Flashback: Weagant family pushing 70 years in the farm equipment business

Weagant Farm Supplies' County Rd. 43 location, which was due to change hands April 1st, 2020.

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

NORTH DUNDAS — The Weagant family name has been a staple of North Dundas agribusiness for nearly 70 years.

In 1953, Fred and Anita Weagant sold their farm and opened a store, F.R. Weagant General Merchant, offering everything from soup to nuts, as well as gas and farm machinery, in South Mountain. Their very first tractor to be offered for sale, a Minneapolis Moline, arrived in the North Dundas village by railcar that year.

“They owned one of probably about eight gas stations in town at the time,” says their youngest grandchild, Scott Weagant, a Vice President with Weagant Farm Supplies, today’s multi-location dealership spawned by those humble beginnings.

“Grandpa knew machinery just by looking at it. He was a Jack-of-all-trades,” explains Scott, whose father, Laird, is one of Fred and Anita’s four children — all of whom grew up immersed in the family business.

Barbara, Bob, Laird and Janice were all encouraged by their parents to pursue higher education — a trend that continued with their own progeny.

Bob began at Weagant’s in an official capacity in 1970, with brother-in-law Dave Black (Barb’s husband) coming aboard in 1974. While Bob and Dave have both retired after many years with the business, Laird — who joined the operation in 1980 — is still manager of the Brockville location, a position he’s held since the growing enterprise expanded into that community in 1982. He’s also president.

Enter the next generation: Scott’s VP role sees him serve as manager of Topline Trailers & Equipment, established in 1993 on County Rd. 31, north of Winchester. Stacey Weagant (Bob’s daughter) and Julie Black (Dave’s daughter) have been co-managing the flagship Winchester location.*

“We’re all equal,” emphasizes Stacey, also a company VP while her counterpart at the shop has the title of secretary-treasurer. This trio of cousins have all been involved with the company since 1996 or 1997.

*In early March, the Weagant family announced another late-breaking evolution at the Winchester site: The sale of that location to Delta Power Equipment of Exeter, Ontario. Stacey says the buyer takes possession of the Winchester store and assets on April 1st, while Weagant Farm Supplies Ltd. will carry on as usual at its other two addresses. Stacey and the Winchester staff will become employees of the newly renamed ‘Delta Power Equipment, Winchester,’ with the place still flying New Holland colours. “The name may change on the physical store, but the values and the people are still the same,” she assures. Meanwhile, Julie and her administrative team will remain in the employ of the Weagant company, which is moving its central office out of the long-time site and into rented space at the North Dundas Business Centre.

Scott Weagant posies with Kubota equipment during a September 2018 demonstration day put on by Topline Trailer & Equipment. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News file

Arrayed with tractors on a sprawling footprint, Winchester has been the oldest of the Weagant dealerships since 1980 when the family closed and consolidated South Mountain operations into their “new” spot on County Rd. 43. The Winchester site was initially set up in the mid-1970s to handle the White tractor line, leaving the venerable New Holland brand at the original store for a few years until everything was brought under one roof.

Torrid growth in Winchester alone saw the company expand its shop again and again, with several additions constructed through the years.

The expansion into Brockville involved the purchase of an existing small outfit that sold mostly Hesston products — turning the Weagant clan into one of the first Ontario dealers of that respected line. A new, bigger building was erected on the same property a decade later.

They added Kubota to the mix in 1993 by setting up Topline Trailer and Equipment Sales, to separate the Japanese maker’s products from those of New Holland.

The company still remains very much in touch with its history and institutional memory. Two thirds of the second generation may have retired, but that doesn’t mean they’re uninvolved. “They’re retired but not gone,” laughs Scott.

Bob and Dave remain as directors with the corporation as well — and are familiar and active faces in the community, too. Bob and his wife, Sandra, were honoured with the North Dundas Community Builder Award in 2016 for their involvement in a slew of good causes in the township. Dave is a past president of the Morrisburg Canadian Club and has been involved with the local prostate cancer Black Walnut Support Group.

“We are blessed that we can access walking knowledge,” says Stacey, adding, “But they’re still very good at letting us do our own thing.”

Fred Weagant passed away in 2003, just short of the company’s 50th anniversary. His 95-year-old widow lives at Garden Villa, and Anita’s presence there has been known to sometimes draw a sparkling New Holland tractor to the parking lot of the Chesterville retirement centre during special events.

The family matriarch returns regularly to social events at the dealership and still helps out at the annual open house that has been a Weagant tradition since 1978. “Mother’s likely to be out there cutting buns again this year,” says Bob of the April 15th, 2020, Spring Customer Appreciation Event that draws between 400 and 600 visitors for a feeding of free bratwurst sausage.

“It is our chance to thank our customers. It is also an unofficial kick off to spring,” says Stacey of the April gathering. “Customers place orders and roll the dice for a cash discount on that day. We get 400 to 600 every year at the Winchester location. Customers attend in multi-generations as well. Many of our clients come in family groups on that day.”

Bob says the firm’s strategy of maintaining ample inventory has helped draw and build up that customer base through the years. “The majority of our business would come out of Brockville, Cornwall, Ottawa, but we have all kinds of customers in Hungtingdon and Ormstown, Quebec, to Pembroke to Napanee,” he says, adding, “and we do regular service for those people as well.”

The Internet also generates sales further afield, he says, allowing the company to “fringe out to Western Ontario … and across the United States.”

Bob points out that the enterprise got its start in North Dundas and remains there today, describing the township as the “heart of Eastern Ontario agriculture.”

“All of the major company dealerships are accessible in Winchester. That brings buyers and tire-kickers from all over the country because they can tour six yards at one time.”

Weagant’s has in recent years employed a workforce of over 75 people at its original three sites, the majority of them on the payroll of the family business for at least 25 years.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the township’s 2020 Explore North Dundas Spring/Summer Resource Guide. The involved interview took place in February 2020. Look for the 2021 edition of Explore North Dundas, set for release later this spring.

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