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Ploughing ahead with a grand old tradition

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For many children, the stinky pigs are the favourite attraction at the Agricultural Exhibition. They lean over the rails holding their noses, and giggle about how fat the pig is and how much it smells.

It is often their only encounter with a farm animal throughout the entire year.

A lot of people today look at the Agricultural Exhibition as a celebration of bygone skills — farming, ploughing and raising cattle. Ironically, it has always been this way throughout the Exhibition’s history.

This year we mark the 75th year of the event, but it has actually been a tradition in the community for much longer. The number 75 refers to the number of years the event has been organised by Government and not by private individuals.

One of the first known agricultural exhibitions in Bermuda was actually held in the early 1840s. It was organised by Governor William Reid, whom Reid Street is named after. He was very concerned that Bermudians preferred seafaring to ploughing the land.

Much of our food was imported even then, and Governor Reid was worried that wars and blockades might cut Bermuda’s food supply down to dangerous levels. He wanted to encourage more agriculture. It was said that there were only two ploughs in the entire colony at that time. He held farming competitions and organised an agricultural exhibition on the grounds of Government House at Mount Langton, Pembroke.

In the 1880s the concept of an agricultural exhibition was revived again, and a committee was formed to set one in motion. They launched their first in 1889 under the auspices of Governor Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Newdigate. Prizes included one for the best cedar dinghy, the best collection of imported farm tools and the best blacksmith’s work. Exhibitions continued to be held at the end of April every year right up until 1908. The location varied a little, but was usually in a large garden on Bermudiana Road, where Butterfield Bank now sits.

Even in those days organisers struggled with the weather. The weather for the years between 1889 and 1908 can be summed up as rain, rain, really heavy rain, perfect day, so much rain that the opening had to be moved to the next day, light rain, and so on.

The tradition continued sporadically. Some years organisers preferred to arrange a flower show.

The entire event was cancelled during the First World War, and started again in 1917. Again, the concept was to encourage Bermudians to take up agriculture and increase food stores on the Island.

It was called off because of the Second World War, and started up again in 1946. After that, it ran biannually right through the 1950s. It has been run annually since the 1970s.

One of the most dramatic changes in recent years was the dropping of ‘Agricultural’ from the title. In 2003 the show was revamped under the Progressive Labour Party Government, and became The Annual Exhibition. Many people saw this as giving up on agriculture in Bermuda.

The PLP reinserted Agricultural in the show name last year, perhaps bowing to public pressure or possibly people’s stubborn refusal to call it anything other than “the Ag Show”.

Over the years there have been many show highlights: Governors have skipped double-dutch with children; one year there were Chinese acrobats. In the 1970s, the Bermuda Police used it as a vehicle to talk about crime prevention and safety.

The success of the Agricultural Exhibition could almost be used as a barometer for how well the community is doing. In 2004 there was no exhibition because Hurricane Fabian did so much damage to Bermuda the year before. This year, with the economy in a tailspin, there will be no foreign acts, only local ones.

Georgette Caines, exhibition planner for the Department of Parks, said what has remained the same over the last 75 years is the stinky pigs, the chickens and the other farm animals.

“We haven’t changed that display of farm animals over the years,” she said. “We have added different things, such as the food division, but the display of the animals has always been our root. Even when it was held at Rosebank or Government House, that was always the focus.”

The Agricultural Exhibition runs today, tomorrow and Saturday from 8am to 6pm.

Useful website: www.bdaexhibition.bm

Images from the 1978 agricultural show
Images from the 1978 agricultural show

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Published April 18, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 17, 2013 at 5:28 pm)

Ploughing ahead with a grand old tradition

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