John Ruthven “Blondie” Wilson

John Ruthven “Blondie” Wilson

AUGUST 23, 1892 - 1969

Ruthven, as he most commonly went by, was born in Glengarry County, Ontario, in 1892. His father, James Lockie Wilson, would go on to achieve agricultural prominence during Ruthven’s youth. James served as Secretary of the Ontario Vegetable Growers’, Horticultural and Plowmen’s Associations. The later employment James attained as the Ontario government’s Superintendent of Agricultural Societies provided Ruthven with excellent educational opportunities.

Ruthven graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Toronto in 1916. The war-time context of his graduation led him to quickly enlist and complete his training at the Royal Military College in Kingston. Ruthven completed his officerly training first in his class and was assigned to the 55th Field Battery of the 13th Brigade.

Ruthven served with the Commonwealth forces during the breaking of the Hindenburg Line in 1918. On August 26th of that year Ruthven was the battery’s forward observation officer for the assault on German lines. After successfully directing the battery’s fire towards a German machine gun positon he captured an enemy artillery piece and turned it on the Germans. Whilst holding a position near Drury Ruthven was heavily wounded. Artillery fire broke his right arm in three places, his left arm was punctured with a bullet and his eyes were completely blinded for four days due to a gas attack. Despite these brutal injuries, Ruthven remained calm and directed his men courageously to safer ground. Ruthven would spend nine months in French and English hospitals before being granted the Military Cross for his actions. He then finally returned home.

Following his return from the war Ruthven quickly purchased a farm entitled “Old Oaks” in Clarkson, Peel County, Ontario. Although his first day went quite roughly, a horse’s errant kick re-shattering Ruthven’s wounded arm, he would go on to see success in his agriculture ventures.

By 1920 Ruthven had cultivated 30 swarms of bees and a wide swath of produce. His arbor included 425 cherry trees supplemented by several pear and apple trees as well as thousands of raspberry bushes. Ruthven’s 1920 crop of 3,000 cucumbers and 5,000 tomatoes was the best quality in the district. Ruthven could afford to keep his large flock of white Leghorn chickens inside an electrically lit poultry house, a demonstration of his financial success. In 1921 Ruthven was chosen to provide a display of Gladioli for the horticultural exhibit at the Canadian Exhibition.

It’s likely that Ruthven didn’t live out the rest of his days on “Old Oaks”, however. In 1923 he married Doris Mary Gamble, a woman from Ottawa. In the Ottawa Journal’s announcement of the wedding it mentioned the couple’s intent to take up residence in Toronto. In 1956 a newsletter for Ashbury College in Ottawa mentioned Ruthven’s son’s scholarly attendance and religious confirmation, suggesting the family had by that point moved to the nation’s capital. Ruthven died in 1969 and was buried in his family’s plot in Toronto, his wife joined him there in 1977.

Despite his eventual move to the big city Ruthven’s time on the farm is suggestive as to a whole generation of young Canadian men. Many who returned from the First World War took up farming as their occupation, buying existing farms or settling less populated areas such as Western Canada and Northern Ontario. Ruthven’s life on the fields, both militarily and agriculturally, perfectly encapsulates the major values of rural Canadians in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture