Inducted: November 1, 1995
T. Howard James was city born and bred, but he devoted his life and unique talents to improving conditions for Kent County vegetable growers, through the imaginative development and use of new markets and marketing methods.
His high standards marked everything he did. He insisted on quality and on honest dealing. It was said of him, "It did not make him a rich man, but it gained him the loyalty and respect of those he employed and those he did business with."
His early life provided little indication that his career would be agriculturally-oriented. Thomas Howard James was born in Bridgeburg, now a part of Fort Erie, Ontario, the second of three sons of Frederic W. James and the former Georgia McKee. The family moved to Chatham in 1913 with Union Gas, a company founded just two years earlier, and Mr. James Sr. became General Superintendent.
Mr. James attended Central School and Chatham Collegiate Institute before going on to the University of Western Ontario where he graduated in Honours Science in 1924. He later took a certificate course at the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph.
While still at University he displayed an interest in agriculture when he became a partner with the late Fred Miller in the development of the Erieau Marsh onion land. As a logical follow-up, Mr. James worked for the establishment of the Ontario Onion Growers' Cooperative, and became its Secretary-Manager.
With that organization's demise, he continued as a car-lot shipper of onions, incorporating as the Howard James Company, the principal shipper of Erieau Marsh produce. From there, he branched out to associate with George King at Jeannette's Creek, and still later, as Bradford Shippers at the Holland Marsh, in Simcoe County.
As the Howard James Company expanded, production at the Erieau Marsh diversified, and shipments were made of spinach, celery, carrots and potatoes. Before World War II, the company began exporting Canadian onions to the West Indies, the first to move into the export market. When the war ended, the pace of shipments increased, with more than 700 carloads sold out of Ontario, 140 carloads of onions and potatoes to Newfoundland, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, British Honduras, British Guiana, Cuba, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
The company's Bull's Eye Brand on onions, and Blu Jay Brand on potatoes were synonymous with high quality.
Throughout his career, Mr. James was always ready to try new ideas. When the Atomic Energy Commission of Canada tested the irradiation of produce to maintain freshness, he was one of the first brokers to participate. Tests were successful, but the Canadian consumer, then as now, showed some reluctance to try the irradiated produce.
The Howard James Company also diversified into farm machinery sales in the late 1930s, but ran into a major problem when World War II ended production. Mr. James was a partner in post World War II Shoreline Transport, sold to Smith Transport when economic factors changed.
In non-farm related fields, he was a partner with other Blenheim and South Kent figures in the ambitious, but unsuccessful Rondeau Pier, which planned to use an American cruise company to bring U.S. residents to a pavilion at Erieau. Another partnership involved him in the development of Glen Gordon Manor, in which the lakefront home of opera singer Jeanne Gordon was converted into a beautiful dining room. The promoters inability to get a liquor license in a dry township doomed this venture. A Chevrolet dealership in Blenheim was another diversification.
Mr. James also made significant contributions to his community as Deputy Reeve and Mayor of Blenheim; as a member of Blenheim High School Board; and later, of Kent/Chatham Housing Authority. He was involved in the Senior Citizens Drop-In Centre; and was a Lieutenant in the Second Battalion of the Kent Regiment in World War II.
The Howard James Company was sold (1967-1972) to Don Slater and Tony Melnyck, and the resulting company, Erie-James Produce is still in business in Leamington.
After retirement, Mr. James went Barbados at the invitation of Canadian Executive Services Overseas and Canadian International Development Agency to advise farm groups there how to grow onions.
Mr. James was a member of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association, Onion Section; of the Produce Brokers' Association; of the Canadian Horticultural Council; the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers' Marketing Board; and the Kent Federation of Agriculture.
In 1932, he married Myrtle McKenzie, the daughter of Wilford and Annie McKenzie. They had four children: Nan Barnett, of Blenheim; Howard McKenzie (Mac) James, Amherstburg; David M. James, London; and Elizabeth Ann James, Bancroft.
After the death of his first wife, Mr. James married Maude Woolgar, of Toronto.
He is remembered as "a man who set extremely high standards for himself, and expected them in others. If his name was on a product, it had to be good!"