Inducted: November 16, 2010
Harold Webster started his career as a bank clerk and owner of a small general store, but went on to become an agri-business entrepreneur, known for his initiative and integrity by thousands of farmers in Kent and far beyond.
There was little to indicate when he purchased the Glenwood Store in 1922, that he would establish elevators, and promote farming interest that would yield results that would benefit the entire agricultural community.
Mr. Webster was born in Rutherford, the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Webster. His basic education was supplemented with a business course, that led to his first job in the Bank of Commerce, in Dresden. It was there that he met his future wife, Verna Elma Bedford, and the two were married on March 14th, 1918, at the home of the bride's parents in Dresden.
The Websters farmed at Rutherford for four years before the purchase of the general store at Glenwood. The combination of banking and farming experience gave him a keen understanding of the problems of farmers; and spurred his ambition to do more, with, and for agriculture.
A direct result of this was his purchase in 1925 of a small grain elevator, and later a hog assembly and shipping business, both at Glenwood. The "dirty thirties" were a period of stagnation for many farmers, but they brought opportunity for Mr. Webster. He leased the former Simpson Flour Mill in Merlin, followed by the purchase of the Maher Flour Mill, in Tilbury.
In 1938, he built a large, new grain elevator in Wallaceburg; and the following year, a Tilbury grain elevator, bringing to four, the number of Webster elevators. That, happily, coincided with the introduction of hybrid seed corn in Ontario and the rapid expansion of the corn industry.
It was about this time that the H.E. Webster firm won the contract to supply the St. Lawrence Starch Company with 1,500,000 bushels of corn a year. As a result, 1940 was the first time that large quantities of corn were shipped from this area for manufacturing purposes. As another boost, a contract with the Canada Malting Company started the growing of barley for malting purposes in the area.
World War II brought new demands and new markets, and in 1941, the Webster firm built large double corn cribs at Wallaceburg, Merlin and Tilbury, with equipment to facilitate the loading and unloading. The company had already installed the first large corn sheller in Tilbury in 1939, and by 1948, had five large shelling plants with a capacity of 30,000 bushels a day.
The war also created a demand for soybean byproducts, notably oil, and the Webster company advertised seed soybeans in spring, 1942, with instructions on how to grow this crop, new to area farmers. Inevitably, the 1942 soybean crop was the largest Canada had seen.
In 1944, Mr. Webster purchased a hog assembly and shipping business in Merlin; and that year, the firm of H.E. Webster merged its Merlin, Glenwood, Tilbury and Wallaceburg operations with Kent Mills of Chatham and Ridgetown to become St. Clair Grain and Feeds Limited, with six branches. It enjoyed a close link with Toronto Elevators Limited (Gordon Leach), which operated the Sarnia Terminal Elevator.
In March, 1946, the White Hybrid Corn Producers Limited was established, E.M. Warwick, President; H.E. Webster, Vice-President, with Chatham headquarters. This was the direct result of the Kellogg Company of Canada's agreement to purchase one to two million bushels of white corn yearly, on a long-term basis. Harold Webster provided much of the impetus for this deal.
The result: in 1946, 1875 farmers produced 850,000 bushels of white corn, a success story which saw Kellogg use it to produce corn flakes, replacing its former import of corn from other countries. In 1948, the White Hybrid Corn producers contracted 1,250,000 bushels of corn. That year a large new drier was built in Chatham. Later, the company switched back to yellow corn.
St. Clair Grain expanded in 1947 with a large new elevator, warehouse and offices. Subsidiary operations, known as Kent Mills, were sold to Master Feeds Company, and H. E. Webster was named President and General Manager of the reorganized operation.
In 1951, Mr. Webster sold his business to Toronto Elevators, and ostensibly "retired" from the grain business. In the early 1950s, he leased 2300 acres on St. Anne's Island from the Department of Indian Affairs, and he and his sons grew corn, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat, in one of the largest farm operations in Canada at that time. This business was sold to his sons in 1963.
During his time in Merlin, Mr. Webster helped organize, and was President of the Community Club, which supported the war-time efforts of the Red Cross, and sent monthly parcels to local men serving overseas. He was appointed Honourary President when D. K. Kennedy succeeded him as President in 1942.
Fraternally, he belonged to the Mocha Temple Shrine Club, of London.
The Websters had four children, Ralph, Grant, and Veryl, all deceased; and Irwin (Bud), of Chatham. There are nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
A long-term associate described Mr. Webster as "a great man … a gentle man". Another said, "He did more for farmers than many realized at the time. He would get an idea and carry it through to fulfillment, for the benefit of agriculture."