Looking back at IPM 2017 - Match will be remembered for resilience
BY DENNY SCOTT
With the International Plowing Match and Rural Expo (IPM) moving from the rearview mirrors of the public to the history books, The Citizen took some time to reminisce with members of the executive and event committees about the 100th iteration of the agricultural event.
As far as the specifics of the match, Chair Jacquie Bishop said the committee succeeded in putting on the show they hoped for.
“We met our vision that we put in place early on,” she said. “We wanted an entertaining and educational IPM that all ages could enjoy and I believe we achieved that as there was diverse programming that enticed people to come to the match.”
Administration Co-ordinator Brian McGavin said the committee could not have hoped for a better turnout, better stories or better memories than the match had provided.
“We like to break records in Huron County, but even we were surprised with how every event was a success,” he said. “People said we had the best church service, the best media day, the best opening ceremonies, the best everything. It was gratifying that what we did in Huron County measured up to the standards we have set.”
He said that, even with the rain, the match was in a position to succeed from the start.
“We were fortunate to have a lot of sponsors and volunteers to make it a success,” he said.
Brian said the attendance of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family was also a big feather in the IPM’s cap, explaining his experience as Trudeau’s plowing coach for the event.
“I had to tell him he was going to start in reverse, but after that it was fun,” he said with a laugh. “He was very personable, and had no issues using a plow.”
Trudeau’s presence proved just how strong the education component of the event was, which pleased organizers as being informative and student-friendly was of paramount importance for the organization.
“The connection between the classroom and Trudeau was neat,” Brian said. “We wanted a good education component and, with those little children sending him an invitation and him coming and proving the importance of education, it was pretty neat.”
Bishop agreed, saying that reaching out to future farmers and agri-business owners was something the committee had put an emphasis on.
“They are our future because next time this event ends up on our doorstep, I look forward to fulfilling the role of senator,” she said.
Events and opportunities for the IPM to shine leading up to the event were also successful according to Bishop, who pointed to the barn quilt initiative, the IPM cookbooks, beautification projects, painted doors and benches as aspects that all drew interest. She also said that, through on-site events like the IPM 4-H Club, the Brussels Fall Fair, the straw bale facades and farm-gate displays, Huron County was shown to be a truly agricultural community.
Brian went on to say that the stories he heard throughout the match showed how Huron County brought out its best for the match.
Committee Secretary Lynne Godkin said the event was a success despite the adverse weather conditions.
“Did we hit 100,000 people? No, but, really and truly that was just because of the circumstances,” she said. “It was too wet on Wednesday and Friday and Saturday there were health risks due to the heat but we still brought in more than 70,000 people.”
She said the event was a fabulous success with great entertainment and enthusiastic volunteers. Comments she heard were positive despite the cancellation and vendors and tents ran out of supplies, showing just how successful it was.
Jeff McGavin, who started the IPM as plowing co-ordinator but found himself as a jack-of-all-trades once the fields were set, said the event was a huge success.
“The plowing, the tented city, it was all a great experience,” he said. “Working with different volunteer groups and seeing the experience they all brought to the grounds was great. It was amazing to work with so many people with so many different stories.”
QUEEN OF THE FURROW
Queen of the Furrow committee chair Melissa Veldman, who has some experience with IPMs through becoming Ontario’s Queen of the Furrow less than a decade ago, said she was very impressed by the match.
“Everything went very well,” she said. “Everyone was happy.”
While the rain had an impact on most aspects of the event, she said the Queen competition’s schedule remained unmarred by the wild weather.
“The rain didn’t hold the Queen program back at all really,” she said. “They were supposed to plow on Wednesday, and they were able to do that.”
Veldman said all 25 Queen contestants were happy and great to work with.
“It’s super inspiring to see where the agricultural industry is going with young women like these who are passionate about it,” she said. “We’re very happy to know we’re going in the right direction.”
While Kailey Donaldson from Halton County took the top spot in the competition, Veldman said the title could have gone to anyone on the stage.
This year’s IPM marked the first time the Queen Gala and the Plowmen’s Dinner was held together and Veldman said the marriage of the two was a great idea.
“It made for a longer night, but I’m very happy with how it went,” she said. “We had 650 people in attendance and that is phenomenal. We are very happy.”
Barb Terpstra was the head of a committee that, in her words, didn’t make history but started history when they set out to put on the first provincial Princess Competition.
The competition focuses on a younger demographic than the Queen of the Furrow competition and she said it was an amazing experience.
“It was awesome,” she said. “All the girls did a fabulous job and we felt so sorry for the judges. It came right down to the wire.”
Terpstra said it was fantastic to see Brooklyn Hendriks, the Huron County contestant, triumph over the other 14 competitors for the crown, making her the first-ever winner of the competition.
The organizers behind the 2018 IPM in Chatham-Kent have already decided to carry on the competition, Terpstra said, and she sees that as a boon for the girls involved, as well as other aspects of the plowing match.
“It’s going to be a benefit to the Queen competition, I can tell you that,” she said. “Looking at the girls, you could see the interest they had in carrying on.”
She said the quality of the girls that competed in the event can only benefit agriculture.
“We have to keep our youth embracing agriculture and being a part of it and this is a great program to do that,” she said.
She said that, with Canada being so heavily focused on agriculture, it’s important to have it at the forefront for young women. She said that’s why having 15 different competitors was such a great milestone for the first competition.
“It’s only going to keep getting stronger,” she said. “It was a packed day, by the time the competition was done, but the girls got to meet each other, know each other and start friendships that will continue on and show people what good the competition can do.”
Terpstra’s biggest takeaway from the entire IPM was that the future of agricultural Ontario is in good hands with the girls in the competition.
“To see these girls interested in promoting agriculture, embracing their roots and wanting to be a part of it was amazing.”
Plowing co-ordinators Jeff McGavin and Paul Dodds both said the event was well attended.
Dodds handled the on-the-ground plowing issues while Jeff had been involved in lining up the lands to host the plowing, arguably the most important part of the event.
Dodds said that, once the tractors were on the fields, the event was a huge success.
“We had quite a good competition,” he said. “Unfortunately, like everything else, we lost a day due to the weather, but, by the time we recovered, we carried on just like nothing had happened.”
Dodds said the land was set up well to plow and the facilities that hosted the plowmen left them happy to handle that. He said that, like many of the other plowmen, once he was on his tractor, everything else faded to the background.
Jeff agreed, saying that, aside from an odd stone that was found, the plowing ran smoothly. He said, by the time the plows hit the field, Dodds had ‘grabbed the reigns’ of the event and Jeff was back helping out in tented city.
Matt Townsend was in charge of the RV park and, with all but nine of the 1,092 serviced sites at the park used, he said it was a great success.
“On top of the serviced sites, we had several hundred unserviced sites used as well,” he said. “It exceeded all expectations.”
The weather proved problematic, Townsend said, but, with the back-up plans the IPM committee and volunteers had in place, they were able to mitigate most of the problems.
“We kept the tenants happy and entertained and, with infrastructure planning, we were prepared to recover quickly from the rain,” he said. “We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best and worked out everything in between.”
Townsend pointed to a brief power outage as an example of how quickly and efficiently back-up plans for the site were pulled off, saying, at one point, low-hanging power lines were pulled down, resulting in an outage for the park.
“Within two hours, Hydro One, Paul Cook and Maple Hill Electric were on site working and had the service back on,” he said.
Townsend said he didn’t run into many surprises and attributed that to his time helping his father George in 1999 when he was in charge of the RV park at the Dashwood match.
“As a matter of fact, one of the practices my father implemented, the staging lanes for RVs, is still being used today and helps expedite the check-in process,” Townsend said. “At one point we had 24 ATVs and golf carts moving RVs into their parking spots throughout the park.
Traffic back-up was kept to a minimum according to Townsend who said the volunteers were awesome at keeping the process moving. He said the park would not have been as successful without them.
Entertainment for the show went rain or shine under coordinator Sherry McCall and, because of that, there was always something to see or do for people who were at the grounds.
“I would say it was quite successful,” she said. “The entertainers did well and we had great comments about the Mudmen, George Canyon, the Leahys, the Ballaghs and all the local entertainers.”
While the weather did have an impact on the entertainment, McCall said the performers could be dampened, but their desire to perform couldn’t be.
“It went from rain to heat and that did have an impact on what people saw, but everyone was still happy to perform,” she said. “Those that did come and see the shows were happy.”
On Wednesday, when other events were cancelled or moved off-site, entertainment at the Tented City was moved into the RV park, a change that was appreciated by performers and audiences alike.
“Being in the RV park made for a very successful day,” McCall said. “We started at 9:30 a.m. and had entertainment until midnight. Everything except the Huron County variety show went in the park.”
She said the volunteers made that work more than anyone else.
“We had a green room, a trailer as a changing room and volunteers just scrambled to get that set up,” she said. “They were second-to-none in making that happen and we could not have done it without them.”
McCall also penned the IPM song “Because We’re Farmers” and said it was great to hear it at the show so often.
“I’m really proud of that song,” she said. “Every time [Amanda McClure, Isaiah. Sills, and Jack Storey] performed it at the show it warmed my heart. They put their best foot forward and it paid off. It was well received.”
She said the trio received a standing ovation every time they sang the song at the match and it showed the support of everyone.
While each person interviewed lamented the cancellation of the IPM on Wednesday, Sept. 20 and the hot weather of the weekend that followed, the extreme weather had an unexpected side effect – showing the world what Huron County is made of.
“We could have had some better weather, but, with any outdoor event, you have to realize you can’t control the weather,” Godkin said. “What we did try was to be really flexible and everyone in Huron County rose to the occasion. I think that adverse weather created more of a close-knit volunteer community. People really rose to the occasion.
“People said, ‘This is the hand we’ve been dealt? No problem, we can handle this and make it work,’” she said.
Other committee chairs felt the same way, including Brian.
“I was really happy with the way the whole IPM went, but, naturally, after Tuesday night, it felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach,” he said. “We worked for more than four years and then that happens. However, that was when we began to see the resolve of everyone involved. It really galvanized the county and showed how we help one another.”
Brian said Huron County’s true nature shone through not only through helping with the cancellation but also throughout the match as many of the comments he heard were about how everyone was so helpful.
“If that’s the legacy we want to build and leave, it’s a nice one to have,” he said.
Veldman said she “saw the bright light” after all the darkness that the rain caused.
“The match was still supported,” she said. “There were a ton of people for the first day and the last three days had a lot of people there to make up for the cancellation. Everyone worked together and rearranged so much of the event and it worked.”
She said that, with such an event, re-arranging it wasn’t easy, but the volunteers made it happen through moving some events off-site and working with those in attendance whenever they could.
As for whether the committee would be involved in the next match, the answers ranged from “yes” to “no” to “definitely” to “ask me again in 20 years” (representing the approximate time between plowing matches in the county).
Dodds said if he was asked in 20 years, he might say yes.
“The parts that I had to deal with, the plowmen and the plowing fields, are pretty easy to deal with,” he said. “The volunteers dealing with the tented city and the general public probably had more of a varied experience.”
Godkin said she wouldn’t take the mantle of secretary again, but she would be involved.
“Would I be secretary again? No, but I might be the Queen Mom or the Queen Grandma,” she said with a laugh, referencing the woman who helps the Queens through the competition. “I’ll be the Queen Grandma 20 years from now, or maybe I could be a senator like my father was this year. Brian McGavin, Jeff McGavin, my brother Paul and I, and the rest of the executive could be the senators for the next Huron IPM.”
McCall said she would be happy to volunteer at a future match, though she would look for something different than entertainment.
As for Brian, he said he would likely be involved, but not at the same level.
“Our family would definitely want to help out,” he said. “If we had a few years to breathe before the next one, that would be good, but we would want to help out.”
Brian explained that hosting an event that was a success was a “bucket list” item for his brother and they couldn’t have hoped for a better match.
Jeff agreed, saying that he is sure his family will be recharged by then and ready to help out where needed.