Roger George served as president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture from 1990 to 1995
By Diego Flammini
“Dad, you better write these (stories) down before you drop dead and they’re lost.”
Those were the words Roger George’s son, Michael, said to his father during a trip to the United Kingdom in 2008.
The pair were visiting George’s birthland one year after his first wife and Michael’s mother, Rosemary, passed away after a battle with cancer.
“I wanted him to see where his mother and I hung out when we were younger,” George told Farms.com. “I had told him stories of my time in England and he met some of my friends who corroborated my stories. I think until then he thought maybe his old man was trying to stretch things a bit.”
And from there, George’s book Odyssey was born.
“My idea of an odyssey is a long and winding journey with twists and turns and you don’t know how it’s going to end up,” he said.
Roger George with his book, Odyssey.
The 460-page book, which he began writing in 2009, is a collection of about 50 stories from his life on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
He wrote it to preserve memories for future generations of the family. And structured the book in a specific way.
“It’s not so much an autobiography,” George said. “I wrote it in mind that I would try to answer questions that my son might ask in years to come. It’s a collection of nine- or 10-page anecdotes of personal things that happened in my life that were meaningful or impactful.”
Of the stories, fewer than 20 relate to George’s farm leadership career.
George served as president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture from 1990 to 1995. Now retired from farming, at the time George raised hogs and crops on a farm in Powassan, Ont.
One of the stories in the book tells of how he became the organization’s leader.
“It’s a very long story but it started in the 1980s when were all faced with high interest rates,” he said. “I remember when interest rates started at 9 per cent and went all the way to 21 per cent. We needed to work together if we were doing to survive this.”
At the time, farmers in George’s community didn’t have a local federation of agriculture.
So, he helped create one.
He served as the first vice chair of the East Nipissing/Parry Sound Federation of Agriculture after the group’s founding in 1981. Rosemary was the treasurer from day one until her passing.
“Before that, all of northeast Ontario was one chapter going from Cochrane basically all the way down to Parry Sound,” he said.
This led to him becoming a director with the OFA in 1982 and ultimately working his way to the organization’s presidency.
As president of the OFA, George worked with the provincial government to help Ontario producers.
Working alongside Premier Bob Rae’s NDP government, George helped get multiple bills passed including the Farm Registration and Farm Organizations Funding Act in 1993.
This piece of legislation outlined requirements to obtain farming business registration numbers and how farm organizations can become accredited.
Other stories in Odyssey tell of George’s life in England and how he ended up in Ontario.
He grew up on a diversified farm with hens, fruit trees and greenhouses.
The ag landscape in Europe was changing with the formation of the European Union looming. If George wanted to continue farming, he’d likely have to look elsewhere.
“You’re talking 1971 or 1972 and the EU formed in 1973,” George said. “My dad told me I wouldn’t be able to survive in farming because the French would blow me out with their apples, the Dutch would beat me with their greenhouses and so on. He said while I was young enough, I should look at moving to Australia or Canada.”
At the time, the Ontario government was actively searching for people to work on farms.
“In the middle of 1972 I saw an ad in one of the British farming papers saying the Ontario government was sending people over to England to find farm managers,” George said. “I answered the ad, the agent the government had sent over met with me, I had a medical and within 10 days I had all the paperwork I needed immigrate to Canada. I had three job offers and ended up taking one on a pig farm in Powassan that I basically never left.”
For anyone hoping to get their hands on a copy of Odyssey, it’s unlikely he or she will be able to.
George published fewer than 10 copies of the book because of the nature of some of the stories.
“There are some very personal things in here that are nobody’s business but my family,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean he won’t share these stories with people later.
Another book, with the working title Etcetera, is in the works.
“I think I’ll write it in a fashion where I can put it out for anyone,” he said. “I have many stories I can tell without dragging my personal life into it.”