Mount Forest Agricultural Society comes to an end after more than 160 years in community

Agricultural society board cites lack of volunteers, committee interest in fall fair for decision to dissolve

MOUNT FOREST – After 163 years in the Wellington North community, the Mount Forest Agricultural Society will cease to exist.

Rumblings of the society’s dissolution have been circulating for some time, but the news was officially confirmed in a March 31 letter to Wellington North council.

The society, responsible for the Mount Forest Fall Fair, discussed the future of the fair at a Jan. 11 meeting.

A shortage of volunteers and a lack of interest, according to the letter, threatened the future of the fair.

After searching for more volunteers, it was decided at a March 25 meeting to “dissolve” the board.

Society president John McPhee, reached by phone on May 18, told the Advertiser, “I’m not interested in talking to any reporters, period,” and hung up.

On a call back, McPhee would only say, “you can’t get help anymore; there’s no interest.”

He declined to answer more questions, suggesting the newspaper contact Kevin Horsburgh.

A society member since 1992, Horsburgh was reached by phone on May 19.

“People are just too busy,” he remarked — himself included.

“I got a farm, I got a full-time job, I got too much work to do. I’m getting older, too.”

Horsburgh told the board last November that he would be stepping back.

The idea of the fall fair was to promote agriculture and livestock, but Horsburgh said there has been fewer and fewer animals brought to the fair.

Attendance was also sparse at times and without community interest, there ceased to be much of a point.

“We had lots of fun times, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “It was a good thing to be involved in.”

Last year’s fair was the society’s last, bringing more than 160 years of fair history to a close.

“It’s a sad thing to come to an end, but the moral of the story is youth have to take over,” Horsburgh said.

Now the board is working on an arrangement with the township to see the society’s buildings, including an announcer stand, office and two barns, donated and used by the community and John McPhee, who operates McPhee Auctions with David McPhee.

It’s not yet clear what such an agreement would entail.

Wellington North staff have expressed concern with allowing the society’s buildings – should they be donated to the township – to be used for auctions because the township’s use of the buildings would be limited.

“I can’t see doing anything else with them except for using it for our own storage,” said councillor Steve McCabe at a May 8 meeting.

Councillor Sherry Burke said it’s sad to see the society disbanding, and she hopes the land will continue to be used for a community purpose.

“I think they should be utilized for our township and to be enjoyed by the public,” councillor Penny Renken said of the buildings.

“It certainly is sad to see the end of a very long era,” Mayor Andy Lennox remarked.

Council directed staff to return with a plan for how the township-owned property, and the society-owned buildings could be used in the future.

A society-township lease agreement for the property ends next year on March 31, with council agreeing to a request to cut the lease short by about five months.