Readers nominate people to ‘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.

Readers of this column have offered some very good suggestions to my request for nominees to a Wellington County Hall of Fame, an idea first advanced by the late Hugh Templin 60 years ago, and a worthy concept to resurrect in 2004, the 150th anniversary of Wellington County. 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.

I had asked people to submit names. The idea here is to combine some fun with thought and reflection on our local history.

Many of the nominations included fairly lengthy biographies, which I cut down slightly for publication. Some of the names will be familiar to most readers, and others less so. There are people who have made great contributions to the county and the country while remaining in the shadows and eschewing personal glory. These are some of the names that have come in, in no particular order.

P.C. nominates Kenneth Armstrong (born 1913). Raised on a farm near Hollen and educated at the Drayton High School and Stratford Normal School. Returned to teach at the Hollen school; served in the Canadian Army in WWII; received BA from the University of Western Ontario. Taught at the Fergus Public School; there met his future wife Mabel Mortimer. Later a principal for the Oakville-Trafalgar Board of Education, and rose to the position of Superintendent of Schools. Retired to Elora.

A Guelph reader suggests Peter Zaduk. Born in Guelph; learned to box in Guelph at the old Legion and with friends in the 1930s; turned pro at 17 and retired at 21. He rose to an eighth ranking in the world; referred to as the uncrowned middle weight champion of Canada. Elected a member of Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame; Guelph Sports Hall of Fame; Ontario Hall of Fame.

G.F. offers three names:

– Patrick Anderson (born Fergus, 1979) has achieved incredible international success with wheelchair basketball. He carried the Canadian national team to a gold medal in the Olympics at Sydney in 2000, and the Illinois wheelchair basketball team to the collegiate championship in 2001. Named University of Illinois Athlete of the Year;

– H. Gordon Greene, Arthur area native, often wrote about growing up in Arthur in stories that were circulated throughout the country. Served as an editor for several decades of the Family Herald; also wrote novels and articles. Produced a syndicated radio commentary as “The Old Cynic” and a newspaper column that was syndicated in dozens of Canadian weekly papers. Returned to Wellington to stand as an NDP candidate in 1960s. In addition to his writing he was known as a poultry grower and breeder of belted galloways; and

– Arthur Black (born 1943) was a nationally syndicated columnist and broadcaster on CBC; hosted his Basic Black show on Saturdays for 19 years and TV show Weird Homes. He wrote from and about his home in Fergus; twice winner of the Leacock Award for humour. Semi-retired to Salt Spring Island in 1995 and has since passed away.

B.A. would like to add John A. Wilkinson. Born in Puslinch; enlisted in the Mounted Rifles in 1899 and went to the Boer War where he lost an arm and an eye. He was made a King’s Sergeant and won a Distinguished Service Medal. Served as councillor and Reeve of Puslinch 1905-11.

M.B. wants to include a father and son from Harriston. Benjamin Mitchell (1847-1879), founder of the Champion Agricultural Works in 1871, contributed his manufacturing skills to Wellington County until his sudden death in his 33rd year. His business was based on the “Champion” cross-cut wood-sawing machine which won First Prize at the Provincial Exhibition in Toronto in 1870 and First Prize at the Wellington County Fair in Harriston in 1871.

His son, Benjamin Foster Mitchell (1880-1939) grew up and was educated in Harriston and received matriculation from Harriston High School. He taught school there and then graduated in civil engineering from the University of Toronto in 1906. Benjamin Foster Mitchell surveyed large tracts of wilderness in the new province of Alberta as a Dominion Land Surveyor.

J.F. offers James McQueen (born 1810) of Fergus for the Wellington Hall of Fame. Born in Perthshire, Scotland; graduated from Glasgow University. Following his father’s death, he managed his farms until his decision to emigrate to Canada in 1834. In 1836 he began teaching school at the “old log school” in Fergus and taught there for 21 years. Several prominent individuals praised him for his contributions to their success. He has been given credit in the history books and archives of the Mutual Life Insurance Company for birthing the idea of mutual life insurance whereby the holders of the policy have an interest in the company. One of his former students saw this idea to fruition. Postmaster for Fergus from 1837, which he ran from his own home until the post office was erected on St. Andrew’s Street. He held this position until 1882, at which time it was taken over by his daughter, Christina. First Librarian of Fergus and provided space in his home for the library which was started in 1836 by contributions from residents of Fergus, including himself. Clerk and treasurer for Fergus until 1892. He was the first Division Court Clerk of the Wellington District, which extended to Owen Sound. Also Superintendent of the Sabbath School for many years. The James McQueen Public School was named in memory of him.

F.R. also nominates James McQueen for his contributions to the mutual insurance concept, and points to a number of other Wellington men who contributed to the mutual life insurance industry. The first two presidents of the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association (OMIA), founded in 1882, came from Wellington:

– John Beattie of Fergus, was secretary-manager of the Nichol Mutual Fire Insurance Co.; president of OMIA 1882-1895; and

– John Hobson of Mosborough was president of Guelph Township Mutual Fire Insurance Co. and vice president of The Mutual Fire Insurance Company of the County of Wellington. President of OMIA 1895-1896.

The first three OMIA secretary managers were also from Wellington:

– Henry Drake of Mount Forest, secretary-manager of the Saugeen Mutual Fire Insurance Co.; OMIA secretary 1882 to 1886;

– Charles Davidson of Guelph, secretary-manager of the Mutual Fire Insurance Co. of the County of Wellington; OMIA secretary 1887 to 1889; and

– Hugh Black of Rockwood, secretary-manager of the Eramosa Mutual Fire Insurance Co.; OMIA secretary 1890 to 1911.

R.B. enters the name of Isabel Jane Gilder Black (1907-2000). Born 4th line of West Luther Township; married at 16 to Roy Maxwell Black; spent most of her life on their farm just north of Fergus and then later in Fergus and Elora. Throughout her life she spent it actively working for the betterment of her family, her friends and her community remaining committed to and supportive of the people and activities in the Fergus area, Nichol Township and Wellington County. In the 1920s she was county secretary for the United Farmers of Ontario; helped campaign for Beecher Parkhouse, local candidate; met Agnes MacPhail the pioneering woman in Canadian politics. When the County Federation of Agriculture was formed she was a director for several years. She was the County Farm Forum secretary, summarizing the discussion reports of the 75 Wellington County Forums which were then sent on to Toronto; later Zone chairwoman representing four local counties; attended Farm Forum Conferences; had the honour of cutting the birthday cake at the 10th Anniversary of Farm Forums at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Secretary and a director of Wellington Medical Services, organized to provide hospitalization and health services for its members. Served the Wellington County Historical Society as president and secretary. Also active in Salem Parent Teachers Association, Cumnock Women’s Institute, Living Springs Women’s Institute and the Fergus Cancer Society, and with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church community in Fergus.

W.T. nominates businessman William Shepherd Fallis (1868-1944). Born near Palmerston, in Wallace Township; educated at Harriston High School. Began working for Sherwin-William Company in 1899. Worked in Ontario, Maritimes, British West Indies, Europe, Manitoba and in 1918 was appointed general manager of the company in Montreal. He was elected vice president in 1921, president in 1926 and chairman of the board in 1931; president of Canadian Manufacturers Association in 1927. He was a major donor to the Palmerston Hospital. Died at his home outside Montreal; is buried in Palmerston Cemetery.

L.M. proposes Vera B. Myers (1917-1998), former clerk-treasurer administrator of Wellington County. Born Vera Cudney in Fergus; attended public and high school there; a lifelong resident of the town. She commenced work in the office of the county clerk-treasurer in 1948 as a temporary assistant to John Beattie; appointed deputy clerk-treasurer in 1952; promoted in 1963 to clerk-treasurer administrator, the first woman in Canada to hold this office; held position until retirement in 1982. Served as president of the Fergus Business and Professional Women’s Club; member of the Soroptimist Club of Guelph; volunteered for the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre, the Cancer Society, United Way, and Meals-on Wheels. Met Lyle Myers, an agricultural engineer, when they were both working at Beattie Bros; they married in 1943.

The remainder of the nominations received will be published in a few weeks.

*This column was originally published in the Advertiser on July 16,  2004.

Thorning Revisited