Inducted: October 26, 1994
His close association with Kent County agriculture began in 1929, when he came to Ridgetown High and Vocational School as a teacher. In his “leisure” hours, after school, Saturdays and in the summer, he worked in Poultry and Horticulture at the Western Ontario Experimental Farm, then directed by W. R. Reek. This spare-time activity led to his appointment as full-time Assistant with the Experimental Farm in 1941, working in every branch except livestock.
The opening of the Western Ontario Agricultural School in 1951 brought his appointment as a Lecturer and an Extension Specialist in Horticulture, with a range of subjects that included entomology, plant diseases and experimental work with herbicides.
Mr. Neilson shone as a teacher. One of his former students, persuaded by this mentor to be a landscape horticulturist, has warm memories of him. He recalled, “He was a remarkable teacher and one of the best naturalists that you could meet. He could take a bunch of farm boys, who really didn’t car a hoot, and persuade them to learn.”
Mr. Neilson was born on Amherst Island, near Kingston, on May 20, 1892. His family moved to the mainland, where he attended Kingston public and high schools, and later graduated from Queen’s University.
Mr. Neilson served overseas in World War I, returning to Canada in 1919. He had some experience in both teaching and agriculture in Western Canada, and taught Continuation School at Kingston before coming to Ridgetown.
His move to the Experimental Farm early in World War II began a period of research, still documented in the files at the Ridgetown College of Agricultural Technology. This included the testing of 46 corn varieties and their tolerance to 2,4-D.
Mr. Neilson worked with the Ridgetown and District Horticultural Society in encouraging its 200 members to plant many of the trees and shrubs that have given the town its reputation for beauty and liveability. There were similar plantings in area communities like Highgate.
Mr. Neilson was a popular figure in Ridgetown, still remembered almost 30 years after his death for his little dog, his cigarette, his interest in the community, and for a lively and durable sense of humour. He was instrumental in establishing Ridgetown’s first Library, and active and interested in the planning of a new Library building.
The J. J. Neilson Arboretum at the Ridgetown College of Agricultural Technology is an appropriate memorial for a man who loved all the beauty provided by nature.
In the larger agricultural community, he was a member of the Eastern Section of the National Weed Committee, and a member of the Ontario Advisory committee on Herbicides. He was known, Canada-wide, for his painstaking and dedicated work.
Mr. Neilson was married to the former Muriel Barker, whose arrival in Ridgetown as a teacher coincided with his. The Neilsons had two children, a son, J. Murray Neilson Q.C., a lawyer in London, and a daughter, Nancy Stauffer, R.N., B.Sc.N. also of London.