Inducted: November 18, 2014
William James Weaver was born in Chatham, Ontario on October 5th, 1953 to Edith Olive (Smith) and Winston Warren Weaver, and grew up on a second generation family farm in Chatham Township. He attended S.S. # 25 Public School, just down the road from the farm, and he graduated from Chatham-Kent Secondary School in Chatham in 1971, and then went on to London where he attended the University of Western Ontario.
While at Western, he married Suellen Heyd, of Chatham, who was attending Brescia College. Long-time friend, Jed Chinnick, a teammate on the Western track/crosscountry teams said that “the best decision Bill ever made was to marry Suellen”.
After graduation, the couple returned to Chatham Township and purchased the home farm from Bill’s parents.
On the farm, they raised pigs, laying hens, and field crops with their five children - Eric who married Lesley Warren, Olivia who married Casey Pilip, Leia who married George Kumov, Jessica who married Will Wesley, and Victoria who is engaged to marry Joe Hitchmough. There are now five grandchildren.
For the first number of years of farming, Bill was heavily involved in a non farm activity, coaching the Chatham Legion Track Club, with several of the athletes becoming ranked highly provincially and nationally.
In 1985, a leadership opportunity piqued Bill’s interest with the formation of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program in 1985. As a proud graduate of the AALP Class One, 1985-87, Bill’s new skills, contacts, friendships, and experiences were rapidly shaping his ambitions.
Bill’s experience running a farm, led him to several farm organizations. He served as President of the Kent Federation of Agriculture, as well as serving many years as director on the Kent Pork Producers. His knowledgeable and articulate voice was well respected in both organizations. During the years of pork production, he established a successful breeding herd of Landrace and Duroc pigs, selling breeding stock locally and to approximately nine different countries. In 1989, he was honoured by being named Pork Producer of the Year.
After becoming a regional director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Bill studied the list of the many diverse issues OFA was working on, and it was not long before he was running for and ascending to Vice-President. He adapted well to the learning curve.
Two major issues were front and centre in the early 1990’s. The OFA and commodity boards, working together were the driving forces behind the development of the market revenue insurance programs – GRIP and NISA were the important outcomes. Grain and Oilseed farmers were struggling with low priced commodities. This was a substantial and long overdue safety net program with potential to make a much needed difference on farmers’ bottom line. At the same time, all general farm organizations were lobbying for stable funding to help pay for the increasing expenses to run their organizations.
After many information meetings with farmers across the province, meeting and lobbying with government bureaucrats, the Farm Business Registration Program was enacted. Membership fees of $150 by committed farmers would ensure stable dollars to pay the bills. Bill Weaver was there at this time, making a difference. By coincidence, the stable funding legislation was enacted on his 40th birthday.
In 1990, the NDP Government of Bob Rae was elected with a majority. The NDP Labour policy represented an extremely different viewpoint compared to OFA farm labour practice and policy.
During the last 2 ½ years on Executive of the OFA, Bill served as 1st Vice-President. He was known for being a “quick study” on the issues, visionary and a tremendous help to President Roger George. Bill took on a most difficult file at that time. As OFA’s representative on the Ministry of Labour Taskforce, he had to deal with the Agricultural Labour Relations Act. Because of this contentious legislation, the Labour Issues Coordinating Committee (LICC) was formed. Bill was the initial chairman of LICC and served also as the initial chair of the Ontario Agricultural Human Resources Committee. As VP of OFA, Bill was given this file - to find common ground, compromise, or a healthy working relationship in a polarized environment was as difficult of a task as anyone could imagine. Without any significant policy recalculation by NDP, it was assured that there would be anger in the farm community.
It would be a great understatement to say that Bill did not feel the pressure in attempting to bargain for concessions and/or exemptions. Very clearly and succinctly, he explained the negative results that would come to farm operations if government policy did not show greater economic understanding to the province’s farmers. The NDP offered little conciliatory approaches for a reasonable and just solution.
Bill was defeated in his next run for VP. He had done his best in most adverse circumstances. Roger George would say later that Bill Weaver had “taken one for the OFA team”! It was not fair or right but that was the ugly side of provincial and farm politics. Bill would understand the quote, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, because he landed on both feet and moved on.
After leaving the farm political life, he became involved in one of his favourite roles when he became chair of the Ontario Agricultural Leadership Trust, the body that ran the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program. During his time as chair, new fundraising methods – notably the Dream Auction, began, as well more industry representatives were attracted to the Board.
When Kent County government was forced to restructure in 1997, Bill ran for a seat in the new structure and was elected to a 3 year term in North Kent, Ward 4. What was apparent to many was the fact that the farm voice on council was limited to roughly a third of the composition of council. For 13 years, Bill served the agricultural interests as well as the urban rights with distinction.
The one time that he was asked to step aside because of a “Conflict of Interest” was ironic. The debate over nutrient management in regard to livestock restrictions seemed absent of balance without Bill’s point of view. As a farmer raising pigs, the general consensus by C-K farmers supported Bill’s presence.
After his decision to leave politics, Bill served his community well as 2010 co-chair of the United Way of Chatham-Kent.
In 2009, Bill’s life took a new direction. As his commitment to Chatham-Kent Council drew to a close, he was contacted by the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus. He was able to fulfill a long held desire to be active in the world of education by becoming a lecturer at the Ridgetown Campus. His classes were pork production and poultry production. The Director of the Ridgetown Campus, Ken McEwan was quoted as saying that “Bill in his role as an instructor, is a well-respected, patient, and approachable teacher who consistently thinks of others. His students should feel very fortunate to be part of his excellent legacy.”
Bill was honoured most recently as Chatham-Kent’s Chamber of Commerce Agriculturalist of the year in 2012.
When not farming and travelling, in the community, Bill continues to entertain with his involvement with the Pub Crawlers Band who makes sure our seniors in Nursing Homes and Residences have a little music and fun in their lives.
Fellow farmers and neighbours have described Bill as an independent thinker, honest, forthright, willing to do the right thing as opposed to the popular thing, not shy about expressing his opinion, and unselfish.
He has also been described as one who listens and absorbs before he speaks. A mature leader.
On October 30th, 1991, Bill’s father Winston, was also inducted into the Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame in recognition of the contribution that he had made to the agricultural community of Chatham-Kent.
During his days as a politician, he was observed to be always promoting the ‘right’ way to go whether or not his constituents always agreed. He is considered principled, and a friend thought he would have gone further if not so principled.