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Rural Routes: Vermilion

Figure 1: Town of Vermilion (Lakeland Connect, 2020)
Figure 1: Town of Vermilion (Lakeland Connect, 2020)

The town of Vermilion is located on Highway 41, approximately 57 km west of Lloydminster. Community and collaboration are the backbone of Vermilion, and what brings this all together? Agriculture. Vermilion has been a town heavily influenced by agriculture since its beginnings. In fact, in 1906, the town and the Vermilion Agricultural Society were incorporated at the same time.

Of course, there are other industries that have been advantageous to Vermilion’s economic wealth—including oil and gas and manufacturing. Yet, agriculture was the foundation and footing the community was built on.

Figure 2: The Hand Feeding the World (Barry Murals, 2017)

In 1911, the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Duncan Marshall, set up seven demonstration farms, which would later become agriculture schools. Vermilion was a chosen site, and in 1912 the school of agriculture began development. This school would soon be known as Lakeland College.

The college, countryside, and town all remind residents of its “Agriculture Routes.” Taking a walk through the town, one will find a mural named “The Hand Feeding the World,” which represents the spirit of Vermilion. “The cow and calf speak to many local cattle operations that support Western Canada’s beef industry. The agricultural industry allows us to thrive in this area of rich soil and good grasslands, and it contributes substantially to the local and national economy.”

Figure 3: 2019 Fair Poster (Vermilion Agriculture Society, 2019)

Today, the Vermilion Agricultural Society and town are celebrating their 115th year. The Ag Society was developed by the people for the people and attributes its success to its strong volunteer base. Proven through Vermilion’s annual fair, which hosts 26,000 people over a three-day weekend. President of the Ag Society, Heine Westergaard, describes 350 volunteers working on the weekend and another 180 that prepare the grounds for the fair. Not to mention, there are 33 different committees working year-round to pull it off. In 2019, the Ag Society celebrated its 113th year of hosting the fair. The uncertainty of COVID-19 in 2020 caused the fair to take on a virtual atmosphere, but fingers are being crossed to hopefully execute the fair on the grounds in 2021, adhering to guidelines and restrictions. As Heine states, “We’re social beings, and we need to get together in whatever way we can to get that connection.”

Figure 4: Lakeland College (Study Alberta, n.d.)

He speaks of the pride in the Ag Society’s members. The society is a way for residents to support and collaborate with one another and give back to their community. Vermilion is strong and vibrant, built on foundational pillars of community and agriculture. The Ag Society works closely with the town and Lakeland College. Should Lakeland College be hosting an event, both the town and Ag Society will be there to provide support and assistance. The co-operation and participation create lasting relationships and a strong sense of togetherness.

Figure 5: Herd of Heine Westergaard’s sheep.

There is also a prevalent 4-H club in Vermilion that influenced Heine’s family to transition from raising sheep as a project for his daughter into a business. They now have a small farm where they raise grass-fed beef and purebred sheep. While they are in the beginnings of their farming venture, other families are reaching their 5th generations on the farm. Whether it’s your first year or 100th year farming, the residents come together to support one another and celebrate each other’s successes. Farming brings these families a sense of pride and keeps Vermilion’s history alive. Vermilion is truly a place where its residents are proud to live; it is a place of collaboration, community, and support. Vermilion emulates its “Agriculture Routes” in its infrastructure, picturesque rural land, and residents. To put it simply, the town just has that special “feeling.”



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