Inducted: November 15, 2011
Mr. Swanton was born in County Cork, Ireland, one of ten children of Robert and Margaret Swanton. He attended Wilson and Burchill National Schools, and Hosford Collegiate, in Skibbereen until his father’s ill health and his brother’s death in World War I forced him, at age 14, to end his formal education and return to the farm.
This did not however, end his learning. Through a long and productive life, he used every resource available to expand his knowledge, particularly of farming. He had an inquiring mind.
Mr. Swanton and his brothers assumed most of the responsibility for the 250-acre farm in the district of Schull near Ballydehob, before and after their father’s death in 1920. That, and the “Troubles” in Ireland, that touched their district, encouraged the Swanton family to come to Canada. A sister, Madge, emigrated in 1924 and Tom, James, Emily, Bob, Agnes and their mother followed less than a year later. Brother Austin, an Anglican priest, stayed in Ireland; and the oldest daughter, Maisie, went to Australia.
Tom and his brother, James, after careful research, chose Kent County as their destination, and worked on the farms of David Fletcher and William Mancell to get practical experience. In 1925, Tom signed up in Toronto with the Mounted Police, but returned to farming when he was discharged for medical reasons. The Swanton family adopted quickly to life in Canada, in work and at play. Tom and Jim joined Junior Farmers, and competed in Junior Farmer field days at Ridgetown. Tom was an excellent high jumper and both brothers played softball, and were excellent pitchers.
In 1926, Tom, Jim and their Mother acquired 200 acres on Concession 10, Tilbury East Township (now the Swanton Line), making the final payment in 1942. In the intervening 16 years, the Depression forced Tom to work in Ontario lumber camps in the Dirty Thirties, and in Windsor factories later, just to keep the farm going. He never stopped learning, and he welcomed innovations.
The Swanton brothers were among the first farmers in the area to tile their land, recognizing the importance of drainage on their Brookston clay loam soil. They were early owners of a combine; and with neighbours, acquired a threshing machine for co-operative threshing.
A momentous step for the Swantons was taken in 1945 with the decision to develop a purebred dairy herd. The result: The Swandale herd eventually became one of the top dairy herds in Ontario. On his arrival in Canada, Martin Jansen became the Swandale herdsman, and eventually, in 1963, the owner of the Swanton farm.
In 1957, ill health forced Jim Swanton to sell his share of the farm to his brother. By that time, Tom Swanton had become an influential voice in the Kent County Milk Producers Association, and its President, and worked with others to organize the Ontario Milk Marketing Plan in 1965. An associate said, “When Tom Swanton spoke, they listened!”
Mr. Swanton was member, and President of the Kent Holstein Club. He was the recipient of awards: In Appreciation of Outstanding Leadership (1954 – 1963) Chatham Milk Producers; a Leadership Award in 1970 from the Canadian Council of 4-H Clubs; and Agricultural Service Diploma for Meritorious Service in 1976 from Merlin and District Agricultural Society.
In 1962, Tom Swanton was named “Premier Breeder and Exhibitor” at the Kent Black and White Show, with four Champions
and nine Class Winners. The Swandale herd was first in the Breed Class Average for Kent, with three cows with records over 20,000 pounds.
In retirement in 1971, he won the highest honour open to a Holstein-Friesian Breeder, the Master Breeder Shield. Never idle, he sold Real Estate for F. W. Coneybeare Ltd. of Chatham, specializing in farms. He travelled extensively, to his native Ireland and to Australia.
Mr. Swanton was active in his community. He was a member of Kent County Junior Farmers, and President for three years; Secretary of the local committee of the Sugar Beet Producers; Secretary-Treasurer of Soft White Wheat Growers; Reeve, Deputy Reeve, and Tilbury East Township Council member for seven years; a member of Merlin Rotary Club, President in 1969, and Treasurer in 1974. He was a delegate to The Rotary International Convention in Nice, France, in 1967.
Though a bachelor, he was interested in young people and education, and was a member of Merlin District High School Board in 1969. He was President of the Men’s Club of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, and a member of the Stewart Cemetery Board for several years.