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Eugene Whelan dies at 88

Funeral services were held Feb. 23 for the man beneath the green Stetson hat who took the helm of Canadian agricultural policy during the Trudeau administration.

Eugene Whelan, Canada’s agriculture minister from 1972 to 1979 and 1980 to 1984, died late Feb. 19 at age 88. According to the Windsor Star , Whelan’s death, at his home in nearby Amherstburg, Ont., was due to complications from a stroke he suffered in 2012.

“As Canada’s agriculture minister and in his trademark green Stetson, Eugene was planted firmly on the side of farmers,” federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a statement, describing Whelan as “a strong voice for Canadian farmers for decades.”

Interim federal Liberal leader Bob Rae hailed Whelan as “an icon of Canadian politics, a real fighter who devoted his entire life to the service of community and country,” whose “incredible contributions to agriculture and rural Canadians will long outlive this shining example of a man.”

Tributes also poured in from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the National Farmers Union and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Named an officer in the Order of Canada in 1987, Whelan was cited as “The Great Canadian Farmer” who “turned Canada into a country known the world over for the efficient production of top-quality food” and “devoted himself to the cause of worldwide hunger through long-term agricultural improvement in developing countries.”

“He was very engaged with the international scene,” said Jim Cornelius, executive director of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, who remembers lots of good conversations with the former minister about both Canadian and international agriculture.

“He was a real friend of the food grains bank,” said Cornelius. “We had an ongoing relationship where he would call up or send notes when he thought something should be done differently.”

Whelan’s political career in southwestern Ontario began on a local school board in 1945 and on the council of Anderdon Township in 1949. As a farmer, he served as president of the Harrow Farmers’ Co-operative, as a director with the United Co-operative Board and Co-operators Insurance Association, and as a founding member of the Ontario Winter Wheat Producer Marketing Board.

He first came to the House of Commons in 1962 as the Liberal MP for Essex South, during John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative administration.

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