Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
GUELPH — Two men with deep roots in Eastern Ontario and strong leadership qualities are among the latest all-male batch of inductees into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame, bringing total membership to 240.
Among other achievements, the late Doug Williams, who was raised on a fruit and vegetable farm in Ottawa South, is credited with devising the ubiquitous catch phrase “Good Things Grow in Ontario.” Williams was nominated by fellow inductee Ken Knox who also has a strong Easter Ontario background.
Also to be officially and virtually inducted June 13 is colourful Pembroke lawyer and entrepreneur Del O’Brien who grew up on a mixed farm in the area. O’Brien established the Ontario Drainage Tribunal which he chaired for 14 years; he was nominated by the Renfrew County Federation of Agriculture.
Williams and O’Brien are among an unusually high number of seven inductees for 2021 which Hall of Fame president Dr. Deb Stark attributed to many “exceptional” submissions, with excellent supporting work contributed by nominators.
Five other inductees include: Stan Eby, Roger George, Herbert Norry, the late Terry O’Connor, and Dr. Peter Sikkema. Including Williams and O’Brien, the mix of backgrounds is farm organizations, the beef industry, tribunals, agricultural extension, agricultural law, horticulture, agronomy and improvements to animal welfare.
Last year, two Eastern Ontario nominees were welcomed into the Hall, Winchester’s Dianne Harkin and the late John Curtis of Kemptville, part of a batch of four. However, the advent of COVID-19 prevented a formal induction, leading to the 2020 group being added to this year’s online ceremony. Free tickets are available at www.oahf.on.ca.
To qualify for the honour, candidates must have demonstrated visionary leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship as well as leaving a lasting legacy in the advancement of Ontario agriculture.
Williams earned his spurs as a fruit and vegetable inspector responsible for the Tomato Grading Inspection Station in Leamington; he went on to become Chief Inspector of Farm Products and Director of the Inspection Branch with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
He chaired the Ontario Food Council which developed and expanded international markets for Ontario produce. His work in creating a “Festival of Food” at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair was catalyst in the birth of Foodland Ontario; he was later chair of the Ontario Food Terminal.
Upon earning a law degree at University of Toronto, Del O’Brien established a firm in Renfrew County focusing on agricultural issues. After launching the Ontario Drainage Tribunal, he was asked to form a tribunal to hear appeals under the Grape Transition Program.
O’Brien has eclectic interests outside of agriculture. One of his accomplishments was to launch scheduled airline Pem-Air in 1970 – it lasted for more than 20 years – as a means of drawing business to Pembroke.