OTTAWA -- Rural tradition and organized agriculture are set to lose their final footholds at old Ottawa's traditional fairgrounds, Lansdowne Park. With the city's redevelopment plans for the site seemingly about to displace them, organizers with the Central Canada Exhibition and Ottawa Valley Farm Show are both looking to exit the venue after 2011.
City Council is expected to vote in June on agreements enacting the "Lansdowne Live" revitalization with private-sector partner Ottawa Sport & Entertainment Group.
The departure of the "Ex" from the grounds would also see the spectacular, barn-like Aberdeen Pavilion - also affectionately known as the Cattle Castle - bereft of its traditional longtime role. Since the 1890s, the structure has served as the home of homecraft, quilting and veggie competitions, as well as 4-H and animal displays, during the late August exhibition.
Gone, too, would be the farm machinery and equipment that fills and surrounds the Pavilion and other buildings at Lansdowne Park during the annual March Farm Show.
Farming and rural life are key elements of both the Ex and the Farm Show, respectively organized by volunteers with the Central Canada Exhibition Association (a member of the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies) and the Ottawa Valley Seed Growers Association (OVSGA).
Uprooting that tradition from Lansdowne won't be simple, and both groups assume next year may be their last at the downtown site off Bank Street.
"We're using over 100,000 square feet at Lansdowne Park," said OVSGA president Jim Arbuckle, highlighting the success of the most recently completed 83rd annual Ottawa Valley Farm Show. "It's quite a challenge to find a place to replace that."
While showcasing equipment, the show, at its core, actually serves as an annual celebration of the field-crop bounty produced by the surrounding counties. Farmers and 4-Hers compete in a variety of seed and forage categories, their entries from the previous cropping year festooned with ribbons at the OVSGA's flagship "Hall of Honour" display area. That tradition goes back to the 1927 formation of the OVSGA , created to promote the benefits of pedigreed seed. The OVSGA competition moved from place to place around the Ottawa Valley until settling at Lansdowne Park in 1959, which allowed the agricultural trade show to grow up around it -- initially with only a modest display of Massey Harris tractors in the Coliseum building. Organizers now claim it as the largest trade show in Ottawa.
Arbuckle said he hopes the city will build a new venue for the Farm Show to occupy, if council votes to proceed with the Lansdowne project this June.
According to Councillor Rob Jellett, the construction of a new trade show complex elsewhere in the city will be part and parcel of any decision to revitalize Lansdowne. Jellett said he expects council will vote in favour of both projects at the same time in June.
"The city is looking at building a very large complex, perhaps on land near the airport," the councillor said. "The goal is to have that in operation by 2011," he said, while conceding it's not likely to be ready for the March 2011 Ottawa Valley Farm Show.
With the clock ticking on their home, representatives from the OSVA and the Central Canada Exhibition Association (CCEA) have set up a joint committee to explore their future location options.
For its part, the CCEA several years ago purchased a 180-acre parcel of land on Rideau Rd., south of Rideau Carleton Raceway. It's been working with the city on a plan to get the site ready soon, according to CCEA president Lyn Presley, who also serves as the Ex's homecraft secretary.
"We do have a site, and our plan is to move ahead," Presley said.
She said it was "fairly obvious" the city would press ahead with Lansdowne plans that don't include the Ex. "I realize this is our destiny. We have to get out of there ... It's the city's right to do what they want with their property."
The promotion of agriculture is forefront in the CCEA's mandate, and Presley noted that interest remains strong in the Ex's 4-H and homecraft competitions, including a popular new apple pie-baking contest.
"We had 120 last year and expect to have 200 this year," said the Ex's agricultural coordinator Mick Armitage, adding that this year's edition runs Aug. 26 at the 123rd Central Canada Exhibition.
He said that multiple local 4-H clubs from around the region continue to be drawn to five days of livestock-showing competitions at the event, including dairy, beef, horses, sheep and goat events.
"We'll never have a 4-H show in such a beautiful building [as the Aberdeen Pavilion] again," he observed.
But Councillor Jellett said he wants to ensure the agricultural tradition carries on at the Pavilion, in the form of a farmer's market.
"It's the end of an era, but I think if we do it right, with the farmers' market, we will still have the agricultural component at Lansdowne Park," the councillor said. He foresees such a market operating seven days week and featuring locally grown produce. "That is the way to bring the farmers into the urban area."