Countdown to IPM '17: Falconer's history dates back to 1978 match
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The 1978 International Plowing Match holds a special place in the heart of Beautification Chair Deb Falconer – for a number of reasons.
It was Falconer’s family – Jim and Carol Armstrong and their children, one of whom was Deb – who hosted the match, so that will always be a memory that she cherishes. However, the match has a special and lasting place in her heart because it was at that match on her family’s farm that she met Les, her future husband.
While Jim and Carol were busy with every aspect of hosting the match – which included the perk of meeting moonwalking astronaut Neil Armstrong, who was on hand to help open the event – Deb and her three sisters were chipping in wherever they were needed. Much of this work, Falconer said in an interview with The Citizen, involved greeting and working the gates at the match.
It was fun work, Falconer remembers. She says she’s a very social person, so being able to talk with patrons of the match all day was a task that was right up her alley.
Falconer remembers marching into the office of her high school principal the Friday before the match, announcing that she would be absent from school for a week. While this may have raised an eyebrow under normal circumstances, Falconer said the principal didn’t even make a phone call and granted her the week off. He even offered her a drive home, although she declined and walked the short distance.
It was during one of the nights of the match, however, that a 16-year-old Falconer and her sister would spend time walking around the midway with Les and a friend of his. Falconer said that she and her future husband, who was at the match working at the time, went on a ride or two together at the IPM midway and the seed of a relationship was sown.
They wouldn’t begin dating right away, but a year and a half later they began seeing each other and then in 1985 they were married.
The Armstrong family history and its roots with competitive plowing in Huron County, however, run even deeper, dating back to the mid-1950s and a chance meeting with the man who would involve so many locals in that world: Gordon McGavin.
In the early 1950s, Jim started working in the world of agriculture and that meant exhibiting at the Huron County Plowing Match and beyond. Soon, through his work with David Brown, Jim met McGavin, who would eventually convince Jim to get involved with the Ontario Plowmen’s Association (OPA).
In 1979, the year after his family hosted the match on their home farm, which was near Wingham on the property now occupied by the Richard LeVan Airport, Armstrong would serve as the president of the OPA.
While Falconer remembers how much fun she and her sisters had at the match, another memory is just how surreal it was to see this vast tented city, full of life, outside the windows of their home.
She also remembers some nefarious activity around the hosting sign in the weeks leading up to the match.
Atop the sign, she said, there were flags advertising the match and those flags were constantly being stolen and subsequently replaced. Then, one day after the sign was placed under surveillance, a man was arrested trying to steal the flags once again. The excitement and activity of that day, she said, still stays with her to this day.
After the Armstrongs hosted the match, members of the family continued to be involved in the world of competitive plowing in a number of different ways.
In 1980, Falconer was crowned Huron County Queen of the Furrow, which meant she went on to the IPM in Barrie in 1981. That’s one aspect of the match, she says, that has changed quite a bit in recent decades.
When Falconer won the competition, the contestants needed to know how to plow. In today’s Queen of the Furrow competition, contestants are coached with a person by their side during the competition. In her day, Falconer said, you were out in the field alone.
This meant that there was plenty of practice ahead of the competition and Falconer worked extensively with a coach for weeks on her way to the victory.
In the years that followed, Falconer and her husband would start their own family, having four children of their own – three boys: Graham, Fraser and Derek and one girl, Sydney.
Two of the couple’s three sons would go on to plow competitively, with Les as their coach, through the local 4-H Sodbusters Club and then compete at both the Huron County and IPM levels.
While Les served as a coach for the boys, he did not plow competitively very often, although Falconer recalls her husband entering an IPM open class competition one year.
Falconer would again be involved the next time Huron County played host to the IPM, which was in 1999. She was one of six on the Queen of the Furrow committee, which was chaired by Lynne Godkin, who is now the secretary of this year’s IPM in Walton.
She remembers the committee being a lot of work and spending plenty of time with all of the contestants in the days leading up to the match.
For the 2017 IPM in Walton, however, Falconer said that while she wanted to take part, she had some specific conditions surrounding her involvement.
Falconer wanted to help where she could this year, but she wanted to ensure that she could enjoy the match. Working on the beautification committee, Falconer said she figured the bulk of her work would be done by the time the match rolls around, leaving her and her family free to enjoy themselves this September in Walton.
Initially, Falconer had volunteered to be part of the beautification committee, but it was Chair Jacquie Bishop who convinced Falconer that she could better serve the match as the committee’s chair and Falconer agreed.
The committee is now made up of five other women, who come from all corners of Huron County: Barb Bennett of Gorrie, Vicky Morrison of the Lucknow area, Katie O’Leary Swinkels from the lakeshore, Patti Hendriks of Seaforth and Anna Needles of Bayfield.
The beautification committee has been hard at work for months brainstorming a number of ideas about how locals can spruce up their properties and make the entire county look ready to host one of the biggest IPMs in history.
There are, of course, the basics, like the home beautification contest. This year’s competition will feature eight different categories and Falconer knows a thing or two about this competition, because it was the Falconer family home that won the competition ahead of the 1999 IPM that was held near Dashwood.
There are eight categories, far more than have been offered at past matches: most attractive farm gateway/entrance, most attractive farmstead, most improved farmstead, most attractive agri-business, most attractive rural home, most attractive urban home, most attractive seasonal cottage and a new, special 4-H category created strictly for members of clubs.
Falconer says that she and the committee are aiming to have between 40 and 50 properties enrolled in the beautification competition in time for the match.
The deadline to enter the competition is June 30 and applications can be downloaded from the IPM website at www.plowingmatch.org.
However, the committee has taken it upon itself to implement a number of non-traditional initiatives that are a first for IPMs. One is the barn quilt trail that Falconer says has taken off since it was first announced late last year.
Morrison has now taken the lead on the barn quilt division of the competition, but since Brussels Agri-Services came on as a sponsor for the competition, Falconer said, the interest has been incredible.
In addition to the barn quilts, the committee also devised a bow sale system, which was rolled out in April at a special beautification day that was held in Clinton at the Regional Equine and Agricultural Centre of Huron (REACH). Falconer says the interest in the ribbons has also been great.
For more information on the 2017 IPM’s beautification competition, visit www.plowingmatch.org.