Inducted: October 29, 1997
Norman Belanger died, as he had lived, working to save the Ontario sugar beet industry and its important contribution to Southwestern Ontario farm income.
His death in 1962 at the age of 46, shocked the farming community that had come to rely on him to speak, quietly but persuasively, for sugar beets, for canning vegetables, for any crop on which Kent farmers depended. He had, appropriately, spent the day he died, in Ottawa as a member of an Ontario Sugar Beet Growers' Marketing Board delegation, trying to persuade the Federal Agriculture Minister and government to provide a "sugar policy" that would protect the industry from the competition of cane sugar, produced in countries with low wages and low living standards.
Friends said when the Canada and Dominion Sugar Company (Redpath) closed its last Ontario beet sugar refinery five years later, that it was merciful that Norman Belanger had been spared that blow.
But his eldest son, Jean-Maurice, said his father would not have been surprised at the sugar beet industry's demise. "I think it was always in his mind that the industry was in jeopardy", he recalled. It was because of that threat that Mr. Belanger spent time in Ottawa, Toronto and Western Canada in an effort to shore up a faltering industry.
Mr. Belanger was born in Dover Township, the eldest of four sons of Wilfred and Alma (Caron) Belanger. He was educated at Ecole Ste.-Catherine and Pain Court Continuation School, followed by a year at Chatham Collegiate Institute.
Norman and his three brothers worked with their father on the farm as they were growing up. Later, he branched out to farm independently.
Before that, his interest in sugar beets was demonstrated in his membership at 18 in the Pain Court Boys' Sugar Beet Club, a forerunner of the Pain Court 4-H Sugar Beet Club that he led in 1957, 1958 and 1959.
His eldest son, Jean-Maurice, recalled that his father was an innovator and a tinkerer. He spent considerable time at a Chatham blacksmith shop finding new ways to utilize a Ford tractor and a three-way hitch. Among his innovations were a buck rake, developed to move hay into the hay loft; and a rowing unit, lining up sugar beets in rows for easier loading. Another son, Jacques (Jake) said he was a progressive farmer, who liked to try new methods and equipment.
Mr. Belanger had an unfailing interest in everything to do with agriculture. He was "more of a farmer than a businessman: he just loved agriculture!" This love was expressed in practical ways, in his active and enthusiastic participation in farm organizations. He was Second Vice-Chairman of the Ontario Sugar Beet Growers' Marketing Board at the time of his death, and had participated earlier in the organization of several farm marketing boards. He was an executive member of the Kent County Vegetable Growers in 1953; and at meetings of the Kent Federation of Agriculture "he never missed an opportunity to give a report on the beet board's activities" and on other agricultural issues. He was declared "Pea King" in the 1940s for having the highest sugar content in canning peas.
Mr. Belanger was active in the community and his church. He helped organize a 1954 Dover Centennial Fair; and was a member of Immaculate Conception Church, Pain Court; Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus (Council 1412); President and executive member of the Ushers Club and a member of the League of the Sacred Heart.
Memories of Mr. Belanger are vivid more than three decades after his death. One friend remembers him as a man who had a good mind. "He was thinking all the time." Bev Easton, Agricultural Superintendent for Canada and Dominion Sugar Company said he was "an outstanding farmer", and a leader in the French community.
He had, according to his son, a special feeling for the Dutch and Belgian people who came to Canada and Kent County and established a place in the farming community through hard work. "The lesson he left with me was to always respect hard-working people."
His brother Roland, said Norman was a consistent booster of the agricultural business, from the time it emerged from the Depression doldrums and started to organize. "He was a good man, and an inspiration."
Mr. Belanger and Glorianna Gagner were married in 1939. Their family is a tribute to their father's early influence and their mother's selfless and cheerful upbringing: Laura (1940-1947); Jean-Maurice, a Kent and Lambton Property Assessor, Pain Court; Vincent, sign designer and maker, Grande Pointe; Jacques (Jake), General Manger of Chatham Hydro, Pain Court; Marguerite Schinkelshoek, Secondary School teacher, Pain Court; Rene, Detroit Chrysler Executive, Tecumseh; Lucille Barylewicz, Employee Health Nurse, Southwest Regional Centre, Chatham; Yvette Caron, Teaching Assistant, St. Philippe's School, Grande Pointe; David, sheltered workshop, Chatham; and Luc, Industrial worker, Windsor. There are 22 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren.
A friend said Mr. Belanger "had a heart of gold. He worked hard, but he could always find time to help anyone who needed help."