After 135 years at Morrow Park, the Peterborough Agricultural Society and the Peterborough Exhibition will have to find a new home.
“With mixed emotions the board of the Peterborough Agricultural Society would like to inform the public that Peterborough city council have given notice that they have invoked the buy-out clause within the Morrow Park agreement, asking the society to move from our long-term home at Morrow Park,” reads a statement from the society issued on Tuesday (September 26). “This is so they can proceed to develop this historical area.”
The annual four-day agricultural exhibition has been running annually from 1845 until 2019. It was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, hosting virtual events instead.
In 2022, the Peterborough Agricultural Society cancelled the exhibition due to its ongoing dispute with the city, which is currently constructing a $62-million sports complex in the west portion of Morrow Park, fronting Park Street south of Lansdowne Street West.
“It has become apparent that the City of Peterborough has no intentions to live up to the agreement,” the society stated in 2022. “We have repeatedly asked the city for a commitment, timeline, and budget to address the items that are listed in the 2017 agreement and they have failed to do so in the four years of the seven-year agreement.”
In 1938, the Morrow family gifted the 27-acre property to the City of Peterborough on the condition that it be available for the use of the Peterborough Agricultural Society, which was reaffirmed in the Peterborough Act of 1984.
The act states “that the (Peterborough Agricultural) Society, the Corporation (of the City of Peterborough), and the trustees of the R. A. Morrow Memorial Park Trust believe that it would be in the best interest of the Society and the Corporation that the property be conveyed to the Corporation to be used for park and recreational purposes and to be used by the Society as an exhibition grounds for an annual exhibition and for other purposes … in perpetuity,” adding that if the terms and conditions are not met, the property reverts to the Morrow family.
In 2011, the society and the city began negotiating the future of Morrow Park, with the society insisting the park should always be available for the August exhibition and the city seeking the ability to develop the park.
In 2015, the city and the society reached an interim agreement that would allow the city to develop 60 per cent of Morrow Park for “parks and recreation purposes,” with 40 per cent of the park remaining available for the society’s use.
In 2017, the city and the society reached a seven-year agreement that would allow for the gradual redevelopment in Morrow Park, with the city agreeing to build two new horse barns, storage space, office space, and public washrooms for the society’s use at an estimated cost of $7 million. After the city approved construction of the $62-million sports complex in Morrow Park, which raised controversy about the city’s interpretation of the “parks and recreation purposes” condition of the original Morrow Trust, the society and the city have been at odds over the implementation of the 2017 agreement, which also included a “buy-out” clause.
“It is our intent at this time to go forward as the Peterborough Agricultural Society and to look for a new home and start a new beginning,” reads the society’s September 26th statement. “Our hopes are to form strong partnerships within the county of Peterborough and continue to promote agricultural education to the general public. Rest assured we are still here. We have a strong board of directors who are dedicated to the task of rebuilding this once strong institution. Please expect that there will be new things to come and opportunities for you, the public, to help.”
The society’s board has also decided to sell its assets that are no longer needed through an online auction. Run by Jason MacIntosh Auctions, the auction will run from October 10 to 17. Available items include assorted memorabilia from past Peterborough Exhibitions including T-shirts, photos and certificates, pictures, posters, and ribbons as well as office furniture and supplies, stall tube framing, wooden panels, livestock penning, plastic and metal barrels, and more.