Digby County Exhibition marks 135th anniversary with memorial mural

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier jriley@digbycourier.ca
Published on July 22, 2014

The Digby County Exhibition is hoping to pull in more spectators and participants to help celebrate its 135th birthday.

The association behind the exhibition has organized a few programs to remind people about the fun and family events that happen on the grounds in Bear River every August.

“We’re trying to get people to come back to the exhibition,” says Debbie Haight. “There’s so much talent in this area—carvers, painters, quilters, knitters, gardeners—it’d be nice to see people bring down their work and let people have a look.

“The buildings used to be just crawling with exhibits.”

[Photos from the 2012 Digby County Exhibition]

To honour all the people who participated in the exhibition over the years and to mark the 135th anniversary, Terry Gilbert of Digby has volunteered to paint a memorial mural on the walls of the exhibition building.

The mural includes a large tree and people can buy leaves for $20 to be painted with the names of the past exhibition participants.

“We want to remember all the great people who kept this exhibition going,” said Haight. “Whether ox teamster, quilter, in 4-H, or just someone who loved the exhibition and came as a spectator, we want to have their name on the mural.”

Besides the person’s name, the leaves could include date of birth and date of death, or where they’re and what they participated in.

The association is hoping to sell 100 leaves before the unveiling at the opening ceremonies of the Digby County Exhibition on August 20.

The opening ceremonies will include cake and live entertainment.

The exhibition has also involved several local schools in a birthday card contest.

The hand-drawn and coloured cards wishing the exhibition a happy 135th birthday will be on display at the exhibition.

The association is holding a silent auction the week of the exhibition and they’re also raffling off a cord of split firewood, delivered within 25 km of Digby County.

4-H has been growing remarkably in Digby County and that part of the exhibition is growing too – the young people are bringing rabbits and goats as before, but for the first time, they’re also bringing cattle to show this year.

And of course there’s the heavy and light horse and oxen pulls – they have long been the mainstay of the exhibition and are still well attended.

Debbie’s father-in-law Danny Haight says he goes to the exhibition for the social aspects.

“You see people there you only see once a year,” he said. “It’s a small fair and every one is friendly and easy going.”

Danny started taking oxen to the pulls in 2000 and says even in the heat of competition, the people are great.

“If you break a piece of gear or need a hand, people are right there for you,” he said.

His son Greg has taken over the pulling and will be taking several pair this year.

Greg says he enjoys the challenge of working with the animals and seeing if he can get the best out of them.

[Slideshow of photos of Haight and Hebb working with the oxen at the farm in Hillgrove]

[Video of the teamster leading their oxen about the Hillgrove barnyard]

“I like the raw power of it, I like working with the animals, I like the competition,” he said. “There’s a lot to it right down to reading the ground and choosing your weight.

“But if they pull for me as good as they can, if they give me everything they can give, then I’ll be happy,” he said.

Greg is also passing on his experience to a younger puller – 16-year-old Dawson Hebb of Marshalltown came haying on the Haight farm three years ago and when he saw the oxen, he wanted to get involved.

He bought his own pair in 2012 and is also breaking another young pair for Greg.

He continues to hay and work on the farm to pay off his board and feed for the oxen.

Hebb says ox pulling is expensive and a lot of work –he has barn chores most every night cleaning up after and working the cattle.

But he’s been hooked since the first time he stood in front of a pair.

“They were quite heady and they kept pushing me and they pushed me right down in the mud,” he says with a big smile. “It’s one of the funnest things I’ve ever done.”

The Digby County Exhibition runs from Aug. 20 to 23; for more information check out their Digby County Exhibition (Bear River) Facebook group or call Debbie Haight at 245-1091.