The annual Harvest Festival at the Reynolds Alberta Museum on August 31st and September 1st, 2013 was the perfect opportunity for old-timers to reminisce about the sights, sounds and the smells of bringing in the harvest amidst all the displays and demonstrations of old equipment bordering a field of golden barley. As Cynthia Blackmore, Head of Marketing and Communications explained, “The Festival has become a strong tradition and attracts a big audience, possibly because there is so much machine power, not only on display, but operating.” Activities included stationary engine displays, tractor starting and driving demonstrations, field work, and threshing.
The sunny, warm day, crops ripening throughout the countryside and chilly mornings created a harvest-like mood and were instrumental in assisting with attracting a huge crowd to the Festival. “By 11:00 am on Saturday, the parking lot was full and we were directing cars to the overflow,” stated Blackmore. “Our parking lot holds 600 cars. They were being directed to overflow and still they were lined up on the highway.”
Alberta’s agriculture and food industry has been undergoing momentous growth and changes for more than 100 years. The ‘straw hat and bib overalls’ image that portrayed farmers for many years has been replaced by the modern day farmer driving a 4X4 truck equipped with hands free phone technology, a smart phone in his or her pocket and farm equipment loaded with the latest in precision farming technology.
The Harvest Festival is all about agriculture and equipment that were used in years-gone-by leading to modern day agriculture practices. In the past, most people knew how their food arrived at their table by direct experience with farming. Urban families would visit the grandparent’s or uncle and aunt’s farm and see first-hand how their food was grown and where it came from. The traditional family farms, as we remember them, have disappeared and as a result, a large percentage of our population is a few generations removed from agriculture and the agri-food industry. Is bread really made from grain growing in a field? It is difficult for youth of today to comprehend that milk comes from cows, eggs from chickens, bacon from pigs and hamburger from cattle.
The Reynolds Alberta Museum addresses that issue by hosting an Annual Harvest Festival. On August 31st and September 1st, 2013, the grounds at RAM were crawling with people trying to re-live their early farm experiences and share them with their children, grandchildren and in some cases great grandchildren.
Cynthia Blackmore explained that the Festival brings people to Wetaskiwin from across the entire province and beyond. “This reminds people of their history so it’s very near to many peoples’ hearts. It’s (cultivating and harvesting) not done like this anymore. The Festival is a mainstay of what we do by celebrating mechanization and agriculture, the industry that started Alberta. We are bringing in the crops the old fashioned way with the threshing machines, binders and other machinery.”
The Harvest Festival allows people of all ages to reflect back. The smoking, chugging, and massive steam traction engines are the real crowd-pleasers of this show. The displays and demonstrations depict farming from the time of flailing grain to steam engines, to gas tractors, to diesel tractors to larger modern equipment. “The smells are sweet, the noise is big, the machines are giants and the fun is huge.” Attractions and demonstrations kept guests busy for the entire day. Grain grinding, flailing of grain to separate the kernels and straw and touring through the impressive display of vintage vehicles and agricultural equipment in the museum are all part of Harvest Festival.
It is always the old fashioned threshing demonstration that steals the show. Older spectators reminisced and young spectators witnessed the tedious process that was required to separate the grain from the chaff and straw. A huge vintage steam tractor was connected to the threshing machine by a large drive belt, the gears were engaged and the drive belt set the threshing machine into motion. As sheaves of grain disappeared into the rumbling machine, a large pipe at the other end of the machine spewed straw and chaff onto a pile. A wagon parked beside the machine received another year of harvest bounty; golden grain.
Volunteers support RAM throughout the year and begin preparing for Harvest Festival in earnest at least two weeks before the event. “Needless to say, this whole event (Harvest Festival) is very labour intensive and we have all staff as well as more than 85 volunteers to help give our visitors the best experience possible”, concludes Blackmore with a warm and proud feeling.