Memories of Don Hill
Don grew up with his Dad, Mom and younger brother John; his grandparents lived with them on his family’s farm located north of Chatsworth on Highway #6 & 10. Some of his favourite memories from childhood included swimming in the river, fishing, his grandfather’s horses, cutting hay, showing cattle, attending a one room school house and travelling by train with his Grandma to Holland Centre and his Mom to Toronto for family visits. When he was a teenager, his family worked especially hard one year to get the crops seeded and harvested early, making time at the end of the summer to travel out west and visit family there. He graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph, in 1962. Although his degree was in Animal Science, he found his passion in the field of Soil and Crop Science. Early in his career, while working with a professor, he created the Ontario Soil Map of Perth County.
Don and Ruth first settled in Owen Sound and Don worked with OMAF from their Markdale office. His work with OMAF, in soil and crop science lead him to Ridgetown and Guelph, he and Ruth resided in Ridgetown and in Fergus during this time. While working with OMAF, Don and Ruth took some time to extend work trips to Louisiana and Edmonton. During the trip to Edmonton they toured through Jasper Park. After 15 years, they decided to return to the family farm north of Chatsworth. They had a mixed farming operation including: beef cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep and crops, and the market garden business that the family is known for today. His connection with the land and the animals in his care was remarkable.
Patient, gentle and compassionate, Don treated his family and his work with sincere importance. Don was committed to a lifetime of learning and to the betterment of his vocation and community. While operating the farm, he took every opportunity offered to him to work with various agricultural organizations, teaching courses and promoting agriculture. He seemed pleased to share his knowledge with anyone who had a question about the condition or performance of their crops. He was very generous with his time and volunteered with various organizations including: Grey County Federation of Agriculture, Chatsworth Ag. Society, the Grey County Soil & Crop Improvement Association and Ontario Soil & Crop Improvement Association, where he served as President in 1988. In 1987, he received the Tommy Cooper Award which was presented to the person making the greatest contribution to agriculture and rural living in Grey and Bruce Counties.
Don thoroughly enjoyed his time with children and was especially pleased to have a family of his own, Marilee and Cynthia. He was a proud Dad, Uncle, Grandpa, Great Uncle and cousin to all the children in his family and extended family. To his brother, brother’s and sister’s in law, cousins and friends, he was one to be involved and take a keen interest. He was always there for his parents and looked forward to visits with Aunts and Uncles. He was a faithful, helpful, loving husband who seemed to have a great deal of fun working long hours with his lovely wife.
Don's family has fond memories of their bi-annul family vacations; in the summer there would be a road trip to the location of the OSCIA summer meeting (every year was another location within Ontario) and in the winter a road trip to Toronto. His family was excited to join him on a road trip to Newfoundland, where they enjoyed the culture, seafood and boat excursion with the intent of whale watching. In 2007 Don and Ruth joined Cynthia and Harry on a road trip in a two-door yellow Jeep all the way to Calgary to visit Marilee, who lived there at the time, and have a summer vacation. In 2011, Don and Ruth flew to Calgary, in greater comfort, to join Marilee as she moved home from Calgary. This trip was extended also, to include a visit with cousins in Abbottsford and a stop in Seattle. Some years later, there was another reason to visit Calgary, again by airplane, Don and Ruth and their family travelled to celebrate their nephew Greg’s wedding. Most recently, Don and Ruth enjoyed a road trip with Marilee to Quebec City and Montreal to see the sights and celebrate their nephew Phil’s wedding with the rest of our family. Dad was looking forward to a trip with Ruth and Marilee to visit Haida Gwaii which had been planned for next summer.
A talented public speaker, Don once put his name forward to become his party's candidate for MPP. Marilee recalls riding around with Dad in the car to visit as many folks as he could visit to gather support. Ruth recalls Cynthia carrying a “Vote for Dad” poster as a 4-year-old at the nomination meeting. He was often asked to speak at any number of events because he became well known for his ability to address any number of topics. Marilee often wondered how he knew what he was going to say without any notes or with just a few points jotted on a napkin during dinner before the speech. He always started with a joke and made effort to choose a joke that would appropriately include certain members of the audience; as if it was written for them.
At home, it was always important to be in attendance for family events and making himself available for anything the kids were doing including fall fairs (especially Sydenham fall fair), music recitals, school plays and awards banquets. He entered the annual Sydenham School Fair Slowest Tractor Race, which his tractor would most often win. Church was regularly attended, usually for the whole family. He and Ruth have been happy to be a part of a caring congregation at Chatsworth United Church. He has always been involved in the church from leading Sunday School, to being a clerk of session and most recently an elder.
Some favourite family memories included: hitching up the horse to the cutter and sliding around the field (if there was enough snow, then we could go on the road); going fishing by the river to catch bottom feeders that didn’t look pretty; going on snowmobile rides through the farm; swimming in our pool together or going to the lake (this was fun for Dad but not so much for daughters because you couldn’t see your feet in the lake); going for rides in the truck which always included a stop for treats, usually ice cream and moving cattle by foot from farm to farm.
Don loved to entertain and was an excellent cook...a trait he gained as a boy from his mother. Room-mates will recall specially prepared meals. Ruth recalls that he hosted their engagement party for both their families, where he prepared dinner from hors d'oeuvres and dinner to dessert. His love of cooking and preparing new recipes was evident anytime Don and Ruth had people over; he would spend all Saturday morning looking up new recipes, getting the ingredients and preparing for dinner. The girls remember big homemade breakfasts on the weekends and breakfast “to-go” during the week. It was a treat to open the package and see what Dad had cooked inside! When his farm market business eventually included baking, he most enjoyed making and eating carrot and rhubarb cake.
Customers of the market garden- where he always took a genuine interest in people- may recall piles of sweet corn and a whole variety of other tasty vegetables. The farmers’ markets he attended was an opportunity to promote Ontario produce, but also to socialize and enjoy sharing food with people. Don and Ruth took pride in offering employment to local teenagers. To Don and Ruth, their employees were like family; they celebrated each year-end by taking them for a special dinner and in return employees have given very touching pictorial gifts of their summer experiences.
Don loved to spend time with his grandson. This could mean playing basketball, baseball or going on a bike ride. Don would help Kase build lego and work on puzzles; he was often asked to help colour (which means both Don and Kase would attempt to colour the same page at the same time).
He was very proud of his daughters, and often claimed that “girls can do anything boys can do” and “if they need a man, they'll hire one.” When friends teased him about only having girls on the farm, he would quip “not a problem, when you have girls; there will always be boys around!”
Don was always conscious about the environment and the value of resources. It was important to save everything as it may come in handy later on, you just never know when or where. To him recycling happened immediately, by reusing items as many times as possible before needing a new one, like kleenex, napkins, coffee cups, clothing and any number of other items that were “still good”. Further, he was involved in the planning and implementation of the Environmental Farm Plan, an initiative of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association. He was very excited to promote care of the environment in agriculture because agriculture relies on the environment and he understood the importance of the relationship.
Above all else, Don always encouraged others to fulfill themselves and to value education. He took every opportunity to teach and share ideas. He was known for his varied interests and ability to discuss various current events, politics and agricultural policy. He always kept an open-mind to innovative ideas and listened intently to do his best to understand. The only exception was the cell phone. He did not take a liking to use of a cell phone! Don’s family would hear the phone ring, answer it, then hear Dad say, what do I do now? Mom would say put the phone to your ear and talk!
To promote learning, he had expressed to his family, a wish to donate his body to science when he passed. The tragedy that ended his life precluded that from happening, but throughout his time in hospital, he was able to contribute to three research projects. To all of us who remain “on the green side” as he would say, his legacy of integrity, honesty, commitment and leadership will guide us onward.
When asked how are you? Don would say “too good to be true” or “today could only be better if it rained” or “happy to spend another day up here” or “excited to see the sun” or “I’m wonderful but that’s just my opinion” or “I couldn’t be better if I tried”. He always carried a positive attitude, a willingness for new experiences. Don, Dad, Grandpa, (Great) Uncle Don will be missed immensely, remembered fondly and loved forever.