Ontario’s dairy sector lost a giant on July 5, as Aylmer’s John Walker passed away at age 86.
An inductee into both the Elgin County and Canadian Agricultural halls of fame, Walker is best known for his monthly dairy cattle sales starting in 1958 – first in the Aylmer sale barn, which he had bought with money raised dealing in horses and heifers, and subsequently at the farm east of town he purchased shortly thereafter.
Walker married in 1957, and he and his late wife Anne had four children, all of whom either remain involved with the family’s Walker Dairy Inc. business, or farm nearby. Aside from his involvement in dairy, Walker also farmed broilers and tobacco for many years, and also dabbled in swine.
The dairy farm itself has, for decades, been a showcase of forward-thinking approaches to producing milk in Ontario. Having been born and raised on a small dairy farm at nearby Springfield, Walker – always a strong supporter of supply management – built his own milking herd to over 200 by the 1970s, and over 500 by the mid-2000s.
Son Jon and his family have taken over the dairy farm, where there are more than 1,600 milking.
Despite the high profile achieved by the farm, however, Walker remains – as noted on the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame’s online inductee page – “best known for his international sales of cattle, and his monthly local sales.”
Expanding from his early successes dealing heifers in the Aylmer vicinity (accomplished, the Elgin County Hall of Fame website notes, by a young man who “dropped out of high school after the principal sent a letter home telling his parents it was a waste of time sending him to school”), Walker developed relationships first in the United States, and later to Mexico, Korea, China, Singapore, Australia, Iran, Cuba, The Netherlands, England, Germany and elsewhere. Mexico’s dairy sector, in particular, was important for him; for decades, he worked with a Mexican compatriot to organize educational sessions for dairy farmers in that country.
“An excellent collaborator, he worked together with other exporters on many contracts, especially large orders of several thousand head,” the Canadian Hall of Fame website explains. One shipment that hit the mainstream news was destined to Russia, immediately following the lifting of an export ban due to BSE.
Walker was a founding member of the Canadian Livestock Export Association (later the Canadian Livestock Genetics Association). He was also a 40-plus year member of Holstein Canada, and was honoured to receive special recognition for livestock from the Queretaro Fair in Queretaro, Mexico. Closer to home, he is credited with supporting several community organizations, as well as numerous fledgling dairy farms, helping them build their success as he had done decades before.
Watch Farmtario newspaper for more extensive coverage of John Walker’s legacy.