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In 1973, a small group of pork producers and industry personnel met in the Old Ontario Hydro building on Wellington Street in London to discuss the possibility of expanding a local barrow show into a larger pig show and exhibit area. Many of the leaders were purebred breeders with a vision of promoting the Pork Industry among themselves and to the world. This concept evolved to the Ontario Pork Congress of today.

The first year was a high risk – new location (Stratford), many first time events, first time exhibitor participation, education programs, a lot of volunteer needs and a big financial commitment. Although the first few years were a financial disaster, a small but dedicated group continued to pursue the initial goals and objectives – “to put on the best hog show in Canada or hire a bus to go to one”. Not only were the first few years spent on refining the show, but also setting it up, legally and formally, for its long term operational procedures. For example, the name Ontario Pork Congress took a long and thorough debate, but once a decision was made, the group went on to the next challenge and debate and slowly developed the show to be one of the most respected and renown pig shows in the world.

The Ontario Pork Congress continued to evolve, encouraging and risking new events that were untried in the marketplace - for example an export mission to Brazil, a Porkfest for Stratford and area, Education programs, Purebred swine sales and weaner competitions that were unprecedented. Each of these events was highly successful in its own right but often discontinued after several years for new and different events. For example, County Pork Producer awards were a highlight at the Pork Congress for many years, until they were transferred to local county responsibilities, and now the Ontario Pork Congress continues only with a Provincial Leadership award.

The Ontario Pork Congress was the seed to many concepts, organizations, awards and sponsorships that raised the Ontario pork profile to a World Class. Youth entrants into the pork industry always received special support from the Ontario Pork Congress. Innovations, showmanship and participation by young entrants were encouraged and highly rewarded. The Junior Barrow Show for young people still exists and interestingly, one of the participants in the first barrow show became the president of the Pork Congress some 30 years later. The Ontario Pork Congress also sponsored many organizations and events – travel fellowships, health studies, Ag in the Classroom programs and industry studies. It is estimated that over a million dollars in volunteer time and direct sponsorship has been awarded back into the industry by the Ontario Pork Congress.

Whether by design or default, the Ontario Pork Congress has an organizational structure that was ahead of its time. Every participant has the right and respect to implement change. The organization is managed through general meetings that are transparent, debated, delegated and respected. Over 15 committees report at each general meeting, accept the debate and, in turn, implement their ideas at the next show under an overall budget and mission statement. At the end, not only is it a world class show put on by volunteers, but a tremendous amount of camaraderie exists among the planners.

Richard Smelski
Past President