fair picture

Scene from Pierce County Fair at Rugby

We are in the middle of fair season in North Dakota, but there are a couple of ag fairs that take place at other times of the year, one in late winter and the other in the fall. It only stands to reason that the wintertime show referred to is the North Dakota Winter Show in Valley City, and the fall show is the Walsh County Fair, which is held at Park River.

Agriculture was the driving force behind both of these “off-season” farming celebrations when each was started many years ago, and it remains so today. This article will touch on the start of the North Dakota Winter Show and in the final fair feature of the season, in the Aug. 2 issue, the focus will be on the October-held, Walsh County Fair.

North Dakota Winter Show

Many in Barnes County and the Valley City area were looking to recover from the “Dirty Thirties,” and have a showplace for the agriculture, and especially the livestock of the region. In September 1937, the articles of incorporation were drawn up and signed. The first show was held on March 8-11 in 1938. Purebred livestock shows and sales were the main reason for the North Dakota Winter Show’s (NDWS) creation and it remained the backbone of the show for several decades.

According to Winter Show records, the 1938 show had 200 head of livestock entered, and in 1986, more than 1,700 head were shown. In the early days, the livestock shows were held outdoors or in some of the local auto dealerships, and then it was a march down Central Avenue for the Parade of Champions. In 1963, the present Quonset type building became the permanent site for the Winter Show.

Just to show how much the livestock enterprises have changed, in 1964, the Livestock Committee of the Winter Show voted to ban artificial breeders from exhibiting in the commercial booths at the show.

Not long after the show was organized, the crops portion of agriculture was made a large part of the show. Those first years, the crops display was made up of around 250 samples, according to a history book published on the 50th anniversary of the show.

In 1948 a Crops Show Committee was formed and planned for three divisions in the State Crops Show – FFA, 4-H and an open division. Later, a certified seed segment was also added. The show grew rapidly and for many years it claimed the title of being “The World’s Largest Crop Show.”

At the show’s peak, it consisted of over 2,200 samples and it was estimated it took 10 hours of hand-picking to prepare each sample for a total of 22,000 hours.

Like all other fairs, the Winter Show has changed its programming over the years to meet the changing needs of agriculture. Livestock is no longer a main emphasis of the show and the crop show has shrunk in size, but activities such as ag information sessions, on a wide variety of topics, and commercial exhibits of farm equipment, products and services are the focus of today’s NDWS, as well as a wide variety of entertainment events.

Some information for this article came from the book “Comradery, Competition, Education, Entertainment – the First 50 Years of the North Dakota Winter Show.”