Wellington County’s Wall of Fame

By Willa Wick in Community, People, Places, Events, & History

A thank you for a job well done is always appreciated. Two area men, who have already received many accolades and awards, have been recognized with another.

Providing formal public recognition of persons in Ontario who have made significant contributions to the welfare and improvement of agriculture was a project initiated in 1979. This resulted in the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame (OAHF) located at Country Heritage Park in Milton. During the opening ceremonies nine individuals were honored. These nine pioneer individuals (all deceased) represented more than 100 years of combined initiatives in building a better agriculture for Ontario.
It wasn’t only farming men who were on this honorary list, but also women like Adelaide Hoodless, and Earland Lee, names well recognized by Women’s Institutes around the world.
The current number of individual framed portraits and agricultural biographies numbers 210.

Recognizing the need to honor local persons, the Wellington County Historical Society, partnering with the Museum and Archives staff at Elora, developed a Wall of Fame. Fifteen persons were honored during the initial unveiling in 2011. The criteria is similar to that of the OAHF but is designed for Wellington County residents. A sketched portrait and history of each inductee is suitably framed and hung on the Wellington Wall of Fame just outside the Aboyne Hall Conference Room at the Museum.

Recently two gentlemen were recognized and portraits unveiled. In addressing the group attending the presentation, Reg Cressman, Secretary-Treasurer of the OAHF Association, quipped that the restrictions have been lessened. Originally there was a high price to get in – one had to be deceased! Cressman is pleased to see more being done to recognize the achievements being made in the agricultural world; and with two inductees this year it squares up the display of pictures on the Wellington Wall.

The first honor went to Ray Wightman. Unfortunately Wightman wasn’t able to attend, but his son Paul accepted congratulations on his father’s behalf.

Ray Wightman was third generation to manage what started out in 1908 as an ingenious way to connect farmers. Known as the little company that grew, Wightman Telecom still operates on the principle “people come first”. From beginnings in the back kitchen of his farmhouse, Robert Wightman was able to link up 60 of his neighbors and was finally allowed to connect into the local Bell exchange in Clifford. Through the depression years and into the times when new technology waves swept the industry the Wightman telephone system bought out the smaller exchanges jumping at every opportunity to increase the size of the company.

Quoting excerpts from the framed portrait: “Ray’s company was the first to eliminate all party lines and get all of its lines underground for uninterrupted service”….. “now as an internet access provider it links subscribers to data bases and chat groups around the world”….“through his continual upgrading of the telephone system, Ray Wightman has helped to reduce rural isolation and has given the agricultural community an important tool for operating in a global economy”.

Ray Wightman, and Wellington’s second inductee Peter Hannam of Guelph, were both 2015 candidates to the Ontario Hall of Fame at Milton.

While introducing Peter Hannam it was noted that because he has spent a whole lifetime farming and promoting the agricultural business it was hard pressed to put his achievements down to one page for the award. In accepting the congratulations Hannam said that his family chides him for doing things backwards. First he received a Canadian award, then several provincial, and now the county. However, Hannam considers the Wellington County Wall of Fame award to be the icing on the cake because it’s local and he knows the surrounding area and its people.

Excerpts from his framed bio include: “has been a pivotal player in the development of the soy bean as a major crop in Ontario”…..”his ability to seize opportunities in developing short season soybean varieties and other crop technology advances has played a vital role in this growth”.

Peter was President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture 1977-79 and has been wildly recognized for his many achievements. He’s been a leader in several initiatives at the OAC in Guelph such as Project SOY (Soybean Opportunities for Youth) a contest that encourages students to develop innovative uses for soybeans. Hannam was founder and President of First Line Seeds in Guelph – one of Canada’s largest soybean suppliers.

It’s been joked that Peter Hannam is a natural diplomat – he gets his own way by making it everyone else’s idea.