Cultivating Community

Women and Agricultural Fairs in Ontario

Reviewed by Nancy Payne

Posted November 24, 2022

What a treat it is to read an account that affords the work of rural and farm women a dignity it rarely receives — either in a sexist past that belittled such efforts or in a sniffy present that dismisses their worth.

University of Waterloo assistant professor of history Jodey Nurse understands the importance of the agricultural fair to rural life in Ontario, and her well-organized, easy-to-read book will ring true to kindred spirits who can picture the scenes she describes.

Each chapter of Cultivating Community looks at an aspect of fairs and women’s skilled involvement in them from the mid-1800s to the 1970s — whether in competitions for canning, baking, sewing, garden produce, or flowers; in the livestock ring; during fair queen contests; or, eventually, in the boardroom.

Using minutes from agricultural society meetings, newspaper reports, interviews, and more, Nurse makes a convincing case for the importance of women’s contributions to building and strengthening agricultural fairs and, indeed, farms, homes, and communities throughout the province. Without a hint of condescension, she also highlights “the joy and personal meaning they found in fair activities.”

Old prize lists and black and white photos illustrate the additional hard work these already hard-working women were willing to devote to cultivating community.

Buy this book at Chapters-Indigo

This article originally appeared in the December 2022-January 2023 issue of Canada’s History.

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