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In 1988, the Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame was created to honour those that demonstrated unselfish achievement within the realm of agriculture and service to the rural community.
Photo image of R. Lee Montgomery

Montgomery, R. Lee

- 1997
1934-

Inducted: October 29, 1997

Lee Montgomery was a highly successful Dover dairy farmer when he was drawn into a battle with Ontario Hydro over an environmental hazard with far-reaching implications for Ontario farmers and citizens at large. He was the owner of a prize herd with a reputation that had enabled him to ship Holsteins to England, the United States and Spain.

In 1967, Mr. Montgomery acquired Linafton Maple Lisa, which had been nominated as the best all-Canadian senior heifer. Subsequent costly acquisitions and calves bred on his farm produced a herd rated as one of Ontario's best; and his stock was used to upgrade other herds. His reputation made him a sought-after judge of dairy cattle in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Mr. Montgomery's prime ambition was to produce a "true type model cow", an ideal dairy cow, and he was justified in believing that this ambition was within his grasp. His herd attracted visitors from other parts of Canada, and the world.

When Mr. Montgomery started experiencing unprecedented difficulties with his stock, he called in the experts; veterinarians, engineers, water testers and farm equipment dealers, to try to get at the root of his problem.

But the odd and worrying behaviour of the Montgomery cows continued. They were skittish, did not eat properly, had a lower conception rate, a disproportionate number of bull calves, and a higher mortality rate in calving. The somatic cell count in the milk, indicating rising levels of bacteria, had an adverse effect on the quality of the milk and the herd. Mr. Montgomery, by the process of elimination, came to the conclusion that stray voltage from Hydro installations was responsible for the worsening situation.

This was the beginning of a long, litigious, David and Goliath relationship with Ontario Hydro, and the utility was doubtful initially, that the problem existed.

Lynn Girty, then on the Executive of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, found himself involved in the controversy, after hearing earlier reports of the problem when he was an Executive member of the Kent Federation. Blown-out light bulbs confirmed the evidence provided by cows that would not eat.

Eventually, the problem was diagnosed as "steady state stray voltage", resulting from a non-stop hydro flow. This made eating, drinking or bedding an unpleasant and shocking experience for the high-priced dairy cows.

Mr. Girty explained: "Cows are far more sensitive to this kind of thing than humans. They have a high sensitivity to any kind of electrical interference."

Eventually, after prolonged litigation, untold expense, frustration and worry, a Hydro substation was relocated, eliminating some of the problem. It was too late for the Montgomery dairy herd; but his valiant battle gained recognition of a serious environmental hazard to add to a lengthening list of man-made problem situations.

Murray Reissneer of Guelph, gained his early training in the dairy business at Lee Montgomery's, after his father was killed in an accident. He stabled his first 4-H Calf at Montgomery's in 1961; and four summers later, he "never missed a milking at Lee's".

Mr. Reissner said that in Lee, he had a "sort of big brother or uncle. I was kind of adopted by Lee and his wonderful mother."

Mr. Montgomery was born in Chatham in 1934, the son of John M. Montgomery and the former Muriel Gosnell. His elementary education was at S.S. 11, Dover Township, secondary, at Chatham Collegiate Institute, until his father's failing health dictated his return to the farm and full-time responsibilities. As a result, Mr. Montgomery was managing a dairy herd at the age of 16.

Mr. Montgomery was interested from an early age, in organizations to benefit farmers. He was a member of the Blenheim 4-H Calf Club and a member, later a leader of Chatham and Dover 4-H Calf Club.

He was also a member of the New St. Andrew's Junior Farmers. Mr. Montgomery was active in the Kent Holstein Breeders and the Kent County Milk Producers, in the hey-day of dairy production in Kent. He took a keen interest in rural planning, and was a member of the Dover Township Planning Board.

Mr. And Mrs. Montgomery (the former Donna Payne) have two children, Carrie Lee (Brian) Patrick, of Chatham; and Paul, Dover Township. There are four grandchildren; Caitlin and Zachary Patrick, and Tyler and John Montgomery.

Brian Blonde, a Kent dairy farmer until 1995 said Lee alerted him to the problem and he found stray voltage in his barn. His interesting diary of the development of the problem was sent to Ontario Hydro.

Mr. Blonde said Lee had mastered the dairy business in the school of hard knocks. "He was ahead of his time in everything." He can remember going with Junior Farmers to Montgomery's for a meeting. "It was a show place", he recalled.

Mr. Reissner said he can remember as a boy, going with his father to Montgomery's to see cows being milked, the genesis of his lifetime career. He remembered Lee as a man who "liked good cattle and liked to have a good time".

Like other friends, Mr. Reissner also remembered Mr. Montgomery's kindness and generosity. "He would bend over backwards for you."