Ontario Agriculture Hall of Fame inductees recognized

There’s a new place of honour for Wellington County residents who have made significant contributions to agriculture.

Nestled between the Wellington County Museum and the Wellington County Archives in Aboyne, is a new Wall of Fame honouring those who had a significant impact on agriculture and rural communities in the county, at the provincial level and beyond.

On Oct. 2, an official unveiling was held as part of the museum’s Harvest Home Festival, which recognizes the importance of agriculture in the community.

The exhibit, made possible through a collaboration between  the Wellington County Historical Society, the Wellington Federation of Agriculture (WFA) and the museum,  includes the likenesses of 15  locals inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Those honorees are John Benham, James Bowman, Alexander Peden Connell, Terry Daynard, Adam Fergusson, Donald N. Huntley, Ross Weston Irwin, C.C. James, Gintarius (Ginty) Jocius, George Edwin Jones, Ernest Andrew Kerr, Frederick William Stone, Clayton Macfie Switzer, William Attwood Young and William Stanley Young.

Rob Black, past president of the Wellington County Historical Society, recognized the efforts of all those involved  to bring the Ontario Hall of Fame inductees to Wellington County.

“Congratulations to those folks who have been recognized for the significant work you’ve done for agriculture and rural communities across Wellington County, across Ontario and across the world,” Black said.

He was pleased to see a big turnout to recognize the 15 people who live or once lived in the county.

“These people have been recognized provincially for their visionary leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship in the advancement of agriculture in Ontario,” Black said.

He added that about a year ago, the historical society welcomed as guest speaker Paulette Samson, a past president of the Ontario agricultural Hall of Fame, who spoke of an outreach program where communities are encouraged to bring inductees home.

The historical society approached the WFA and the County of Wellington with the idea of developing an exhibit at the museum.

Black said federation secretary Lisa Hern, new museum administrator Janice Hindley and Wellington County Warden Chris White were excited about the idea and took up the cause with the society.

The result is an exhibit of plaques featuring the sketched likenesses of the Hall of Fame members, along with a description of their contributions. Similar displays are at the Ontario Heritage Park in Milton.

Black said the idea was presented to Hindley during her second day on the job this spring and her immediate response was, “Yes, we’ll find a way to do it.”

Black said, “We felt this was a wonderful tribute to the innovation and leaders in Wellington County who have done so much for agriculture and rural communities across the province and beyond.” 

Added White, “I want to thank Rob and his group for spearheading this wonderful idea. It really is an incredible community we live in … I couldn’t be more proud to be warden of this community.”

He hoped the current wall would be “just the beginning, as we continue to recognize people in our community as we move forward.”

WFA president David Parker said, “We’re proud of the federation for helping out. It’s a worthy cause … perhaps long overdue. The farmers have put a lot into this. There’s a lot more names that could go onto this wall in the future – and we look forward to it.”

Representing the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame was vice-president Debra Whale.

“This is an exciting event for Wellington County,” she said.

There are two similar walls of fame – one at Kemptville College, near Ottawa, and the other in Stratford at the Perth County Museum and Archives.

“Now Wellington County is the third one, and we hope to see many more,” Whale said. She noted the first induction ceremony for the Agricultural Hall of Fame in Milton was in 1980.

“Since then, 188 exceptional individuals have been inducted into the hall of fame.”

She added, “The objective is to record, acknowledge and preserve the amazing things they have done for the agriculture and food industry.”

Whale said in many instances those individuals not only had an impact on Ontario agriculture, but throughout Canada and internationally.

“All of them worked extremely hard to leave a legacy for each and everyone of us   now and in the future,” Whale said.

She added her own father is one of the inductees and, “I always admired his drive, his determination and his ability to see the big picture.”

Whale said each of the Wellington County inductees has made a unique contribution and she looks forward to seeing the exhibit grow.

Black introduced one of the inductees, John Benham, to speak on behalf of those being honoured.

Benham offered thanks to all those who made the event happen. He did not believe there was a better location for the exhibit – the hallway joining the museum and the archives.

“I’m pleased to see that Warden Chris White and [museum] administrator Janice Hindley are re-emphasizing the important role of agriculture in Wellington through activities at the museum. I really appreciate that.”

Benham added, “This is a special occasion for the families of the inductees and especially for the three inductees able to attend.”

Benham noted that inductee Clayton Switzer was absent for medical reasons.

“Of special interest, three of the inductees are classmates who graduated with a degree in agriculture from the Ontario Agricultural College in 1951,” Benham said before sharing a few of his personal memories.

“This event is especially poignant for me because this is the hall that I walked to meetings in Aboyne Hall since OMAF moved to Fergus.”

For 20 years, he used that same hall to get to his office.

“To be a permanent part of this hall is a bit gratifying and a bit emotional,” Benham said.

He explained each of the inductees on the wall has his own story and association with Wellington County.

He said his own family history in Wellington goes back to 1827, the year Guelph was founded – when James and Lucy Benham and their family arrived in Guelph.

“History states that James helped clear the stumps from what is now Wyndham Street,” he said.

The family farmed on a property now located within the city. The family moved to Eramosa, in 1832.

“James played a role in the Mackenzie Rebellion to the point of being arrested and jailed in Hamilton … so you know his politics.”

His son, and John’s great grandfather, was a leading farmer in Wellington.

“I have proudly represented Wellington farmers on many committees, and as many of you know, I wear a cap with the Wellington crest on the front of it,” he said.

He encouraged the group who worked so hard to induct the individuals being honoured to also include those inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame.