Inducted: November 22, 2022
George Alois Denys was selfless in his efforts to support both local and Canadian agriculture through his efforts to create crop insurance, promote farming education events, find farm labour for researching innovations for farming, and for being a strong advocate for all residents while serving on Raleigh Township Council. He is recognized as an educated and well-informed leader.
George Denys was born on March 25th, 1937 in Staden, Belgium to Oscar Denys and Maria Verduyn.
At the age of 13, he came to Canada in 1950 with his parents and 9 siblings and they settled in Parkhill where they established a mixed cash crop and livestock farm. Two more siblings were born in Canada.
After completing Grade 9, George's father asked him to stay home to help on the farm. At night, George took welding courses and public speaking amongst other areas to further his education.
In 1956, the family moved to Kent County to pursue vegetable production.
In 1964, George married Julia Ouellette, and they farmed near Prairie Siding.
They have three children - Stephen, Janet (Ainslie), and David and six grandchildren – Anna, Craig, Maggie, James, Kathleen and Thomas.
In 1969, while serving as Chairman of the Kent County Vegetable Growers Association, a wet spring and summer resulted in many farmers suffering the loss of their pea crop, George and several others encouraged those who had harvested and been paid for their crop, to contribute funds to those who lost their income. Most did. From there, George was an integral part of a small group of vegetable producers that led the drive to create the first crop insurance program for peas, tomatoes and sweetcorn in the 1960s. It was a pilot project for Ontario and one crop at a time was added. This was the forerunner of crop insurance programs used in multiple other vegetable and grain crops today. Crop Insurance today is a major program that benefits farmers of all crops to provide operation sustainability through perils from Mother Nature.
In 1973 a petition was formed by the cucumber and cauliflower growers to come under the negotiation powers of the Farm Products Marketing Board to negotiate the terms of contracts. When the vote was to be conducted, they could not get radio airtime to get the word out. However, George went to contacts in various agriculture businesses and convinced them to donate their advertising airtime as sponsors. George found that the community could work together when inspired.
Education of farmers was important to George, and in the 1960s and 1970s, a week was set aside for presentations to farmers at the Kinsmen Auditorium in Chatham. Each day addressed different crop concerns. Eventually, he played an instrumental role as Vice-Chair in the reorganization of several separate county events into the Ridgetown Farm Week in January, which became the primary winter education event in Western Ontario and is the precursor to the Southwest Ag Conference. George thought that the week was especially important for 'closing the loop' with research, farming and sales.
George was also involved in a pilot project that brought a provincial researcher to Ridgetown for a program on vegetable and fruit production in order to put farmers and the researcher in touch.
George was involved in securing local, Quebec, and offshore labour for local vegetable and fruit farmers and was the second Chair of the local Canada Farm Labour Pool. Because of the hot humid weather in the area, it was found that the work was difficult for Canadians, so offshore labourers were vital to the planting and harvesting of local crops.
George was an early supporter of the creation of a Corn Producers' Association and actively canvassed neighbours and area farmers for the benefits of signing up for the Association which included the creation of licensing fees to fund research and market development. This was the forerunner of the Grain Farmers of Ontario today.
George was an early believer and advocate for Identity Preserved soybean opportunities. He hosted several delegations from Asia at his farm in support of the early development of the IP soybean industry in Ontario in the 1970s to create demand for Ontario soybeans that continues today. He said it was important to show the visitors the practices employed to grow high-quality IP soybeans, as well as the soil and farms where the beans were grown.
He was also active in on-farm research including variety and herbicide trials in addition to other innovations, including Ridge tillage, and hosted and managed genetics plots for seed companies.
He was a strong advocate for all residents as a member of the Raleigh Township Council for 12 years and served as a Councillor, and Deputy Reeve and was the final Reeve upon amalgamation. He was often sought out for his expertise in drainage and common-sense decision-making. George was Raleigh Township's representative on the Kent County 9-1-1 road naming committee prior to amalgamation. The task also included the naming of Raleigh's roads and advocating for the AD SHADD road in recognition of those who played a historic role in the African Canadian Community of North Buxton.
Back in the 1970s, George became aware that Raleigh Township had no provincial tiling program as other townships did, so he advocated for it to Council. Council immediately applied for the program and Raleigh farmers benefitted.
In the community, George noticed that the older cemeteries of the earliest settlers had fallen into disrepair. He spoke about it to Council and in 1967, the cleanup and repairs of the grave sites were taken on as a Canada Centennial Project.
George's efforts to support fellow farmers were sometimes to the detriment of timely operations on his own farm as he believed in progress. He was a steady hand on all fronts, aiming for the successful implementation of the projects with which he was involved. He never sought individual acclaim but instead, strived to see success for the farming industry and the community.