Given the 87-year history of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, Gayle McPherson jokes she may not have been a popular choice as fair president with some of its founders.
“Those old guys will be flipping in their graves,” she said with a laugh of her predecessors.
McPherson, who lives in rural Erin, was last month named president and chairman of the board for the annual Toronto fair, becoming the first woman ever to hold those positions.
“It is quite amazing that a woman is president,” she said.
McPherson first began as a volunteer about 25 years ago, when she organized the fair’s hunt night and joined its exhibitor relations committee.
Since then, she has volunteered on various committees, including about two decades on the board of directors, where she most recently served as vice president.
“If you just say yes to someone, that’s what happens,” she said with a laugh. “All these years later, you look back and see how far you’ve come.”
While McPherson has lived with her husband, Don, on their horse farm in old Erin township for the past 35 years, she has roots west of Ontario.
A graduate of the University of Manitoba, McPherson still manages extensive farming operations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, including on land originally settled by her Scottish ancestors.
In addition to her extensive agricultural background, McPherson also has a deep understanding of equestrian sport. She chaired the Royal Horse Show for several years, and has vast experience with breeding and training horses.
She has also been involved for many years in various volunteer projects extending beyond The Royal, including membership on the board of directors for Jump Canada, the Eglinton and Caledon Hunt, the Canadian Pony Club and the Erin Township heritage committee.
McPherson assumes the presidency of the fair after one of its most successful years. In 2008, the event had record-breaking attendance of 345,000 people – almost six per cent higher than in 2007.
“I’m inheriting a really great fair,” she said. “The main thing about The Royal is it’s the biggest agricultural and equestrian show in the world.”
And plans are already in the works for this year’s show in November.
“Given these tough economic times, it could be challenging,” McPherson acknowledged. But she said because the show is really geared towards “family entertainment,” she thinks the 2009 edition will be another success.
Her main goals for her three-year term as president are pretty simple – build on the current strengths of the fair and encourage an ongoing youth movement.
“I just want to keep it vibrant and keep it relevant,” she said.
This year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is scheduled for Nov. 6 to 15 at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
For more information visit www.royalfair.org.