later acquired, the Kelcey Hall, on the southern fringe of Dunchurch. A swath of lake frontage below the hall then became the new, and current, fairgrounds.
A slate of officers for 1892 lists Frank Macfie as president of the 11-man body. Whether he held the position in prior years, and whether he stayed on as secretary, for which he was paid $10 the previous year, isn’t clear. His name also turns up, along with his brother-in-law John Millin, as an auditor of the books.
At the same time Frank was the clerk of the Township of Hagerman, to which the society looked for support (the notebook contains a draft of an address to council pleading their case).
So you see, Mark, your ancestor’s involvement with the fledgling Dunchurch Agricultural Society was indeed intimate, even to the point of flirting with conflict-of-interest territory. But in those times, naming the right person to the job mattered more than such niceties.