By Connor Lynch
OTTAWA — After a 15-year stint as the general manager of the Ottawa Valley Farm Show, the longest running and largest farm show in Eastern Ontario with regular attendance at the spring show at 10,000-plus people, Tom Van Dusen is hanging up his hat.
He’s joined by four directors of the show’s 26-member board, including the long-serving John Joynt, who’s been with the show for 40 years and ran the seed auction. He left “in solidarity” with Van Dusen, Joynt said.
The spirit of camaraderie in running the show has disintegrated over the last 18 months, Van Dusen told Farmers Forum. He resigned April 10.
At a meeting the next day of the Ottawa Valley Seed Growers (OVSG), which runs the farm show, four directors also resigned citing similar concerns, Van Dusen said. John and Mary Joynt of Smiths Falls, Lynda McCuaig of Manotick Station, and Jim Arbuckle of Vernon, all resigned from the board.
Van Dusen said that his role as manager gradually diminished and the show organization has been bogged down in endless committees. “It’s starting to look like your typical government bureaucracy,” he said. “They’re not all bad (measures). Some of them were useful and maybe even necessary.”
He added that he felt that it got to the point where the job wasn’t worth it to him anymore. “I did it for the pride and satisfaction that came with overseeing one of the premier ag events in Eastern Ontario,” Van Dusen said. “When that evaporated, there was no reason to be there.
“I ended up on a communications committee with no real power, I was being second guessed at every turn and I wasn’t operating with the full authority of the manager like I had been.”
McCuaig said that the tone of the organization had shifted drastically. “I used to look forward to going to meetings, and it got to the stage where all I could think going into meetings was ‘We’re going to bitch about something else today.’”
She said that there appeared to be a power struggle over managing the show.
“My idea of a general manager is as the name implies, he manages and runs the show and is the one that makes things happen,” she said. She added that during meetings that Van Dusen attended it “seemed to be pick on Tom time. It was public humiliation at meetings as far as I was concerned.”
Van Dusen, who’s been an agricultural writer in Eastern Ontario for years, was finding his press releases being picked apart, said McCuaig.
The show was run as a not-for-profit, said Van Dusen, adding that there was a serious push to start running it for-profit.
“He’s still a friend,” said show president Cecil Cass, of Van Dusen, but declined to comment further. Board member Shelley McPhail also declined to comment.
Board member Barry Dean told Farmers Forum that the board of directors for the farm show is still making sense of Van Dusen’s decision. “Nobody had a sense this was coming,” said Dean.
“It’s just a personal thing that he decided I guess. People do that in business. It’s just part of life,” said Dean. He added that the farm show still has the “one big family” mentality.
He added that this year’s show was a success. “Everybody stepped up to the plate. Everybody’s heart was into it.”
Said Dean: “I just know he’s done a great job while he was there and we were pleased to have him and wish him all the best.”