For more than 50 years, the Ontario Queen of the Furrow competition has been a huge part of the International Plowing Match, and this year's event is no different. Twenty-five queens from across the province will descend on Finch on Sept. 21 to compete for the Ontario crown.
Each contestant is Queen of the Furrow for their local Plowmen's Association.
The Ontario title puts the winner into the role of ambassador for the Ontario Plowmen's Association (OPA), said Sheila Marshall, co-chair of the Ontario Queen of the Furrow Program.
"The Ontario queen promotes the following year's IPM. The queen will act as a representative of the Ontario Plowmen's Association; she'll travel the province promoting agriculture. She attends county-level plowing matches and helps crown the local Queen of the Furrow," she said. "Everywhere she goes, she's an ambassador for the OPA. Everybody sees her. She's not on display, but she's very visible with her crown and sash. And little kids love queens."
The queen also attends many of the OPA's conventions and farms shows throughout the province, and is invited to participate in speaking engagements, parades, and other events.
Last year's winner, Laura Price, of Simcoe County, did a great job as ambassador for the OPA, Marshall said. Price will end her reign on Sept. 24 when the new queen is crowned during the crowning banquet at the North Stormont Arena. An Ontario queen can only hold the position for a one-year term.
The competition lasts for three days, and the queens are kept very busy during that time. They meet in the evening of Sept. 21 at the Nav Centre in Cornwall, where they will be staying, and receive IPM jackets and their itinerary.
The following morning, Sept. 22, they will welcome IPM guests at the gate before taking part in a parade. At lunchtime, the queens will dine with the residents at the Finch Villa.
"We started that about four years ago, and do it every year now because the seniors are ecstatic that these girls come to visit, and it's good for the girls to interact with them," Marshall said.
That afternoon, they have private 10-minute interviews with the judges and visit the exhibitors at the IPM. Dinner that evening will be at McMaze Farm in St. Andrews.
On Sept 23, the queens will spend time at the IPM and that afternoon, they will take turns in a plowing competition from 2:30 -- 4:30 p.m., near the tented city. Each queen plows four rounds and their plots are marked by OPA judges, who give the scores to the Queen of the Furrow judges to be added to their final score.
Their lunch that day is provided by Finch Pizzeria and Foodland Ingleside. Winchelsea Events near Winchester hosts the queens and judges for supper that evening.
Later that evening, at 7:30 pm, the queens will perform at the RV Park at the IPM.
The final day of the competition, Sept. 24, starts at 9 a.m. with two- to three-minute prepared speeches before the judges. The contestants talk about anything to do with agriculture. Afterward, they enjoy a VIP Luncheon in the VIP tent, and at 2:00 pm, the queens will perform at the Lifestyles tent.
As part of the competition, the queens also submit a resumé, cover letter, and detailed bio of themselves to the judges.
"It's a long process, but it's a good process," Marshall said. "It's like applying for a job, and in reality, they are applying for the job of Ontario Queen of the Furrow."
Except when they're sleeping, the judges stay with the queens from the moment they arrive until the the Crowning Banquet.
"They have all their meals with the judges, they take the bus to the different locations with the judges, the judges are with them all the time," Marshall said. "This way, the judges can get an overview of what the girls are actually like. You and I both know that you can go for an interview and pull the wool over anyone's eyes. But if the judges are there constantly, you literally have to be on good behaviour all the time. So that's something that's always been, it's nothing new, and the girls are very aware of it. The queen is going to have to strike up a conversation with anyone, so having the judges mingling with the girls and spending time with them allows them to really get to know the girls."
The competition relies on a point system to determine the winner. The judges score the queens during each event, and the points are added up prior to the Crowning Banquet to determine the top five contestants. Plowing is scored out of 100 points; the interview, 250 points; the speech, 250 points; and their overall demeanor and appearance throughout the competition, 200 points.
Before the new Ontario Queen is chosen, the top five contestants are asked to give an impromptu speech on a topic given to them when they approach the microphone.
"They will be marked out of 40 points," Marshall said. "So the judges take those 40 points and add it to their scores and that's how the winner is chosen. So the girls can all be really good and their scores can be really close, and the impromptu could make or break you."
Afterward, the new Ontario Queen is announced and crowned, and she stays for the rest of the IPM to help hand out awards and draw vendor winners at the Celebration of Excellence Banquet the following evening. She also meets the hosts of next year's IPM, being held in Minto, in Wellington County.
Awards are handed out to each of the top five contestants, and the queens vote on a Friendship Award for the queen they feel has been friendliest throughout the competition.
"After Thursday, just the outgoing and incoming queens are represented at the match, but the remaining queens are welcome to stay," said Marshall.
Marshall served as Ontario Queen of the Furrow in the 1970s; her co-chair, Vanessa Scott, was Ontario Queen in the mid-2000s.
The Ontario Queen of the Furrow Program was initiated in 1960 by Mrs. Kay Wilson. At this year's IPM, her son will be presenting the trophy and a keeper trophy to the new queen.
During the beginning years, contestants were quizzed on plowing, naming parts of the plow and tractor, and giving a talk on the activities of their local association, as well as plowing prowess.