Ordinary people and their stories have always intrigued me.
The real stories of our time are about people and how they shape and react to the events that unfold around them, especially if privileged to be handed some semblance of leadership and responsibility, or if they just seized it because they had what it took.
Hence, at the dawn of every new year, when the events of the past 12 months are highlighted in some order of importance in the eyes of the beholder, I looked instead at three people who made a difference in 2015.
Each year has the good and decent, the visionary, the courageous and great, the smooth, and the slick coward in politics. They’ve been with us, affecting us, through the course of history. This past year was no different.
Perhaps it’s wrong to assign a year to Ormstown, Que. dairy producer Fred Sundborg, but since he won his second Holstein Master Breeder shield last year, it seems as good a time as any to honour who he is and what he stands for.
Hard work brought Fred and his family to the pinnacle of respect as a successful farmer. At age 12, the Montreal boy was in the back of a car that stopped for gas one Sunday afternoon in Ormstown, on the Quebec side but close to Ontario, and his dad recognized his war buddy who strolled out to pump the gas.
Fred had never touched a cow. A couple of years later they were on a rundown, Ormstown farm, with dad still working in Montreal. Fred graduated from high school with $500 in the bank and a handful of beef, dairy and crossbred calves. The teenaged boy, now in his mid-60s, turned nothing into a two-time Master Breeder farm milking 60 head.
Nick Thurler, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario board member from Eastern Ontario is, without question, the person who caused the most dramatic change to the dairy industry over the past year. Not only with his ideas of how to be competitive, which many had before, but he brought a board of directors around to his way of thinking. He pushed the DFO to create a new class of milk to produce lower-priced milk for processors and lure them away from American imports.
He stood up to the barrage of critics, not only internally, but from Quebec, with a thick skin and a resolve, based on hard logic, which they couldn’t break. He’s his own man, and, by God that is so rare these days.
Time and history, possibly selective, will tell whether his ideas and efforts to shape the dairy industry into a competitive one, capable of keeping imports out, did what they intended. Personally, I’m a skeptic in the sense that you can’t make a socialist system competitive until you purge the socialism, but that doesn’t deter my personal admiration for what Nick is doing.
Nick is fearless. Things needed some drastic fixing and Nick made the establishment publicly admit that and face reality. No one else ever had.
Dillon Hillier, son of Perth MPP Randy Hillier, went alone to join forces fighting Islamic terrorism, known as ISIS, in the Middle East. He didn’t need to, since he had retired from the military. While a Liberal critic would sneer at his swashbuckling, he went to kill the enemy, knowing that during battle the enemy would want to kill him.
Hillier symbolizes the courageous men and women, all through our time, and in his case last year, whose courage has kept us safe. They were fighting a never-ending evil, which now is ISIS.
He didn’t come home to any hero’s welcome, hoisting his bulletproof vest and army helmet onto the Canadian customs counter at Pearson Airport in Toronto.
“The purpose of your trip, sir?
“I was putting lead into ISIS.”
“Do you have any alcohol or cigarettes?”
In a recent op-ed article in a leading newspaper, Hillier recounted battles he participated in where the absolute essential need for airstrikes helped them prevail and saved their lives.
Whether Hillier, or others like him, lived or died in the fight against ISIS, was, apparently, of little concern to a more modern day youth and newly-elected Ontario Liberal MP, Karina Gould. On her webpage she proudly displays the “no” vote against the private member’s bill to maintain Canadian air support in fighting ISIS, whose goal is to kill all Jews.
I retched over the sink after seeing Gould’s vote, knowing her grandfather was a Jewish refugee who escaped Hitler and fled to Canada for safety.
That was my 2015 and the people who shaped it.
Ian Cumming is a former Glengarry County dairy farmer and now farms with his son in northern New York state.