A feature in our Spring 2022 issue written by E. Y. Morwick.
Royal Winter Fair. Three words immediately recognizable by livestock breeders from all corners of the globe and their full implication understood. The Royal Winter Fair, in Canada at least, is the ultimate arbiter of bovine pulchritude, a place of final judgments, and its red ribbon is coveted as is no others.
Glamour! Here, it will be found in abundance, oozing from the very cracks of the paved aisles behind the cows. And oh those cows! There they stand, sleek as eels, with all the promise of a bright spring morning. They are their owners’ major accomplishment, his calling card, the best he has to offer. And today they are his declaration of battle.
The Royal Winter Fair is held in November of each year at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds at Toronto, Ontario. It is devoted entirely to agriculture, lasts two weeks, and people come from all over the world to witness the finest livestock exhibition on the planet.
The Royal was held for the first time in 1922 so this year marks its 100th anniversary. Three years earlier, that would have been in 1919, the first steps were taken by representatives of various Canadian livestock organizations toward the holding of a major Canadian agricultural winter fair. For a number of years winter fairs, from the Prairie Provinces to the Maritimes, had materially contributed to the progress of the Canadian livestock industry. But these events by their very nature were limited in scope and power. Canadian stockmen longed for the day when a show similar in influence but greater in scope than the International Livestock Exposition held annually in Chicago would take place in Canada. It would bring to one central point for competition the best that Canadian showmen, breeders, fruit growers, gardeners and poultry fanciers had to offer.
The Royal Winter Fair has been held every year since 1922 except for the six-year hiatus between years 1939 and 1945 when the Exhibition was canceled because of the demands of the Second World War when the buildings were required for the housing of Canadian infantrymen. The only other interruption came in 2020 and 2021 when the show was closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 1922 the Royal Winter Fair got off to a magnificent start, its many features combined into one colossal show that surpassed the expectations of even the most optimistic supporters. Spectators from the United States proclaimed it the best show of its kind that they had ever seen. The Holstein exhibitors excelled themselves and remarks were common to the effect that such uniformity and general levels of quality had rarely been seen. The senior sires were out in full force, with Rooker Canary Wayne, property of Dickie Bros., Truro, Nova Scotia, standing at the head of the mature bull class. He met defeat, however, for grand champion before the young Sir Romeo Mildred Colantha, a truly royal youngster. Judge was D.C. Flatt, Hamilton, Ontario, who kept firmly in mind a certain type, from which his judgments seldom deviated. A line-up of aged cows in milk, which one reporter described as “sufficient to warm the cockles of the hearts of breed admirers”, was headed by Alfred Hulet’s Lady Norfolk Abbekerk, a Prince Colanthus Abbekerk daughter. The grand championship rosette, however, went to Fred Hilliker’s Butter Baroness Korndyke, winner in the aged dry class.
The 1923 Royal Winter Fair was judged by James Rettie. In the 200-head exhibition, Rettie found his grand champion bull in Sir Francy Netherland Abbekerk, shown by C.W. Thurston & Sons and W.H. Rothwell, Regina, Saskatchewan. Sir Francy Mercena Burke quite easily led a class of five junior yearlings en route to junior championship honours. The aged cow class in milk was a disappointment. Haley & Lee had an easy winner in Delta Finderne, but there were many badly-shaped udders. From the mature dry cow class, easily the sensation of the Holstein exhibit, came the grand champion, McGhee Bros.’ Aaggie Sylvia. Newton Chambers, Salford, Ontario, showing for the first time, came in for a strong second on Oakhurst Colantha Abbekerk. This cow, as time has proven, had as much or more influence than any other animal of that era. In the Mount Victoria herd she founded the family which produced Montvic Rag Apple Marksman, Montvic Rag Apple Sovereign and Montvic Monogram, three pillars of the Holstein breed.
That 1923 triumph was Aaggie Sylvia’s first and only Royal grand championship. Setting the record so far as Royal grand championships for females are concerned, was Brookview Tony Charity who won the Supreme award four times – 1983-4-5-7. Seven Holstein females have won three Royal grand championships, those being Montvic Rag Apple Bonheur, Rosehill Fayne Wayne, Spring Farm Juliette, Silvia Pabst Texal, Bond Haven Signet Sally, Acme Star Lily and Thrulane James Rose.
This retrospective, it is hoped, provides a reasonable description of the Royal Winter Fair’s origins. It has been an eventful hundred years!