Brandon in the 1880’s established itself as the draft horse center on the Prairies and became the headquarters for many leading Canadian horse dealers such as Colquhoun and Beattie, Trotter and Trotter, Alexander Galbraith, J.B. Hogate, J.A. McMillan, Ben Finlayson, J.D. McGregor and others. How Brandon managed to attract a large number of horse dealers is a combination of factors. Brandon had good rail connections east and west plus as the largest town in the area Brandon attracted settlers into Brandon on a regular basis. Brandon also benefited from the settlement pattern of the time. Settlers had to travel well west of Winnipeg in the 1880s to obtain homestead land due large blocks of land being unavailable in the area between Winnipeg and Brandon because of purchase by speculators, being reserved for various ethnic groups or as a result of land grants to the Canadian Pacific Railway.
When the flood of settlers on to the Prairies began in earnest in the period 1895 to 1914, there was a correspondingly large increase in demand for draft horses, the predominant source of power on the farm in that period. Brandon was well positioned to fill this demand. Brandon horse dealers brought in stallions and mares from Scotland, England, France, Belgium, Ontario and the USA. The better animals were used for breeding purposes with the offspring sold to farmers. As well farmers would bring their mares into Brandon so they could be mated with a quality stallion that a horse dealer owned. This was a cheap method of improving the blood lines of a farmer’s horses. Stallions being somewhat more unpredictable and less easy to handle were not an animal well suited to a draft horse team and so many farmers would not want to keep a stallion. Lesser quality animals were also purchased by dealers from areas outside the Prairies and resold to Western farmers. While many stories abound of farmers being sold problem horses by unscrupulous horse dealers, some accounts by dealers tell of farmers being somewhat less than truthful when selling horses to the dealer. In one account by a dealer, a farmer was telling the dealer that the horse was in middle age when the dealer informed the farmer that the horse was that age when the dealer brought the animal to the Prairies 10 years previously! It would appear that horse trading was not for the gullible and naïve!
With Brandon being a centre for draft horses on the Prairies, the Brandon Summer Fair rapidly became known for its draft horse classes. This fair by 1889 could claim the biggest and best draft horse show in Western Canada. When the Brandon Winter Fair came about in 1908, this fair also became known for the size and quality of its draft horse show. As well as Brandon dealers entering animals in these fairs, dealers from other areas entered animals. To draft horse judges, the two fairs were known as no vacation to work as a result of the quality of animals entered and an audience that knew horses and was not shy about voicing concerns on the judging. The Brandon Winter Fair in particular became known to judges as the “Stallion Storm Centre” and to the dealers as the “Supreme Horse Court”.
Draft horses remained the primary power source on the farm until the late 1920s when tractor design and manufacture advanced to the point where economical and reliable tractors were being offered for sale. With the coming of the Great Depression, draft horses again became a more economical power source than tractors and remained so for most of the 1930s. The coming of World War Two resulted in tractor manufacturers switching to war production and so horses remained a significant source of power through the war years. However with the end of the war, farm mechanization was re-launched and by 1950 the draft horse was largely retired from farm work.
The 2013 Threshermen’s Reunion Expo features both Horsepower plus Massey and related companies. The Horsepower Expo celebrates the role of horses in agriculture. At this time, approximately 20 draft horse teams are set to appear and the Expo committee is working to get ready a number of horse drawn implements for use in demonstrations. As well the Clydesdale Expo is set to return. So the 2013 Reunion is the place to be if you are interested in draft horses! If you have horse era implements in your collection, please think about displaying them at the Expo.