Nominations poured in for Wellington Hall of Fame

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.
Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

A few weeks ago, as a contribution to the 150th anniversary of the county, I stole an idea that Hugh Templin of the Fergus News Record tried in 1940: ask readers to submit nominations to a Wellington County Hall of Fame.

A couple of Templin’s columns contained some of the names suggested 64 years ago. But much has happened since then, and there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who merit at least serious consideration for the list. Readers have started responding to my request for more names, and some of those are listed this week.

I would like to receive many more. Nominees should be individuals, living or dead, who grew up in Wellington or spent a significant part of their life here, and who have made a useful contribution to society, locally, nationally, or internationally.

These are some of the names received so far, with the initials of the nominators. Many of these are excellent suggestions, and they will be added to my list of potential topics for future columns.

B.L. nominates John Smithurst (1807-1867): First Anglican minister at Elora, after a period as a missionary in the Red River. Active in establishing horticultural society, schools, library, and in politics. Resigned to take up a 600-acre holding, Leahurst, in Minto, when that township opened to settlement. He became a strong advocate for new settlers.

A.N. wants to add the name of Shirley Campbell of Fergus, a champion swimmer in the 1950s who made the first attempt to cross Lake Ontario.

E.T. recommends Katharine A. Marston, editor of the Elora Express in the 1940s and 1950s, and a strong advocate of conservation measures. She championed the Elora Gorge Park and the Wellington County Museum. Winner of many awards for editorial excellence.

J.K. suggests O.M. McConkey (1892-1970). A pioneer in dryland farming techniques, McConkey made a name for himself while a student at the Ontario Agricultural College. Experimented with new forage crops in 1920s and 1930s. Lieutenant-Colonel in World War II; afterward worked for United Nations in Asia, developing farming and conservation techniques before returning to OAC and his farm near Ponsonby. Published Conservation in Canada, 1952.

A.D. remembers Lamont Tilden, popular CBC network announcer of the 1940s and 1950s, who as born in Minto Township.

W.T. thinks two cattlemen are worthy of recognition. Thomas Arkell of Puslinch pioneered in the breeding of Cotswold sheep and Shorthorn cattle. Frederick W. Stone raised notable herds of Herefords and Shorthorns, among his many agricultural activities. One of his farms became the campus of the Ontario Agricultural College. He died in 1895.

J.S. offers the name of Sam Bowman. Active in Farmers Union in 1950s, later served on Pilkington council and as reeve. Active in building and promoting improved library services in southern Ontario.

D.T. puts forward Dr. George Orton, the Fergus doctor better known for his business and political activities. Owner of the Fergus brewery, reeve, and MP. Later was the medical doctor for the CPR construction crew on the prairies. Orton eventually settled in Winnipeg, where he engaged in the land business and other business ventures. The hamlet of Orton is named for him.

T.M. proposes Raymond Grose of Alma, founder of Husky Farm Equipment, a very successful manufacturing business that has done well as an exporter to the United States.

G.W. wants to recognize two Erin notables: Daniel McMillan (1811-1849), the key figure in the early history of Erin village, and operator of the saw and flower mills there; and Alexander McLachlin (1820-1896), Scottish-born poet who came to Canada at age of 20. He lived for a time in Peel and in Perth Counties, but finally bought property in Erin Village where he conducted a tailoring shop for 20 years. He spent much time writing poetry, lecturing and entertaining. During his life time he published several volumes of poetry: The Spirit of Love, 1846; Poems, 1856; Lyrics, 1858; The Emigrant, 1861; and Selected Poems, in two volumes, the second being in preparation when he died.

M.L. nominates three millers:

– Henry Hortop (1815-1882). Founder of the prominent milling family, which at various times operated flour mills at Eden Mills, Everton, Rockwood, Erin and Elora;

– James Wilson, founder of Monkland Mills in Fergus, which was the largest exporter of oatmeal in Canada during its heyday; and

– James Goldie of Guelph, proprietor of the People’s Mills, once a major producer of flour sold across Ontario and the Maritimes. Father of Lincoln Goldie, MPP.

N.P. also nominated the Hortop family, and adds the name of Daniel Kribs, who founded Eden Mills in 1842.

A.P. wants to include Neil Aitchison, director of development for Drayton Entertainment Inc., Canada’s most successful summer theatre company. Born in Harriston, he is a popular speaker, MC, actor, and a former broadcast executive and radio personality.

M.T. thinks that Dr. B.T. Dale deserves inclusion. The Polish-born doctor headed the Wellington County Health Unit in its early years during the 1950s, and became something of a local celebrity for his talks to service clubs and his advocacy of public health measures.

C.C. likes Hazel Mack, who was born in Maine. She moved to the Guelph area where she married Grover Mack, the brother of noted naturalist Horace G. Mack. While living in Rockwood, she worked as a reporter at the Guelph Mercury. She was involved with animal welfare, and, with her husband, operated a sanctuary near Eden Mills. She was a respected historian and philanthropist, and author of three books: Historical Highlights of Wellington County; History of Eden Mills and Vicinity; and The Twelve Townships of Wellington County. In her 70s, she enrolled in the University of Guelph. She died in her 80s on October 28, 1993.

W.B. nominates James Henry Gundy, the Toronto investment dealer, who was born in Harriston in 1880. With Herbert Wood, he founded the Wood Gundy firm in 1905.

F.L. nominates James Long, who founded Erin’s Stanley Park in the 1880s. The privately-owned facility became a major tourist attraction in Ontario in the early 20th century.

H.E. thinks Ray Wightman should be included. He headed the family business, Wightman Telephone of Clifford, for many years. It is one of the last independent phone companies in Ontario, and a leader in new technologies.

K.C. nominates Dalton Robertson, who grew up in Harriston and achieved distinction as editor of the Financial Post. He is a grandson of Duncan Sinclair.

D.M. suggests Art Carr, long time editor and publisher of the Palmerston Observer. Carr pioneered the use of offset printing in the weekly newspaper business. The last of the old-time newspaper men in Wellington, his strong opinions resulted more than once in his expulsion from council meetings. During his career, he trained dozens of people who went on to distinguished careers in newspapers and journalism.

J.T. nominates Prof. George E. Day (1863-1949). Born in Eramosa Township, was a professor of animal husbandry at the Ontario Agricultural College for 25 years, specializing in hog breeding and later, Shorthorn cattle. Noted cattle judge, and secretary of the Canadian Shorthorn Association from 1918 to 1939.

The longest list of nominees comes from B.A., who puts forward seven names:

– Victor Davis (1964-1989): Born in Guelph; died in Montreal in a traffic accident. Swimming champion who won four Olympic medals, and gold and silvers at the 1987 Pan Pacific games in Brisbane, and 1986 Commonwealth Games. Victor Davis pool is named for him;

– Neve Campbell. Born October 3, 1973 in Guelph. Star of TV and movies. Trained five years with the National Ballet of Canada as a young girl, acted in Phantom of the Opera at the age of 15, in Kids in the Hall on TV and now starring in The Company, a movie depicting the lives of ballet dancers;

– David Stirton MP (1816-1908): Came with his family to Puslinch in 1833 from Scotland. He served on Puslinch council for nine years during the 1850s, three of them as reeve. Member of Legislative Assembly 1858-1864, and elected to Parliament in 1867 where he sat until 1873. Later postmaster at Guelph;

– Frank Ferguson (1905-1993): Distinguished teaching career in Galt, named as 1969 Ontario outstanding English teacher, and many other honours. Shakespearean scholar, CCF candidate for Waterloo in 1942. Member of Cambridge Hall of Fame. Resident of Puslinch on Concession 1 for about 50 years, from 1945;

– Graeme Ferguson, one of the developers of the Imax film method, son of the above Frank Ferguson and father of Munro Ferguson, moved to Puslinch in 1970;

– Munro Ferguson. Grandson of Frank Ferguson. Cartoonist, film maker. Winner of Genie Award in 2004 for best animated short film, Falling In Love Again. Moved to Puslinch with his family in 1970 at the age of nine and attended Aberfoyle Public School and Centennial Collegiate in Guelph before going to University in Toronto; and

– Raymond Reid. Lifelong resident of Guelph and home-builder. After 25 years, wound up his building business in the 1990s to pursue an interest in home churches. His book, The Gate Seldom Found was published this year.

*This column was originally published in the Advertiser on June 11, 2004.

Thorning Revisited