Early Farming Efforts In Nova Scotia
First Agricultural Fair In North America Held At Windsor In 1765.
(Family Herald and Weekly Star)
Nova Scotia and Quebec stand out as the two provinces which have records of settlements in the early years of the seventeenth century. The first farming operations by white men on the North American continent appear to have been conducted at Port Royal on the northwestern coast of Nova Scotia, some time previous to 1608. It was nearly twenty years later that Louis Hebert broke new ground on the site of the present city of Quebec and started his gardening and grain growing.
Although there is some uncertainty as to some of the dates there are records of settlements at Port Royal in 1604 by Sieur de Monts. Clearings were made and crops grown on a small scale until in 1608 there was available six or more barrels of grain which de Poutrincourt took to France to present to the King. Although the little colony was dispersed in 1613 by the English forces a few remained in the vicinity and continued to support themselves from the soil. There is a local tradition that a flour mill established in 1610 has operated every harvest season to the present day.
Among those who had a part in these early ventures at Port Royal was Louis Hebert who returned to France but was so favorably impressed with the new land that he went to Quebec to engage in farming once more. It is interesting to note that Hebert was an apothecary and a botanist which stamps him as a man of education. A half dozen or more of these agricultural pioneers were also men of superior training and ability. Among them were Champlain, John de la Roche and Charles de la Tour.
While the fortunes of war prevented the French from consolidating themselves in any great numbers they distributed themselves along the Bay of Fundy and in the Annapolis Valley multiplying until they are now said to number about fifty-four thousand in the province. Later years saw many Scottish immigrants settling in the western colonies and Cape Breton. These two races gave a unique character to the province as the home of established traditions. Homesteads continue to be held by descendents of the first settlers and with longevity as a rule it is not surprising that there is a continuity of customs and ideals seldom found elsewhere. The historian has a promising field in tracing the development of many of the institutions of Nova Scotia.
The famous apple orchards of the Annapolis Valley though coming into notice mostly in the present century had their origin nearly two hundred years ago. There were orchards in the Grand Pre district for a considerable time before the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755. Here and there in the Valley in sheltered locations are individual trees over a hundred years old.
In organized agriculture there are surprising records which indicate that the torch of leadership lighted by de Monts and Hebert has been taken up and carried forward by enlightened and public-spirited men.
Documents, recently brought to light, indicate that a fair was held in the town of Windsor on May 21st, 1765, a matter of one hundred and seventy years ago. Apparently the idea started in Halifax for the proclamation reads: "A number of Gentlemen of Halifax being desirous of promoting every measure that may conduce to the public good have entered into a subscription for premiums and rewards." Then follows the prize list which reveals that even in those days it was considered expedient to introduce sports to lighten the program. For the best wrestler under twenty-five years there was offered a laced hat and medal; to the second best, a pair of shoes and buckles, and to the third best a pair of buckskin gloves. The highlights of the fair were the horse races with a "plate" of twenty pounds to be run for by any horse, mare or gelding bred in the province.
Live stock were featured prominently with prizes for a turnout of the greatest number of horses and another for the greatest number of sheep. Judging was in those times not the fine art that it has become in later days, as size was the one qualification for cattle. There was a medal for the largest yearling bull, breed not specified. In the class for cows the terms "finest and largest," are used which looks as though some account was to be taken of conformation. Butter making was given recognition in the offer of six yards of ribbon for the best 12-pound lot.
From a letter of Mrs. Winckworth Torge, whose husband was one of the first trustees of the charter, to Rev. W. C. King, Rector of Windsor, dated Jan. 11, 1814, the following extract is taken:
"The first fair and market were opened in the district of Windsor on land granted to commissioners for that purpose that had been reserved to the King at the foot of the Fort Hill. The fair was regularly opened twice in every year on the days appointed for a considerable time but it was found that the country was not sufficiently populous and improved to be benefitted and that it only served as an excuse for a day of idleness and intoxication. It was thought most prudent to discontinue the fair. The establishment of a market was also premature and dropped for want of supplies."
Other available records show that the promoters displayed zeal and energy for the public good but they did not get the expected support. The trustees passed away one by one and after a time the fair was stopped. In 1815, the year of Waterloo, it was revived and the right of holding it continued to the justices of the peace in trust in perpetuity. There is little doubt that this attempt in 1765 marks the first fair in British America.