Countdown to IPM '17 - McGavins bring nearly 100 years of history to IPM 2017
BY DENNY SCOTT
A conversation about plowing in Ontario can’t happen without mentioning the name McGavin.
Whether it’s because of their involvement in plowing matches, their constant support of the 4-H program or whether it’s talking about going to McGavin Farm Equipment in Walton, the family company, the McGavin name is as synonymous with plowing as one can be throughout the county.
It’s little wonder, with that kind of name recognition, that the McGavins, specifically patriarch Neil and his sons Brian and Jeff, are deeply involved with the International Plowing Match (IPM) coming to Walton in 2017.
That association between the McGavin family and plowing is well deserved as, starting just over 90 years ago, the McGavin family made a name for itself in national plowing.
Gordon McGavin, who opened McGavin Farm Equipment in Walton over 80 years ago, won the 1926 Canadian Plowing Championships in Niagara Falls and since then the family has been deeply involved in that world.
“It’s something that we grew up with and that’s in our blood,” Brian said. “Grandpa’s experience and ours, thanks to him, really make us want to put on a great IPM.”
Neil explained that competitive plowing provided his father with the only opportunity all year for time away from the farm and the family business, and it happened to fall on Thanksgiving.
“The plowing matches used to be in October,” he said. “Thanksgiving dinner was dad eating quick to go to the match. It was a high priority to get things ready there throughout the year.”
Neil has extensive experience organizing plowing events while Brian and Jeff have more been involved on the plowing side through their own experiences and those of local youth. Brian and Jeff think having that experience to draw upon will help make the event a well-rounded one.
“We typically go to the matches across the province and we’ve seen the good things that have been done and the things that may need improvement from both sides of the events,” Brian said. “We want to include all that in this year’s IPM.”
Marie, Neil’s wife, can also offer her experience from the past if needed. She was the souveneirs chair at the 1999 IPM that was held in Dashwood. She has chaired the Huron County Queen of the Furrow competition for 30 years. Marie also ‘coached’ Brian and Jeff in their youth when Neil was a member of the OPA executive.
Bringing the IPM home is living a dream, according to Brian.
“My grandfather taught me to plow when I was 10 years old and he passed away the next year,” he said. “Dad taught both Jeff and I after that. We’re glad we’re going to be able to make this happen while dad and mom are able to enjoy it.
Neil explains that, after Gordon won the national championship in 1926, he continued on with plowing, becoming involved with the Ontario Plowmen’s Association (OPA) until 1960. He was president of from 1942 to 1946. Neil followed in his footsteps, becoming OPA president in 2000 after being a director for several years.
“By the time he finished with the Plowmen’s Association, he figured he spent more than a year of his life at plowing matches or in meetings,” Neil said. “He lived and breathed plowing.”
Gordon was the third generation of McGavins in Huron County. His father, John James, or J.J., was the first generation born after his grandfather William left Ireland and made his way to Huron County through New York, New Jersey and Port Huron.
All three living generations of the family will be involved with the IPM. Brian’s wife, Shelley, and their children Brandon, Abby and Tyson all set to chip in alongside Jeff’s wife, Shannon, and their children Jacob, Mackenzie and Teegan.
Shelley has joined the efforts as the vice-chair of the VIP committee and Shannon is serving on the Queen’s and banquet committees.
Cathy Melady, Brian and Jeff’s sister, has volunteered her time for the Accessibility committee, making sure that the IPM is accessible to all.
Brian has earned many plowing accolades, including local and provincial championships and placing second and third at the Canadians while Jeff holds several IPM titles of his own.
With that kind of family experience behind them, it isn’t surprising that both Jacob and Brandon have succeeded at plowing, with Brandon placing at the national championship and competing at the world championships last year, placing 23rd on top of having several local and Canadian junior titles.
Jeff and Brian also said that seeing their sons, Jacob and Brandon respectively, excel at plowing has been a great experience and provided great opportunities for quality time with the family.
“It was really a dream of Brandon and I to get to the world championships at Brandon’s young age,” Brian said. “It’s great we did get to go and we were proud to be going with Brandon.”
Neil said that plowing has been a part of the family, but it’s also an integral part of how McGavin Farm Equipment has grown. He said that most of the product lines the company has carried over the years were picked up because they were present at Ontario plowing matches.
“[Gordon], as president of the Ontario Plowmen’s Association [after World War II] was determined to get the plowing match going again [after the war],” Neil said. “The result was the Victory Match of 1946 which offered a special plowing class for veterans.”
Thomas Kennedy, the provincial Minister of Agriculture in 1946, lauded the move saying the match would provide a great opportunity for farmers to see new and improved equipment and modernize their farms.
The family feels that tradition continues and said attendees of the IPM will be continue to see innovations in agriculture at the event.
Neil said that, while at the match, Gordon saw a New Holland baler and became a dealer for the company. At the 1949 match, he saw equipment from New Idea, another company, and became a dealer for them as well.
While the business is important, Neil went on to say that the best part of any match is watching his children and grandchildren compete.
With that experience and their pedigree, the family’s involvement in the IPM makes sense.
Brian, whose official title with the IPM is administrative co-ordinator, is in charge of several different aspects of the event including volunteers, gates and leases for the land as well as helping with sponsorship. He has delegated responsibilities to make sure all those issues are handled by the time the event rolls around. Jeff is in charge of the lands being maintained, helping with the tented city and information booths as well as being one of the plowing co-ordinators.
Sponsorship is also a big part of the IPM for the McGavins. Brian explained the event wouldn’t be possible without financial support from those in the county. Donations help to offset the cost of the IPM and proceeds will be directed back to community efforts throughout Huron County.
Whether it’s local businesses sponsoring events or exhibiting at tented city or the senators, like Neil, selling IPM benches, the McGavins hope Huron County will use the IPM to show the world what it is all about.
Sponsorships are still available and with the size of the county, Brian encourages people to get in touch with anyone involved with the IPM regarding those opportunities.
Brian said while all his responsibilities are important, one of the more interesting ones is securing the land for the event.
“Once we got the okay from the Ontario Plowmen’s Association for Jack Ryan’s site, we had to start talking to the neighbours to secure land around it,” he said. “A lot of people may not realize that we do have to sign a lease and rent the land for use for the duration of the match.”
Brian said the neighbours were more than happy to help out, showing the great community spirit that permeates the entire county.
“We’re fortunate in that, in Walton and throughout the county, we have neighbours like that who are willing to do whatever we need to put on a great show,” he said. “The hospitality that we have is great and the county’s commitment to that is second to none.”
The Huron County group is well known at provincial and Canadian plowing events not just for their agricultural prowess but also for having fun according to Jeff and Brian. The group is also known for boasting about how great the county is and the McGavins feel this is the perfect opportunity to back up all the claims they have made about Huron County.
“This is our chance to put Walton on the map,” Neil said. “It’s our chance to show off Huron County.”
Brian said it’s exciting to explain the scale of the IPM compared to the communities in Huron County.
“It’s going to be a city in a field,” he said. “It’s going to be impressive.”
With half of the 1,100 camping spots already full, according to Brian, the site will certainly boast a large number of visitors.
While their own desire to have the match in their hometown is understandable, Brian said that Walton makes sense as the host of the IPM because of the infrastructure available and the fact that it’s reachable from all compass points.
“When we looked at sites before we put in our bid, we considered some farther west, towards the centre of the county, but if you do that you can’t catch anyone heading east,” he said. “This will bring tourism from all directions.”
Part of making this event fun for the whole family, Brian said, was to make it an experience, not a job.
“We’re trying to keep things balanced with the business, with our jobs,” he said. “We want to, when it’s all over, look back and say we did it, but we took the time to enjoy it as well and enjoyed working with so many great people that we may not have known before.”
Brian said that is why each person, whether they’re on the executive, directing traffic or cooking, is so important.
When it comes to plowing, however, the McGavins have two families, their immediate family and the family born of plowing matches at all levels.
“You really make these friendships into one big family,” Brian said. “You start seeing the same faces and you get to know them and Huron County’s plowing community is really close.”
“It’s just another family,” Jeff said. “We get together and we take care of each other. Everyone at these matches knows Huron County because we know how to have fun and we know how to support each other.”
One needs to look no further than the world championships to understand that. Every year a group of individuals, including Neil and Marie, go to the World Plowing Championships. Over the past several years, they’ve had chances to cheer on Paul Dodds, a Huron County competitor and Brandon McGavin, a Walton native who was attending Olds College in Alberta, so he competed for Alberta at the time. Brandon has since moved back to Huron County.
Neil explained that, at the world competitions, there are fenced-off areas for crowds for safety’s sake, but the Canadian section is always full of people from Huron County.
“When I was at the [World Championships], seeing that support first hand, it was kind of humbling,” Brian said. “To see the Canada flags there, it’s an experience.”
Brian and Neil agree that kind of support is what makes Huron County and Walton a great place to hold the IPM.
“We have a good core group of people involved, but we’ve been getting great support everywhere we turn,” Brian said. “Huron County always steps up, whether it’s big events or small events, and pulls out all the stops.”
Jeff said the communities in Huron County are what breed that kind of attitude.
“No matter where you go, you will find people helping each other out,” he said. “Whether it’s an event to help a neighbour going through something traumatic or a group pulling together to restore or maintain some kind of community facility, Huron County neighbours step up.”
Brian said that becomes apparent with his time at 4-H, where, for 30 years, he has been involved in getting Huron County Youth plowing.
He said people are always willing to lend land or equipment to help get young people interested in plowing, pointing to Jeff’s son Jacob whose plowing equipment has seen extensive use since he went away to school.
Brian said youth education and involvement is something they really want to push at the IPM and are happy that 4-H will be involved both locally, with junior plow day happening as part of the event, and nationally.
Jeff agreed, saying now, more than ever, it’s important to have young people of all walks of life educated in agricultural experiences. To that end, all 40 committees are all working together to focus on education.
The two hope that, as they have stepped back from plowing this year, 4-H inspires more people to participate in the event, whether they be former 4-H members or people new to plowing the organization stands to play a big role in the events planned for September.
“We’re working hard to make plowing accessible,” Jeff said. “We think it will be great for people to see that there, and to experience the 4-H shows at the Brussels Fall Fair sites. It’s going to provide the Walton match some great educational opportunities.”
The Walton match will see some changes made compared to previous years, such as the inclusion of the Brussels Fall Fair and several other new events planned.
As far as the company’s involvement in the IPM, Brian and Jeff explained the company will be a gold sponsor of the event, and bring Bruce County’s famous Dancing Tractors to the event, though they said the red colour of the tractors was something they had to address.
“We’re going to have a blue tractor in there,” Jeff said with a laugh. “We can’t have all those red tractors taking all the attention.”
The company will also help where needed, Brian, said, with donations, both of cash and in-kind services, already being made in helping the shipping containers and equipment being brought to Walton.
“We’ll supply people and equipment to get the job done,” Brian said. “It’s nice that it’s close, but it could be overwhelming. Fortunately, our staff are great people and we know they can handle it.”
While the Walton dealer will be the closest farm implement dealer, Brian said that all the dealerships in the area have already pledged to help out with equipment needed throughout the match as well as equipment to help with the set up.
With the history, drive and connections that the McGavins have, they are the perfect family to be pushing to make the 100th International Plowing Match in Walton this year a success.