Welcome to the Fair: The Pictou-North Colchester Exhibition through the years

Arts & Entertainment Community Featured

A new exhibit at the McCulloch Centre explores the history of the Pictou-North Colchester Exhibition and showcases the community that helped make the event a success.

Entitled “Welcome to the Fair: The Pictou-North Colchester Exhibition Through the Years,” the exhibit presents objects, stories and images of the past exhibitions. Displays dedicated to horses, cattle, poultry, produce and sheep are filled with trophies, memorabilia and photos, including an early-twentieth century cream separator. Additional displays showcase 4-H and non-livestock entries and entertainment, including the music, rides, athletics and pageants. Dotted throughout these exhibits are artifacts such as a tiara, Ferris wheel seats, quilts and needlepoint items. The exhibits mix together artifacts and research from the McCulloch Centre, as well as pieces loaned from the local community.

The exhibition’s roots lay in the formation of the West River Farming Society in 1817 (later renamed the Pictou Agricultural Society). Their purpose was to encourage the growth and progress of farming in Pictou County. This included hosting plowing matches and cattle shows, importing seeds and tools, and rewarding farmers for outstanding crops, livestock and farming techniques. In 1891, the society was incorporated and a permanent home for an exhibition was secured in Pictou. By 1913, the exhibition was attracting over 6,000 visitors per year and its entries in cattle and sheep alone numbered over 300. There was also a category for fisheries, which offered prizes for the best salt herring and best workmanship and design for lobster traps.

Despite the success of the 1913 Pictou County Exhibition, the outbreak of World War I halted the exhibition until 1919. After extensive repairs to the permanent buildings and the addition of new horse boxes and a dance area, the exhibitions resumed. By 1920, the name of the event was officially advertised as the “Pictou County and North Colchester Exhibition.” The exhibitions continued to grow over the next two decades — livestock entries increased, entertainment features such as pipe bands and tug-of-war were added, and for the first time in exhibition history, automobiles became the biggest mode of transportation to the exhibition grounds.

The exhibition was once again halted during World War II, but it returned in 1944 with large crowds, excellent exhibits, and entertainment that included a jitterbug contest. The growth continued throughout the rest of the twentieth century with the construction of buildings for the 4-H, new barns, an arena, the Kinsmen building, and the addition of various events including an old-time fiddling contest, strongmen competitions, and a pageant. The Pictou-North Colchester Exhibition cemented its place as an annual community tradition, celebrating harvest time for over a century.

Come experience the exhibitions of the past and the people, livestock, and entertainment that made over 128 years of tradition. Admission to the exhibit is free although donations are welcomed.

Assistant archivist Susan Parker stands beside one of the displays she has created at the McCulloch House Museum and Genealogy Centre in Pictou. (Goodwin photo)