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Our People, Agriculture

Gayle McPherson: First Woman President of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Curated by Sophie Samek, in conversation with Gayle McPherson

Gayle McPherson

July 17, 2023

In 2009, an article published in the Wellington Advertiser highlighted Gayle McPherson and her journey to becoming the first woman in the Presidential position on the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair Board of Directors. Gayle held the title of President from 2009 to 2011 and prior to this, she dedicated 25 years to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair through her active membership on the board. Through this position she was able to further her knowledge and expertise of Canadian agriculture and her love for rural Ontario continued to grow.


Her love of horses brought her to the fair as a young girl and inspired her to return to the Fair each year. It also influenced her to join different committees and eventually become the Chair of the Horse Show Exhibitor Relations Committee. Following this role, she served as the Vice Chair of the Royal Horse Show for three years and then transitioned to Chair of the Royal Horse Show for four years. Alongside her involvement with Horse Show, Gayle took part in organizing the Fair’s Hunt Night and joined the Royal’s Marketing, Sponsorship, and Finance Committees. Over the years she has volunteered her time to multiple committees, including almost two decades on the Board of Directors. This not only gave her insight into horses but also cattle, beef, field crops, dairy, sheep, and goats in Ontario, not to mention the connections she created with the people of rural Ontario. During her term as President, Gayle made changes that have highlighted women’s contribution to agriculture and its popularity in younger generations.

Person sitting on top of a brown horse
Gayle riding with the Eglinton Hounds. Photo credits: Gayle McPherson.

The Board of Directors comprises 12 individuals who govern the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.  During Gayle’s first twenty years, she was the only woman on the board. As she moved into her role as president, she encouraged an increase in the participation of women on the board. She actively participated in the recruitment of Shelley Peterson who has just completed her term as President. Because of Gayle’s efforts, there are currently five women sitting on the Board.


8 people standing and sitting smiling.
The past presidents of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. In the back row: Donald Rickard, Byron Beeler, Hartland MacDougall, James MacCutcheon, Moffatt Dunlap. In the front row: Michael Belcourt, Gayle McPherson, Jack Pemberton. Photo credits: Gayle McPherson.

The Royal makes a strong effort to reach larger agricultural audiences; one way is through hosting the “Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture” competition which aims to provide Canadian youth with the opportunity to enter a public speaking competition. In this competition young people develop strong communication and workforce skills that will be necessary for success in the competitive agriculture industry. As President, Gayle had the opportunity to speak at this event and connect with many young women who are inspired to make a difference in agriculture. To further support women’s leadership in agriculture, the Fair also hosts “The Advancing Women in Agriculture” conference which aims to bring women from across Canada together to share, learn and grow as farmers, producers, and entrepreneurs.


Gayle’s love for agriculture dates back through her family’s rich history in farming. In 1840, her ancestors immigrated from Scotland and would eventually come to settle in Puslinch, Ontario where they would soon be, as she described, a part of something bigger. “It truly was the beginning of Ontario”, Gayle said. Another branch of Gayle’s family also contributed to the development of agriculture when they settled on a farm in Everton, not far from the farm that Gayle and her husband own today.


Gayle’s own story starts in Manitoba where she grew up on her family farm. Her father attended the University of Manitoba and studied agricultural economics. Their roots out West began when one of Gayle’s grandfathers moved there from Ontario as a 14-year-old boy. He worked as a hired man where he met his soon-to-be wife, Gayle’s grandmother, and together they worked as a hired couple. They lived in a sod house throughout the summers and would board with families in the winter. As time passed, they acquired their own land and started to build their family farm.


During Gayle’s time living in Manitoba, she met her husband and the two of them decided to move to Toronto so that he could pursue his dream of a career in law. While he was in law school, Gayle worked as a Social Worker for the Children’s Aid Society. Following her husband’s graduation, they moved to Erin township and began their farming journey, ultimately leading to her involvement with The Royal.


Gayle has lived in Erin township for almost 50 years; she and her husband own a 100-acre horse farm which includes 4 miles of beautiful trails. These trails are a place of peace for Gayle, the nature surrounding her farm brings her contentment. “I’ve always said the trails and the woods are my cathedral”, she said.

A woman smiling, standing next to her horse.
Gayle and her horse. Photo credits: Gayle McPherson.

She enjoys seeing the seasons change and the progression of crops growing in the spring and being harvested in the fall. The beauty of the colours throughout each season and how entire landscapes change as the months pass and the quietness of the country bring her happiness. “Ontario is absolutely beautiful; I must say we live on a farm that isn’t terrific farmland - it’s very hilly and the fields are filled with stones - but that’s its beauty”.


Gayle reflected on all her experiences and cherishes that they began because of her rural connections. “Being in Ontario and living in the country is wonderful”, she reflects. Gayle and her husband have 10 grandchildren who visit each summer and help with maintaining the farm. Gayle believes that youth are the future, she has witnessed so much young potential through the Royal Winter Fair, ranging from agricultural developments to how the world of technology is combining with agriculture. She is excited to see youth enthusiastic about the future of agriculture each year at the Royal. 

Picture of Gayle standing at a ceremony beside the Governor General of Canada.

Being the first woman as President of the Royal has made a large impact on the community. When asked to talk about that impact, she replied “I think that it has become clear that women, who have in most cases become equal partners with their husbands on the farms, who have distinguished themselves in the agricultural, agri-food and equine industries, and who are proving themselves in the boardrooms, are well qualified, eager and available to play even greater roles in the future”.Not only has she made an impact on woman in agriculture, Gayle has also made an impact on the rural community. She is excited about the future of rural Ontario and can’t wait to see further developments in the field of Canadian agriculture.


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