Inducted: November 16, 2010
On the 60th Anniversary of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Leeland Farms was praised as one of five exhibitors that had been present in every year of the Fair’s history. A Gold Medallion was presented to the farm by Princess Anne, and John, modestly, recalls his conversation with the Princess at the luncheon in her honour on that occasion.
Earlier, John and George returned to farm with their father after going to Grade 12 at Highgate School. John’s training continued in World War II, when he served as a signalman on a Minesweeper in the Royal Canadian Navy.
George married Lillian Irene Busteed. He and John, who did not marry, continued to farm with their father, eventually taking over from him. Leeland Farms was a mixed cash crop and livestock farm. As was the custom on many farms of that era, it was home to pigs, Shorthorn cattle and Lincoln sheep, the latter known for excellent quality wool.
John’s interest in animal husbandry led to hours of reading and study of herd and flock record books. He was blessed with an outstanding memory, so he retained much of what he read and that became the foundation of his knowledge of bloodlines in the cattle and sheep.
He had, as one admirer said, “an uncanny ability to recite parentage and breeding ancestry of many leading breeders’ herds and flocks when discussing breeding with fellow stockmen”.
George’s primary interest in raising quality livestock was Leeland Farms’ prize-winning Shorthorns, although he was involved with sheep. The brothers exhibited at as many as 30 fairs in the show season, John involved in Lincoln sheep management and exhibiting; while George would take charge of Shorthorn showing. Renowned cattle breeders from across Canada and the United States acquired herd sires and improvement cows from Leeland Farms.
Genetics from this historic farm were desired by leading stockmen for both Shorthorn Cattle and Lincoln sheep. The brothers were proud that Leeland Farm genetics were used in founding the Columbia breed of sheep at the University of Wyoming; and the upgrading by the U.S. Government of native Navajo sheep to increase wool production.
John’s dedicated work for the betterment of the sheep and wool industry, his expert knowledge of animal husbandry and his skilful shepherding were rewarded with the first, Peter C. Levine Award at the Royal Winter Fair. It was the Levine family’s recognition of the difficult and dedicated life work of a shepherd.
George received recognition showing the Supreme Champion, and as the Premier Breeder for all breeds at Western Fair in 1970.
John and George’s contributions to their home community were as outstanding as their work nationally and internationally. George held office and was a long-standing director of the Tri-County Shorthorn Association, the Ridgetown Agricultural Society, the Highgate Agricultural Society and Howard Mutual Insurance.
John was a long-term Chairman of the Sheep Committee, and eventually President of the Howard Agricultural Society (Ridgetown Fair). He received the Agricultural Service Award for his dedicated contribution to the Fair’s success. He was member and Chairman of the Sheep Committee of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, Toronto, for a number of years. He was also President and Director of the Canadian Sheep Breeders’ Association.
John declined many invitations to judge livestock, because he preferred showing. In this, his physical strength, combined with an understanding of animal behaviours made a difficult task seem effortless.
Eventually, the swine, the Shorthorn cattle and the sheep were sold. The decision to sell the Lincoln sheep was difficult, but gratifying because the top U.S. Lincoln breeder bid high to acquire the entire flock.
George and Irene Lee had three children: Georgina E. Gill, California and John B. Lee, Brantford, and a child who died in infancy. There are six grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. Always aware of their Irish heritage, John and George were always proud to call Highgate and Kent their home.
A friend said, “The Lees stood for quality in everything they did. They exemplified the very best in agriculture.