R. R. 2, Burgessville, Ontario, Canada.
June 4, 5, 6, 1971 was the date of the 1st Historical Show sponsored by the Norwich and District Historical Society, and was held at the fairgrounds at Norwich Ontario.
Many people will ask, 'where is this town of Norwich'? It is situated in the Province of Ontario, Canada; about 140 miles east of Detroit, Michigan; or 100 miles west of Buffalo, New York. It is located in the southern portion of the county of Oxford; on Highway No. 59; midway between Highways No. 3 and No. 401.
The early History of Norwich and district is quite interesting. The first settlers migrated to the area about 1810-1820. Most of them came from Dutchess County, New York. Most of these settlers were of the 'Friends' faith. Many interesting stories could be written of the hardships encountered. The horse and wagon was the only way of transportation and in places the huge trees of the virgin forest had to be cut so the wagon train could continue.
Oxford County was developed in a rich agricultural area. It is termed the 'Dairy County' of Canada; and rightly so. Many of the foundation herds of Holstein cattle were developed in Oxford and around the Norwich area. This area still has its large Holstein herds and some of the present owners are descendants of the pioneer settlers. Various countries of the world seeking foundation stock, come to Oxford County, Ontario. Shipments of cattle have been air transported to South America, Europe, etc.
South of the town of Norwich is the beginning of the tobacco growing area. This area is probably the most concentrated tobacco growing area on the continent; and is a very important phase of Ontario Agriculture.
The first cheese factory was built just north of Norwich in 1864. This was the first commercial cheese factory in Canada. There is a cairn now at the original site. The founder of this factory was Mr. Harvey Farrington. This was the beginning of the cheese business in Canada.
Oxford County had another important industry that was situated in Norwich. In about 1880, Mr. S. Allen built a cider mill which expanded very rapidly, and soon the firms 'White Wine' and 'Cider' vinegars became very well known products on grocery shelves across Canada. Also Allen's apple juice was a popular name. This plant was sold and does not operate in Norwich; but the label, 'Allen's Apple Juice' is still a familiar brand of apple juice in Canadian stores. In 1910 the firm used around 100,000 bushels of apples, that were obtained from local growers.
As was mentioned earlier, these pioneer settlers of the Friends faith were deeply religious and they soon constructed a meeting house of wooden structure as place of worship. This was situated a mile north and half mile west of Norwich. As the congregation grew, they built a larger church which was called 'The Old Brick'. Each of these churches had a cemetery adjoining; and both of these are still preserved in fine condition, in tribute to the early pioneers. About 1890 they built another meeting house just north of Norwich. This church served well; but as time passed on the congregation got smaller until it was finally closed. The building remained vacant for a few years.
In 1930 there was enough interest in the community regarding the history of the pioneers to bring into being 'The Norwich Pioneers Society'. This group collected quite a number of artifacts and kept them in the basement of the Public Library. In Canada's Centennial year, 1967, interest was greatly revived and the Norwich Pioneer's Society was reorganized and became 'The Norwich and District Historical Society'. The members of the Friends church very graciously gave the Society the church building and the grounds; the church building to be used as a museum.
On June 13, 1970, the Historical Society held its formal opening of the museum. Some of the members thought it would help make an interesting program if we had a few pioneer machines; such as horse power, steam, tractors, gas engines, etc; at the grand opening. As a result of this idea, we had two steam engines, six tractors, two grain separators, and an old hay tedder, and several gas engines; also some antique cars.
After the speeches and ribbon cutting, the spectators could tour the museum and watch these old machines in operation. These machines proved interesting to many of the spectators, and almost immediately there was an agitation for a larger show.
In January 1971 a committee was appointed to proceed and make plans for a show in 1971. This is how and why the 1st Historical Show of the Norwich and District Historical Society came into being. It was decided to hold the show at the fairgrounds, June 4, 5, 6. This is an excellent location for a show of this type, lots of space, also the arena was ideal for inside exhibits, and Canadian Legion Ladies served meals in the Legion building close by.
One thing the committee soon realized was that it is a lot of work to plan and put on a show. We had excellent cooperation of the various organizations in Norwich; that was much appreciated.
I will not itemize all our exhibits, as it would take too much space. The exhibits in the arena were fantastic; over thirty different exhibits and many people said it was the best inside exhibits they had ever seen. Outside exhibits consisted of 40 gasoline engines; 16 tractors; 8 steam engines; 3 threshing machines; 2 drag saws; a horse power; a dog power; steam calliope; lighting plant; along with numerous miscellaneous items. Friday, June 4, the first day of the show, had a good attendance and there was a lot of activity in preparation. Saturday was a big day. The show started off with a mammoth parade. There were three bands; also a float of 'Barber Shoppers' which added color to the parade. After the parade there was lots of activity on the grounds until dark. The attendance was very satisfactory. Sunday afternoon saw the grounds again buzzing with activity. Norwich is one of the few towns that can boast of having a good band. Sun-day afternoon the Norwich Musical Society Band was just starting a concert when we had a sharp thunderstorm, which sent everybody scurrying for shelter and it washed out the concert. However, the storm was of short duration and in half an hour everything was in action again. The attendance for Sunday was very good. Come Sunday evening, the show was over, and the work of getting all the exhibits back from whence they came.
After the show we asked ourselves if it was worthwhile. The show committee all agreed that it was. The total attendance was approximately 5,000. It was a very enthusiastic crowd and we received many favorable comments. Financially the show was a success, and the profits will be used to help erect a building for the society to house the ever increasing amount of pioneer equipment that they have acquired.
Many of the exhibitors are members of the 'Golden Horseshoe Antique Society', of Caledonia; 'The Ontario Steam and Antique Preservers Association' of Milton; the 'Western Ontario Steam Threshers Reunion' of Brigden; and the 'Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association' of Blyth. The co-operation of these clubs added greatly to our show and the spirit of co-operation and friendship of one club with another is the way it should be. Plans are now being made to have another show this year. The date June 2,3,4, 1972. With the knowledge gained from the experience of last year's show and with the help and support of the community and interested personnel, let's make the 1972 show bigger and better than last year's.