Countdown to IPM '17 - Craigs leave nation-wide footprint
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The September, Huron County will play host to the 100th International Plowing Match in Walton. The last time Huron County hosted the match was in 1999. It is historically referred to as the “Dust Match” and Walton’s Graeme Craig was the man who led the county’s charge in hosting it.
Craig first got involved in the world of competitive plowing over a half-century ago. He says it was by accident, but it’s a love affair that’s persisted for 56 years now since he first got behind the wheel of that small Ford two-furrow tractor.
It was local plowing pioneer and champion Gordon McGavin who first introduced Craig to the plowing match world. Craig was a young man at the time and had been hanging around the match when McGavin suggested that Craig may as well give it a try.
The next year, Craig began competitive plowing under the tutelage of Campbell Wey, who lived in Walton at the time. Wey passed away last year in his 94th year.
Craig found some success in the Junior circuit and continued to compete for a number of years. However, as he grew older, he found that his true talent was in coaching.
He would coach a number of locals who would eventually go on to have provincial national and even international success like Brandon and Jacob McGavin.
Craig, however, says that while he did work with the McGavin boys among others, he worked with them when they were just getting started. When it became clear they were genuine talents in the field, they began working with other coaches who would lead them to victory at the Huron County Plowing Match, the International Plowing Match and, in Brandon’s case, the Canadian Plowing Match and the World Plowing Match.
Coaching became a passion for Craig. He said that Huron County, specifically Walton, has a rich history of fostering youth to becoming successful, especially in the realm of competitive plowing.
Whether it’s through 4-H clubs or through older members of the community passing their knowledge down to its younger members, there has always been a positive teaching culture in the community.
Craig said he always liked working with young people and his time coaching the youth of the community is something he’ll always cherish.
Where Craig would really have an impact on the world of competitive plowing, however, was on the administrative side.
After years of being involved in local plowing matches at various levels, Craig became the secretary/treasurer of the Huron Plowmen’s Association in 1979. He would stay at that post for over 10 years.
Craig jokes that he has yet to miss an IPM that has been hosted in Huron County. His mother assured Craig that while he may not remember it, he attended the “Victory Match” in 1946 at the Port Albert airfield. He would be born just a few months later.
Craig’s wife Helen and her parents Gordon and Sarah Elliott would be among the many families that donated their land to the 1966 match, which was held on the Scott farm near Seaforth. Craig would attend that match as a young man.
When the match was held on the Armstrong farm near Wingham in 1978, Craig served as the head of the Queen of the Furrow committee.
In 1999 he was the chair of the match, which was held in Dashwood and he does not intend to miss the 2017 match, which will be held in his home community of Walton – a community with so much history in the world of competitive plowing in Ontario.
Craig’s family history in Walton is not new. The farm on which he and Helen currently live and have raised a family has been in Craig’s family since 1867 on his mother’s side.
Craig’s family on his father’s side comes from Morris Township, but his father grew up in Blyth. He ventured Walton way to work on a farm tended by three women who needed help on the farm and he would eventually find his wife and make his way to Walton where they would start a life together.
Over the years, Craig said he hasn’t moved much, as he grew up on the farm on which he and Helen currently live. He has been a life-long resident of Walton and knows the community well.
Over the years he has been involved in the local church, local politics and the insurance community, as well as competitive plowing.
Craig says that when he attended the first IPM he remembers, when he was in his teens, it was a real eye-opener.
“It’s like growing up in Walton and then going to Toronto for the first time,” Craig said.
When the time came for Huron County to host the match in 1999, Craig said he was more than willing to put his name forward and lead. However, he said he had a great team around him that he knew would be able to pull off hosting the match. Without them, he said, it wouldn’t have been possible.
Now, he said, he’s looking forward to the IPM coming to Walton. It’s a great community that deserves to host a match of this size, he said, and the people will be fantastic hosts.
“It’s important for a lot of these small communities to feel like they’re part of something this big and this good,” Craig said. “It’s good for the people of Walton to get a little different look at life through the IPM.”
It was Craig, however, who first pitched the idea of hosting the 2017 IPM. He knew it would be the 100th match and that it happened to fall on Canada’s sesquicentennial and felt it would be a fitting celebration in a community that has meant so much to competitive plowing and agriculture over the years.
For this year’s match, though he has been involved since its inception, Craig has taken a bit of a step back, which he said has been refreshing compared to his level of commitment in past years. For this year’s IPM he is one of the major fundraisers, which is a challenge, but nothing like chairing the match.
His work began at home, in a way, when he and Helen and their daughter Shannon, along with her insurance business, co-sponsored the purchase of the 2017 IPM merchandise truck that has been travelling around the county in recent months.
“Graeme is connected to resourceful people from different involvements over the course of his life which have allowed them the opportunity to meet and get to know people,” says Jacquie Bishop, chair of the 2017 IPM. “This is a very important part of who he is.”
Craig’s connections run deeper than the Huron County community, Bishop said, and expand through the province and even the country thanks to his decades in the world of competitive plowing.
Bishop served as the secretary for the Huron County exhibit at the 1999 match, working under Allan Carter, who was the chair. Bishop says that she and the rest of her family moved to the match for the week to ensure they could give it their all at the IPM.
One of the highlights from the tent, Bishop says, was a 40-foot commodity display by Glen and Vanda McNeil and Lorilie Marshall, who designed it. It brought together produce and beans produced in Huron County to create a quilt-like design that Bishop says is still remembered today.
Craig has kept busy in the world of competitive plowing in various capacities over the years.
After being a chair at the Huron level, Craig would go on to serve as a director with the Ontario Plowmen’s Association in 2003 after fellow Walton resident Neil McGavin retired from the post. He would then serve on the executive two years later in 2005.
Craig would work his way up through the ranks to become president of the Ontario Plowmen’s Association in 2008, overseeing the IPM held on the McKague farm near Teeswater in Bruce County.
His work at the head of the provincial association, Craig said, was mainly to direct traffic and ensure that the match went off without a hitch.
In 2011 Craig was honoured with a special award for 50 years with the organization. He continues to be involved with the organization and has recently been appointed the Ontario Plowmen’s Association representative with the Canadian Plowing Organization.
Craig says he finds the work both interesting and challenging. Some provincial organizations don’t even have representation at the national level and have a long way to go. It’s at this level, he says, that one can really see how lucky Ontario is in the world of competitive plowing and the dedication of its participants.