Inducted: October 25, 2006
Both went through the harsh years of World War II, in German-occupied Holland. John Peter was born on October 7th, 1935, in Velp, near Grave in Noord Brabant, and was just five when the Germans marched into his country. Betty Toonen was born on March 13th, 1940, just weeks before the Nazi occupation began.
Education was affected by the war. John Peter went to an agricultural school; while Betty started at a girls’ Catholic boarding school, where she was able to achieve her secondary education and teaching certification.
John Peter emigrated to Alberta in 1962, but returned to Holland the following year and worked briefly there. Canada continued to attract him, and in 1964 he returned, first settling in the Ottawa Valley. Betty followed him to Canada in April, 1965, and they were married in Ottawa on September 25th of that year.
After a few months, they moved to Woodstock, where a promised contract with a dairy farmer failed to materialize. They came to Blenheim because John Peter had acquired skill as a bricklayer, and a friend asked for help in that trade. The Van Harens realized by that time that they wanted to farm, and started to look for land in the Ridgetown area. In 1966, they found a farm on Reeders Line with an old farm house and some buildings, and bought it. They soon tore down the old house, and built one to their specifications. They lived there until 2001, when the farm was sold to Wim and Lida Boonzaier; and they moved to a new home on Moore Road just outside Ridgetown.
From the first, they were a team. John Peter, with Betty’s support and encouragement started with the aim of developing the best qualities of the four main breeds of swine, especially Yorkshires. In the late 1970s, he responded to the deteriorating animal health of the industry with the drastic strategy of starting all over again. He used the superior bloodlines he had developed to produce a new super high health herd, which became a genesis of Canada’s internationally recognized superior health status.
His efforts were recognized and rewarded by swine producers, and HYI (Haren Yorkshire Inc.) genetics provided the nucleus genetics for over 70 herds, some of the best and biggest in Canada. Shipments also went to Brazil, China, Singapore, Cuba and Mexico.
John Peter was the first purebred breeder in North America to import swine genetics from Holland in 1993, as part of his passion to develop the best bloodlines that would be in demand. The Van Harens established an artificial Insemination Centre in Highgate.
In 1981, he was named the Outstanding Kent County Pork Producer; and in 1986, the first Champion Premier Hog Exhibitor at the Royal Winter Fair. He has served as a Director of the Ontario Swine Breeders Association, and of the Canadian Swine Improvement Committee. He has also been a Director of the Kent Pork Producers Association and of the Kent Federation of Agriculture, and was a leader of a Kent 4H Swine Club for six years.
Betty has been an amazing part of the team. Although she had no pre-marriage farming experience, and never liked the smell of pigs, she has been a full and enthusiastic partner in everything he has done. John Peter’s commitment to farming has been matched by Betty’s talents as a bookkeeper, able to manage money and the payroll and with sound judgment when decisions were made.
The Van Harens have been very active in the Ridgetown Community, both before and after they sold their Reeders Line Farm. They now live in a lovely new home on Moore Road, at the outskirts of Ridgetown. Betty has been an active member of the St. Willibrod Credit Union, and a member and Past President of the Confederation Chapter, I.O.D.E. John Peter has been an active member of Ridgetown Rotary Club, and Past President. They are members of St. Michael’s Church in Ridgetown.
After they moved to this new home, John Peter bought two Friesian horses, and now has five of these big and beautiful horses. The Van Harens have three sons: Patrick, who lives in Texas and recently married Karen; Steve and Jessica, who live in Stouffville and have two sons, Christopher and Nicholas; and Scott and Lori, St. Thomas, who have a son, Scotty, and a daughter, Michaela. Lori, Scott’s wife, is a veterinarian.
Associates are lavish in their praise on the Van Harens. One friend said about John Peter: “Whatever he does, he does with all his heart and soul. He reads and studies a lot, and is very knowledgeable in genetics, whether pigs or horses.” Another: “They have done a lot for the community and for agriculture. They are committed to whatever they do, and they put their best into everything.” Another: “Two great people; good neighbours, good friends, good citizens.”
Another: “John Peter has been recognized by his peers, as the Champion Premier Hog Exhibitor at the Royal Winter Fair. He not only saw the problems in the pig industry, but he could see the potential for change. At times, he took chances. He had courage and a lot of vision.” Another associate: “They have been very giving to the community, through 4H, and other activities. They have been great Canadians.