The organization known as the Junior Farmers began in 1914 and was originally known as the Junior Farmer Improvement Association. Much like the Farmer’s Institutes that began in the 1800s, this group was aimed at showing the next generation the newest trends, machines, and equipment, as well as educating them in better seed varieties and livestock. In the early years, these clubs also went under the names of Junior Extension Clubs or Junior Improvement Associations. Regardless of name, they shared problems and ideas under the motto of “Self-Help and Community Betterment”.
The earliest clubs in Bruce County were Teeswater (1915), Port Elgin (1920), Paisley (1921), Chesley (1920s), South Brant/Walkerton (1922). Several of these clubs formed out of short courses provided by the Department of Agriculture. In 1927, a Bruce County Junior Association was set up and was operating. However, during to the Second World War, several clubs disbanded, while others, like the Walkerton club held salvage drives, draws, and picnics to raise war effort funds. The disbanded clubs, like the Paisley club, reorganized in the late 1940s or early 1950s.
In 1948, the clubs from Port Elgin, Chesley and Ripley came together in Walkerton and formed a constitution. Thus, 1948 is generally agreed upon as the official date for the start of the Bruce County Junior Farmers. By the end of the 1950s there were Junior Farmer and Junior Institutes in Arran-Tara, Chesley, Mildmay, Paisley, Port Elgin, Ripley, Teeswater, Tiverton, and Walkerton.
The Junior Farmers and Institutes developed their agricultural knowledge by hosting special speakers, touring good farms, and learning to judge livestock, which they often did, acting as junior judges, at 4-H events, and at the Royal Winter Fair. The clubs were encouraged to sponsor events and competitions such as amateur entertainment, drama competitions, social events such as dances, livestock and seed competitions, public speaking competitions, debates, square dancing competitions, sports tournaments such as curling bonspiels, home beautifications, the organization of farm forum groups and affiliations with different agricultural groups and federations. Inter-club competition was also encouraged, and competitions took place in the afore mentioned events.
Local businesses that wanted to promote Junior Farmer and Institute activities often sponsored trophies. This one above was sponsored by W.M. Schmidt, a jeweller from Lucknow and was awarded to the winner of the public speaking contest. The winner for the first two years this trophy was awarded (1950 and 1951), was Irene Farrell of the Ripley Junior Institute.
As part of their mission for community betterment, the Junior Farmers and Institutes participated in several sign projects. In the 1950s, working with the Department of Highways, County Council and the tourist association, signs were placed along all provincial highways leading to Bruce County, promoting the County. Signs with the motto “Bruce Beckons” were the outcome of this project. Another sign project was the Century Farm Sign, initiated in 1964 by the Junior Farmers Association of Ontario (JFAO) to mark the upcoming centennial of Canada was well as the JFAO’s fiftieth anniversary. These signs were given to farms that had the same family farming for 100 consecutive years. This project was reinstated in 1974 and continues to this day, with 125, 150, 175, and 200 year signs.