75th Anniversary

This publication from the Grape Growers of Ontario commemorates the 75th anniversary year since its establishment and records many milestones of progress that this organization and Ontario’s grape and wine industry have achieved since 1947.

The Project is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The views expressed in the publication are the views of the Recipient and do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.

This record details the approach and accomplishments of the Grape Growers of Ontario (“GGO”) in the 75 years since the organization was created, originally as the Ontario Grape Growers Marketing Board. It is not a full history of Niagara’s grape and wine industry during this period, but rather a detailed review of an organization established by grape growers to ensure a vibrant future for the industry. 

The Chair’s of the Board of Directors have been few: 

  • Horace Kilman, 1947-1950
  • George Lounsbury, 1950-1953
  • George Stewart, 1953-1960
  • Sim House, 1960-1966
  • Ronald Moyer, 1966-1980
  • Keith Wiley, 1980-1983
  • Brian Nash, 1983-1989
  • Art Smith, 1989-1992
  • Tom Greensides, 1992-1995
  • John Neufeld , 1995-2002
  • Wayne Lockey, 2002-2003
  • Ray Duc, 2003-2007
  • Bill George, 2007-2016
  • Matthias Oppenlaender, 2016-

When Jim Rainforth was presented with the Award of Merit by the Board at the Annual General Meeting in 1991, he responded with the words: “I have had the privilege of working with four chairmen of this Board. Each one has been outstanding. It is a point of personal pride to me that each has remained a close friend.” These words provide an insight into the record of outstanding leadership that has been created through ongoing mutual respect and friendship between the GGO and Ontario’s grape and wine industry. The board’s focus has been on foresight, planning for progress, and sound judgment. These qualities have been at the forefront, without fail, for the first 75 years of the board’s history. 

In a separate and earlier comment, past Chair Ron Moyer stated: “Anything I accomplished was a result of having the full support and encouragement of the board of directors. That support was always given. And they had lots of advice for me, too.”

The job of the Chairman has never been easy. The records relate year after year its demand for unlimited hours, and mental and physical stamina. It is not possible to adequately recognize the contributions, of such great value, by all those who have served as directors or on the Growers’ Committee.

During these 75 years there have been few Board Secretaries. Keith Matthie served 24 years, starting in 1953. He was followed in 1977 by Jim Rainforth, who was recruited from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, where he was Director, Soils and Crops Branch. Elizabeth Andreen served as Secretary between 1998-2002 until she was succeeded by Art Smith. Art managed the organization until the hiring in 2003 of the current Chief Executive Officer, Debbie Zimmerman.

For most farmers in Canada, the Great Depression had blown away their resources and drained their bargaining powers. Those ten hard years took their toll on wholesalers and processors too, and as businesses failed, merger followed merger to set the stage for the multi-nationals that were to follow.

The Farm Products Marketing Act of 1937 opened a way for farmers to form a united, legislated, group with sufficient power to restore some measure of stability to commodity pricing, though the marketplace would remain the final arbiter. 

Many growers favoured some system of giving growers a fair shake in their dealings with processors. Ron Moyer recalls being the treasurer for an action group centred around Beamsville. He expected the leaders to campaign for a marketing board scheme, and when they didn’t, he refused to sign any cheques. Keith Wiley speaks of the Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Thomas Kennedy, as an apple grower who told farmers “... if you want to get something done don’t come to me and complain; get organized.” Many growers speak positively of Frank Perkins, chairman of the Farm Products Marketing Board: “We just had to phone, and he’d be here right away.”

Supporters needed at least 15 percent of all growers in favour before they could petition for a marketing board under the Act. The Honourable Tom Kennedy authorized the provisional marketing scheme with the proviso that within one year a two thirds majority vote would be needed for it to continue. Confirmation was overwhelming. More that 90 per cent of those casting ballots were in favour.

The Ontario Grape Growers’ Marketing Board was empowered to negotiate the terms and conditions for the sale of grapes for processing, and export. For the first time growers were assured of a unified, minimum price for grapes no matter whether the processor was buying for wines, juice, or jams and jellies. The organization was posted in the Ontario Gazette on July 19, 1947. The first meeting of the Board was September 23, 1947.

Control of the Marketing Board was vested firmly with the growers, who elect their own officers and directly guide policies and programs including license fees to fund this enterprise. Through unity, growers gained a voice in the grape and wine processing industry along with the ability to base forward planning on the combined strengths of the total grape growing developments in Ontario.

Throughout 2022, interviews with key industry stakeholders were held to provide a first hand perspective on the last 25 years.

BOARD CHAIRS (Matthias Oppenlaender, Bill George, Ray Duc, John Neufeld)

WAYNE LOCKEY

 

ALBRECHT SEEGER

 

CAROL MITCHELL 

 

LEN PENNACHETTI

 

LYDIA TOMEK

 

DONALD ZIRALDO

 

DEBI PRATT

 

DEBBIE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

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Debbie Zimmerman receives Lifetime Achievement Award

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