The flood of settlers pouring into the West around the turn of the last century also meant a surge in demand for draft horses, and that turned Brandon into the draft horse centre of the Prairies.
The town was home to many of the leading horse dealers in the country, such as Colquhoun and Beattie, Trotter and Trotter, Alexander Galbraith, J.B. Hogate, J.A. McMillan, Ben Finlayson, and J.D. McGregor. They brought in stallions and mares from Scotland, England, France, Belgium, Ontario and the U.S., holding back the better animals for breeding purposes.
Since stallions were hard to handle, many farmers preferred to only keep mares and so would bring them to Brandon for mating.
Along with the established dealers, there were also horse traders who would bring lesser-quality animals from outside the Prairies and flog them to unsuspecting farmers. But while stories of unscrupulous horse dealers abound, some dealers complained of less-than-truthful farmers. In one account, a farmer who insisted his horse was in middle age was caught out because the dealer knew the animal had been brought to the Prairies 10 years previously.
The Brandon Summer Fair rapidly became known for its draft horse classes, and by 1889 claimed to be the biggest and best draft horse show in Western Canada. When the Brandon Winter Fair came about in 1908, it too became known for the size and quality of its draft horse show. Both attracted knowledgeable audiences that weren’t shy about voicing their views 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.”
The arrival of economical and reliable tractors in the late 1920s signalled the beginning of the end of the draft horse era, although they remained popular for economic reasons during the Great Depression and because of tractor shortages during the Second World War. However, after the war, tractor makers were once again pumping out machines and by 1950, the draft horse was largely retired from farm work.
The 2013 Threshermen’s Reunion will feature a Horsepower Expo, with approximately 20 draft horse teams demonstrating the use of a number of horse-drawn implements. For more information, visit ag-museum.mb.ca.