History of the RAS

Although we do not know the actual date the Russell Township Agricultural Society was founded, it has always been a leader in the community. There are very few records of the first years of the Russell Fair. In 1867, two of the most prominent men in the township headed the Society; William Craig as President and Elisha F. Loucks as Secretary.
The present grounds were acquired at three different times. In 1885, eight acres were purchased from Clarence Helmer; in 1893, another six and a half acres were acquired from Mary Ann Larocque; and, in 1949, a parcel where the arena is currently situated was purchased from the York family.
The original grounds contained an excellent half-mile race track but in 1897 a piece of the north side property was taken by the New York Central Railway for their right-of-way, reducing the track to one-third mile.
In the minutes of August 11, 1912, W. H. Lowrie, T.G. Holmes and Henry Tweed were appointed on a committee to look after building the new arena. With the completion of this new building, there was plenty of room for displays of fruits, vegetables, baking and other homecrafts. Afterwards, some of the old buildings were sold and torn down.
Special trains were requested in 1922 from Ottawa to facilitate transportation to the fair.
For many years the horse races were one of the main drawing cards to the fair but there were also foot races, automobile races, lacrosse and baseball. Not all the races were for speed. One year, when the track was six inches in mud, the competition was to see who could drive their automobile the slowest around the track without shifting from high gear.
There were the usual cattle, horse, sheep and swine shows with the competition very keen in some of these classes.
The annual school fair was held on the first day of the exhibition with each school having a parade, a competition in singing and public speaking and its own exhibition of vegetables, flowers and livestock.
With the collapse of the arena in February 1941, the fair ceased operations until after the war, except for the Calf Clubs and field crop competitions. It resumed on a small scale with outdoor exhibits and rented tents in 1947.
In 1950, the Russell Agricultural Society assumed responsibility for $5,000 towards the cost of a new arena. The fair was once again held under cover in the fall of 1950 except for 1954 when it was cancelled due to bad weather.

Fairs are held every weekend from May to October somewhere in Ontario. Almost all fairs have a “regular weekend” or calendar slot, and very few fairs change their weekend.

In 1846, a group of dedicated volunteers created a central, all-Ontario organization to help agricultural societies better achieve their goals. Times have changed a bit since then, but every year Ontario hosts over 230 agricultural fairs, representing approximately 40 per cent of all fairs in this country. The oldest continually-held fair in Ontario is at Williamstown, held annually since 1812.The Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (OAAS) publishes a schedule of fair dates every year.

The agricultural fair is a “cultural icon” in Canadian history. In the early days, fairs were designed to educate the farmer about agriculture and rural lifestyles. Today they are still striving for the same goal, but now they tend to concentrate on the urbanite or “city-slicker”. Same goal, different crowd.


“A History of Agricultural Societies and Fairs in Ontario, 1792-1992”

“From Swamp to Shanty”, published by Wendell M. Stanley, 1987

“Ontario Agricultural Fairs – A Snapshot in Time” published by the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies

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