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Celebrating 40 Years of Pork

Celebrating 40 Years of Pork

Ontario Pork Congress Proves Resilience

By Amanda Brodhagen,

It is a “pig-deal”. The Ontario Pork Congress celebrates a milestone, 40 years of what has become the biggest pig industry show in Canada.

The congress emerged in 1973 when a small group of determined hog producers met in London, Ontario with the idea to expand a local barrow competition into a larger show that would bring together the entire swine industry. Since that time, the OPC has been held in Stratford, Ontario. Within one hour’s drive is considered the pork capitol of Canada, which makes the location of the congress a natural fit.

One of the original founders of OPC and past president, Richard Smelski can recall its first year, “it started up on a tough note,” explains Smelski noting that the show took a loss of almost $10,000 in its first year. Despite this setback, the industry wasn’t willing to give up. “Ontario needs a congress like this to bring all sectors of the industry together,” noted Smelski.

The success of the congress can be attributed to the people. “I think the strength behind the whole pork congress is the people,” said Smelski. “Forty years is a tremendous landmark,” he said. “Very few shows can survive without this type of enthusiasm.”

While the congress is geared towards a relatively small number of producers - about 1,600 hog producers in the province, the two-day event is about the comradery among producers, sharing ideas and education. “You can do your shopping on the internet, you can do your research on the internet, but when it comes down to actually buying hardware you want to go see how it is made and talk to other producers,” said Steve Thomas, president of OPC.

The congress took a new leap this year, declaring Hog Wild Week, a new partnership between the OPC and Stratford Blues and Ribfest. The move signals a new direction for the show, bridging the gap between farmers and consumers, farm gate to plate. “We decided to bite the bullet and move the congress to accommodate the blues and ribfest,” explains Thomas. “It has enabled us to co-market the event which has been a lot of fun,” he said. “The congress is “ag-centric” while blues and ribfest targets consumers.” Nathan McKay, entertainment coordinator with Stratford Tourism Alliance and key organizer for the Stratford Blues and Ribfest said, “ribfest strives to be that celebration of pork,” noting that Stratford Tourism has created a bacon and ale trail in honour of the event, with eight local restaurants participating.

The Ontario Pork Congress wraps up Thursday, while Hog Wild Week runs until Sunday, once blues and ribsfest wraps up. A photo album of the congress can be found on Ontario Agriculture page. Click here: Ontario Pork Congress 2013.

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