Spotlight on Renfrew County agriculture

Renfrew -- Five farmers from two municipalities were honoured at the Renfrew County Agricultural Wall of Fame Awards celebration at the Renfrew Armouries Saturday evening.

Vera and Stewart McBride and Dennis and Dianne Briscoe, all of Admaston/Bromley Township, and Gerald Rollins of Laurentian Valley Township, were nominated by their peers and then selected by the awards committee to be inducted into the Agricultural Wall of Fame.

“Tonight is to shine the spotlight on Renfrew County agriculture and to honour those who make it great,” emcee and beef farmer Craig McLaughlin said. “We have some great inductees tonight, so let’s take the time to honour those great people with stories, memories and some laughter.”

He recalled when he was on a trade mission to Japan and Vietnam.

“My proudest moment on that trade mission was realizing that products originating from here are being consumed in both Japan and Vietnam,” he said. “Let’s be proud of what we do to help feed people around the globe.

“That’s right! As we sit here tonight, people in both Japan and Vietnam are enjoying the bounties of our labour,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

He also recalled when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I was asked to do a radio interview because for most of us in our collective memories, we witnessed empty shelves in grocery stores for the first time.

“Now, the host asked will we run out of food and I assured him we won’t, it’s supply chain issues.

“And he said, ‘how can you say that?’ and my answer was Renfrew County farmers don’t walk away from their responsibilities. Pandemics, wars, climate change, Renfrew County farmers go to work every day,” Mr. McLaughlin concluded.

Also attending to honour the recipients with certificates were Mike Donohue, mayor of Admaston/Bromley; Neil Nicholson, mayor of Whitewater Region, representing Renfrew County Warden Peter Emon, and Laura Lapenski, representing MPP John Yakabuski and MP Cheryl Gallant.

Vera and Stewart McBride

Steven Schultz, president of the Cobden Agricultural Society, which nominated the McBride’s for the award, was first to speak.

Mr. McBride grew up on the family farm, which borders Whitewater Region and Admaston/Bromley Township on Cobden Road. Mrs. McBride (nee Springer) grew up in the Northcote area between Douglas and Renfrew.

After their marriage they lived on the family farm where they started their family.

“If I was to read through the list of jobs and positions these two have held and continue to do, we would be here a while,” Mr. Schultz said, noting he would highlight a few.

Since the early 1970s, both have served on the board of directors for the Cobden Agricultural Society. Mr. McBride was president on two occasions, from 1978 to 1980 and again from 2012 to 2014 while Mrs. McBride was the ladies’ president in 1979 and 1980.

“When we need help at the fairgrounds to move bleachers, set up tents, move blocks or logs for the derby ring, etcetera, you check with Stewart and set up a time and the jobs are completed quickly and efficiently,” Mr. Schultz said.

He also noted the couple raised three children, who are now married and have children of their own. Shawna is married to Dennis McGrath and have two boys, Keiran and Tristan; Shelley is married to Steve Hawthorne and have a girl and a boy, Ryan and McKenna; and Paul is married to Jessica Gauthier and they have three girls and a boy, Esmie, twins Mae and Della and Montgomery.

The nominee form noted the McBrides have also been involved in various community events and organizations, including the Renfrew County Plowmen’s Association, Admaston/Bromley Fire Committee, Rural Ramble, Renfrew County Plowing Match host farm, Taste of the Valley, Cobden Curling Club, Cemetery Committee and Admaston/Bromley Waste Management Committee.

The couple has also been honoured, including receiving an Ontario Century Farm Designation, being a finalist for the Farm Enterprise of the Year -- Upper Ottawa Valley Chamber of Commerce; 2013 International Plowing Match Farm Family of the Year; and in 2015 Cobden and District Citizen of the Year award.

“It is a privilege to be chosen for this title,” Mr. McBride said on their behalf. “Thank you to the Cobden Agricultural Society for nominating us for this award, and also, we would like to thank our families and friends for the support tonight and over the years.”

“Volunteering is a necessary part of the process ensuring success of each committee or project,” he said. “The rural community has to continue to educate the urban majority of the importance of agriculture, ensuring the ability of our country to feed itself.”

Gerald Rollins

David McGonegal of the Renfrew County Cattlemen spoke about Gerald’s history in farming.

When Gerald Rollins was 20 in 1975, he purchased his first 135-acre farm and two years later married Louise.

In the early years, he worked off the farm, eventually leaving his job at Bell Canada to farm full time. He has increased his land holdings from the original 135 to the current 600 plus acres.

The couple ran a cow/calf operation of various breeds, until settling on the White Park breed in the mid-90s.

Mr. Rollins’ agricultural history includes being an active member of the Renfrew County Beef Association from 1994 to 2022, and was president from 2001 to 2006. He was an advisory councillor for Ontario Beef from 2004 to 2009 and again from 2018 to 2020. He was a member of the Beef Improvement Club from 1996 to 1999 and served on the Board of Beef Improvement Ontario from 1996 to 1999. He was a voting delegate for Renfrew County Beef to the Beef Farmers of Ontario annual general meeting during the years 1994 to 2022.

While serving with Beef Farmers of Ontario, he served on the environment committee, risk management committee and the provincial bobolink round table.

He has served as a director of the Renfrew County Federation of Agriculture, was a founding and an active member of the Muskrat Watershed Council from 2012 to 2019, director on the Pembroke General Hospital, a Stafford Township councillor and was on the Pembroke and Area Waste Management Board before the creation of the Ottawa Valley Waste Recovery Centre.

“This was a highlighted version of the contributions that Gerald has made over the last nearly 50 years,” Mr. McGonegal said. “It is for these reasons that Renfrew County Beef was honoured to have Gerald accept the nomination and the selection committee voted to have Gerald inducted into the Renfrew County Agricultural Wall of Fame.”

In closing Mr. McGonegal also paid tribute to Louise and their children.

“I am sure Gerald would agree that this active life would not have been possible, rewarding and fulfilling without the support of his life partner, Louise and their children,” he said.

Mr. Rollins, with his wife beside him, thanked Mr. McGonegal for the introduction and while he did note he hade a two-page acceptance speech, much of what he wanted to say was covered by Mr. McGonegal.

“This has been an incredible chapter of my life and career,” he said. “My involvement in BFO and all of the committees and subcommittees has brought a wealth of knowledge and friendships.

“I have always believed that if you want to effect change, you need to get involved in the organizations that make the decisions and policy that affect our livelihoods,” he said. “I feel that I have made an impact and it is time for others to take up the challenge.”

While he didn’t elaborate, Mr. Rollins said he has a “keen interest in the environment and wildlife” and is pursuing activities that will have a “positive impact on nature and the environment.”

Dennis and Dianne Briscoe

Mr. McLaughlin called on Stephen Edwards to introduce the Briscoes. He said Stephen and Janet Edwards were the first farm family to have a computer, bringing laughter from the crowd, knowing a joke was on hand.

He said the couple couldn’t decide if the computer should be referred to as a male or female.

Janet said the computer should be a ‘he’ – in order to get their attention you have to turn them on; they have a lot of data but are still clueless, they are supposed to help you solve problems but half the time they are the problem, and as soon as you commit to one, you realized that if you had waited a little longer, you could have had a new and better model.

However, Mr. Edwards didn’t agree, noting the computer should be referred to as a ‘she’ – no one but the creator understands their logic, the native language they use to talk to other computers is incomprehensible to anyone else, even your smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for later retrieval and as soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

Once the crowd quieted down, Lynn Clelland read aloud from a prepared statement.

In the 1940s, Mr. Briscoe’s parents lost an entire grade Holstein herd because of Brucellosis, an infectious disease that spreads rapidly and causes abortions in unvaccinated cattle. His parents then purchased one purebred vaccinated cow, and she had nine daughters.

That cow had nine daughters and are still the basis of today’s Donden Farms herd. Donden is a combination of Dennis’s name and his late sister, Donna.

Looking back at the Briscoes early years, Ms. Clelland noted Mr. Briscoe completed his automotive mechanic training through Algonquin College after graduating from Renfrew Collegiate Institute. His participation in 4-H gave him a start in developing one of the county’s top show herds, all home bred.

In 1969, he bought the farm from his parents and brought in upgrades to make this full-time job a little easier.

Mrs. Briscoe was a Registered Nurse and when she arrived at Donden Farms in 1974, she traded hospital wards for milking machines and tractors, becoming a full-time partner in the barn and fields while eventually looking after three very energetic boys.

“Along with confirmation, excellence in production has always been a primary goal,” Ms. Clelland said. “Those two successes have been recognized with the prestigious Master Breeder Awards presented from Holstein Canada in 1983 and again in 2005.”

A Holstein Canada Breeder’s Pin celebrates more than 50 years invested in Holstein genetics and the genetics of 30 Excellent cows have enriched herds locally and throughout the world, she noted.

The couple has three children, Glen and Kevin, who were in attendance, and Randy, who is on vacation with his family during March Break.

The Briscoes have been dedicated members of Admaston United Church for almost 50 years.

The couple has been members of the Holstein Club where Dennis has served as a director and president. They have hosted the Renfrew County Rural Ramble, many Holstein Twilight meets, barn meetings and bus tours from other counties and provinces.

Mr. Briscoe was a member of the Renfrew Fair Board starting in 1998 and served as president on two different occasions, and continues to volunteer. Mrs. Briscoe is on the handicrafts committee. He has been an active member of the Admaston Cemetery Board of Directors and the Ontario Trappers Association for many years.

Mrs. Briscoe was a member of the Admaston/Bromley Millenium Celebrations committee that organized a Millenium weekend. She also offered many hours of help when the Women’s Institute renovated the former schoolhouse into a living museum.

“Her work with seniors, neighbours and friends was recognized when she was chosen as Admaston/Bromley Citizen of the year in 2003,” Ms. Clelland noted. “She continues as a volunteer at Bonnechere Manor and in her community as she shares her baking talents with those shut-ins who really appreciate the treats she brings.”

While their children were in elementary school, Mrs. Briscoe co-chaired the parents council for several years, and as many parents do, acted as chauffeur as her boys played school sports and organized hockey.

“She now does that for her grandchildren,” she added.

Ms. Clelland noted that while semi-retired, “Dennis and Dianne can still be found milking or doing field work on their beloved Donden Farms.”

The Briscoes’ dedication to the development of the Holstein breed in Renfrew County and their generous gifts of time and talent to their community, the Holstein Club believes they are worthy of selection to the Renfrew County Agricultural Wall of Fame, Ms. Clelland concluded.

In responding, Mr. Briscoe chuckled, noting Ms. Clelland and he grew up together, so she knows more about him than he does. He thanked the Holstein Club for nominating them for the award.

Through the years, the couple has met many great people and noted it’s important to volunteer in the community.

“Some of those people have become best friends,” Mr. Briscoe said.

He thanked his friends, neighbours and family for supporting them throughout the years, along with the many cousins who were in attendance.

“I could not have done this without her (Dianne) beside me over the years,” he said.

The Awards

In 1996, the first inductee ceremony for the Renfrew County Agricultural Wall of Fame was held with 10 inductees. Following that year, every three years there are three nominations chosen to receive an award. Their photos go on to the wall in the Galbraith Room of the Renfrew Armouries.

There are currently 54 pictures of inductees on the wall.

Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader