Wellington County a Recognized leader in Livestock Breeding

(The Guelph Mercury newspaper, July 20th 1927.)

by Wade Toole, B.S.A., M.S.



Within a few years after John Galt founded Guelph, farmers began to improve their livestock by importing.  By importing better breeds at heavy cost from Great Britain, cattle, sheep, and swine of pedigreed stock were introduced early, with good results.  Wellington County encouraged the move for better animals and because of that it is today one of the foremost in the province for purebred and high-grade general farm livestock.  Wellington County stands sixth for values of livestock and fifth in revenue value, amounting to more than three and three quarter millions last year.





The tourist may travel from the turbulent Atlantic to the placid Pacific, or from the frigid Arctic to the sunny south, and in all of that vast expanse of North America’s wonderful land there is nothing that can quite compare in agricultural development and opportunity with what we generally term, South-western Ontario, and the good old county of Wellington is one of the gems among the score of counties comprising that unsurpassed agricultural field.  Wellington County with its preponderance of fertile clay and sandy loam soils, its rolling topography, its numerous streams and rivers, and its inland central location, has, from the beginning, been destined to become one of the leading livestock producing centres of this great province, and almost from that time, 100 years ago, when John Galt felled the first tree on the banks of the Speed River, where the Royal City now solidly stands, Wellington County has been famous for livestock, particularly beef cattle, sheep and horses.


The earliest settlers were of British stock, and Britain has for centuries been the unrivalled leader in the development of better breeds.  The progressive settler, with his inherent love for good livestock, soon realized, as his clearings grew into fields and his fields into farms, that the agricultural future of this great county would be pretty largely wrapped up with livestock, and so his herds and flocks were started many years ago, and from the beginning, they have held a high place in the livestock annals of the Dominion.






Heroic Men


These early settlers were heroic men.  Of them, the poet says:


“This generation ne’er can know,

The toils we had to undergo,

While laying the great forests low.”


Would that some poet would also sing the praises of the first men to import blooded stock from the home of the home of the breeds, in the days of sailing vessels which were from nine to fourteen weeks in crossing the Atlantic, and when it took $250 to carry a horse across, and the rate for a cattle beast was $150, and that for a sheep, $25.  It required men of vision and of courage, to stake their modest fortunes, for money was scarce in those days, on bringing a few pure-breds to their clearings, but they were of the stuff of which heroes are made, and to them we owe a debt of gratitude, which we shall never be able to pay.  Wellington County may well feel a sense of pride in the successes of her livestock pioneers, for many of them settled therein and sowed the seed of better stock and cultivated it so well that down through the decades, Wellington has been famous for purebred and high-grade general farm livestock.


The Ontario forests of a century ago were finally cleared and surveyed into fifty-two counties and districts with the County of Wellington comprising 652,578 acres or about 1,020 square miles, of which today there are 628,239 acres of assessed land, over 80 % of which is cleared, and this land according to the last report of the Statistics Branch is valued at $24,767,103.  Wellington farm buildings are among the best in the country, for, while the county stands thirteenth in value of land and ninth in area among the 52 counties, the buildings, valued at $18,354,966, stand seventh in the list and in value of live stock on hand the county stands sixth with $8,423,036 worth.  Moreover, in the revenue value of the livestock sold off the farms in the last year, Wellington was fifth in the list of 52 being only exceeded by the counties of Grey, Huron, Middlesex, and Simcoe, each of which is a much larger county in area.  The revenue from livestock sold from Wellington farms in the last year was $3,766,115, which speaks volumes for the quality of the stock produced and which is the big factor in maintaining the fertility of the farms and the excellence of the homes and home surroundings in the county.  One hundred years have shown rather remarkable progress in the livestock in Wellington.  From nothing to millions in a century is an achievement worthy of note.






Pioneer Stock Men


The quality of commercial livestock is directly dependent on the quality of the pure-bred seed stock available.   Wellington has been a leader in commercial livestock because she has also been a leader in the breeding of pure-breds.   The claim is made by some that the very first blooded stock to come into Canada was brought to Puslinch Township in 1833 by Rowland Wingfield, a wealthy Englishman who first came to Canada in 1831 and claimed a block of 800 acres just surveyed.  Whether or not his was actually the first importation of pure-breds into the Dominion, we cannot say definitely, but undoubtedly it was among the first, as history states that the first importations were made in the early thirties.  Mr. Wingfield’s importation of Shorthorn cattle, then called Durhams, was of great importance to the county, for it was given credit for laying the foundation for the wonderful beef herds that ever since have been famous in the district.  Along with the Shorthorns, Mr. Wingfield brought some Southdown sheep and Berkshire hogs.













The Wingfield herd was sold a few years later to John Howitt, who, through judicious breeding and careful feeding, improved it considerably, and it is recorded that at the first Provincial Exhibition, which was held in 1845, this herd captured nearly all the prizes for the breed.  The herd was sold by Mr. Howitt to F. W. Stone in 1851, and in 1854, Mr. Stone commenced to import pure-bred stock, the first consignment of which, he lost on the ocean.  From 1854 to 1875, Mr. Stone was one of the largest importers in America.  He was the first to bring Suffolk horses to Canada, and from 1860 on, for over a decade, he was the leading Hereford importer and breeder in America, and no man did more in his day to put the proper estimate upon the value of well-bred livestock.  He exhibited his stock at the big exhibitions of the time with great success, and a great measure of the reputation that Wellington County has built up for fine stock is due to his early efforts.  First, he favoured Shorthorns, but in 1860 turned to Herefords, after visiting the Royal Show at Canterbury, England.  Two famous bulls owned by Mr. Stone were Sir Charles and Sir Benjamin.  The former was sold to a United States breeder for $1,000 in gold.  Mr. Stone also brought the first Yorkshire and Berwickshire hogs to Canada.


Another early importer and breeder who did a great deal to stimulate livestock breeding in the county was the late Thomas McCrae, who became a noted breeder of Galloways, as well as of Shorthorns, Herefords and Aberdeen Angus cattle, Cotswold and Southdown sheep, and Clydesdale horses.  Mr. McCrae’s work was an important factor in laying the foundation of better stock in the district, and his son, Colonel D. McCrae carried on for many years, particularly with the Galloway herd, with which he was successful at all the major shows.






Following the start in Shorthorns made by Mr. Wingfield and carried on by Mr. Howitt and Mr. Stone, came the work of Messrs. J. and W. B. Watt, who founded a herd on their excellent farms at Salem, just above Elora, in 1861.  These men were sons of Alexander Watt, who emigrated from Aberdeenshire, Scotland to the Township of Nichol, in 1836.  They bred and showed many noted cattle.  Old-timers still recall the great “Brampton Hero” who stood at the head of their herd and was undefeated at the Provincial and other large exhibitions of his day.  They also remember “Young Abbotsburn” bred in the Watt herd, and undefeated over America for many years and champion over-all-best-animal at the World’s Fair, Chicago, in 1893.  The herds established by these two men are still going strong and one of the greatest bulls of the breed in the last 35 years was “Gainford Marquis”, imported and used in the herd of J. A. Watt, a son of W. B. Watt.  The Watt name is known and respected wherever good Shorthorns are bred.






Sheep and Horses


The Whitelaw family has for almost a century been prominent in the livestock progress of Wellington.  The late William Whitelaw Sr. came to Kingston, Canada from Berwickshire, Scotland, in 1833, and settled in the Paisley Block, in the early forties, where he became one of the leading public men and livestock breeders of his time.  His birthplace was in the home of the border Leicester and naturally, he favoured that breed.  He also was a prominent breeder of Shorthorns, and, at one time, bred a few choice Cotswold sheep.  His sons, Andrew and William are still among the leading breeders of oustanding Leicesters in America.  Some of the memorable events in the late Mr. Whitelaw’s life were his return to Scotland after almost forty years in this new country, and when he brought his first importation of Leicesters.  Many importations have come to the farm since, and they still continue to come, to the distinct advantage of Canadian livestock breeding.  Mr. Whitelaw’s first crop of wheat, a variety known as “Soles” yielded 46 bushels to the acre.  It was grown among the stumps in his first clearing and nine sheaves threshed a bushel.






Noted Horse Breeder


Perhaps the best known Clydesdale and Hackney horse breeder and importer in Wellington County’s horse history was the late Oswald Sorby.  He was a son of Walter Sorby, who came from Yorkshire, England to Puslinch in 1863.  For a time, Oswald was associated with his brother, Walter D., in breeding Clydesdales and Hackneys and they were among the largest importers and breeders of these breeds in America. Twenty and thirty years ago, no large show was complete without the Sorby entries, and these entries captured a large share of the prizes.  Many readers will still remember the wonderful performances of “Warwick Model”, and the great show and breeding records of horses such as “Lord Charming” and “Acme”.  There were many good horses in those days but these were among the best, and the Sorby stud was a real cornerstone in the foundation of Wellington’s horse breeding.






Contemporary Breeders


Working contemporaneously with the elder Watts of Salem in Shorthorn breeding of an earlier day were J. and R. Hunter of Alma.  These men bred and showed some excellent cattle and their herd was a real factor in the pure-bred field in the northern part of the county, and doubtless did much in laying the foundation of the great beef cattle industry of that district.  The Hunters were good fitters and showmen and their cattle won many prizes in this country and in the United States.


Mention should also be made of the Parkinson family in Eramosa.  Joseph Parkinson Sr. was born in 1787, in Lancashire, England.  He went to Pennsylvania in 1818 and came to Canada in 1824, settling on 1,200 acres in Eramosa Township.  His son, Joseph Jr., in 1881, brought the first purebred Shorthorns and Leicester sheep into Eramosa Township, where he successfully bred them for years.  The Parkinsons have always been known as good sheep and cattle men, and down to the present day have bred Shorthorns, Leicesters, Lincolns, and Oxford Down sheep, and have been instrumental in the distribution of better stock, not only in this county, but also over a wide field in Canada and the United States.  They have been prize winners at our leading exhibitions and have an international reputation for good sheep.


The Hood family had an important part in the history of livestock in Wellington County.  George Hood, born in Selkirk, Scotland, arrived in Guelph in 1832, with the intention of going into the milling business, but there was little grain to mill in those days and so he purchased 100 acres of land near Guelph and started farming.  One of his sons, Gideon, became a buyer, drover and cattle feeder and was famous the county over because of the fine cattle he fed, handled, and exhibited at the larger shows.  Another member of the family who took a great interest in livestock was Major George B. Hood, a son of Thomas Hood, who was born in Scotland in 1812, and who, after coming to Canada, spent 72 years on the same farm, Elderslie, near Guelph.  Major Hood was a good breeder of cattle and a recognized judge whose services were frequently utilized at the larger shows.  William Hood, son of Gideon, also was famous as a breeder of Galloway cattle.






Other Notable Breeders


Alexander Blyth came from Glasgow, Scotland to Guelph Township in 1832 and purchased a farm of 135 acres north of Guelph.  Several of his sons became noted farmers and stock breeders, chief amongst whom was the late Robert Blyth, who was one of the good breeders of Shorthorn cattle up to the time of his death in 1898.  Since that time, the select herd has been carried on successfully by his son, Colin M. Blyth, with satisfactory success in the show and sale ring.


The Amos family should also be mentioned.  They were sons of Gilbert Amos, a barrister of Hawick, Scotland and they settled in the Paisley Block in 1841.  The most noted livestock breeder in the family is George, who finally settled just outside of Wellington, in Halton.  He, with his sons, has been for many years among the most successful Shorthorn breeders of the country.


It is impossible, in one short article, to mention all those who have held a prominent place in such a big industry as the livestock business, in a county like Wellington.  Readers will pardon any slip that may have left out men historically famous for good stock in days long gone by.






Mention should be made of the Murdochs, descendents of Robert Murdoch, who was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, and came to Canada in 1839.  A son, Hugh, was afterwards a breeder of good Aberdeen Angus cattle.  The name of Ferguson has also been connected with good cattle breeding in the county, and the late George and James were among the leaders of their day, and at present, another George Ferguson breeds good cattle near Elora.  The Thompson family, in the early days, were considered among the best breeders of purebred horses and cattle.  Samuel Broadfoot came from Dumfriesshire, Scotland to Nichol in 1833, and descendents of his have bred Angus cattle among the best.


William Elliot came to Canada in 1831 from Peebles, Scotland, and a grandson of his, William R. Elliot afterwards became a breeder and feeder of Shorthorns of a high order which won many prizes in our largest shows.  Only a few years ago, J. J. Elliot, of another branch of the Elliot family, imported a $34,000 bull, Millhills Comet, this being the highest price ever paid for a bull coming to Canada, and he came to Wellington County.


The Stewarts, early settlers in the district, have been leading cattle and horse men for years, and Peter Stewart and Sons Shorthorns have been well known among the best breeders.


The Ewings have been good cattle men for many years in the northern part of the county.  The first of their family, Alexander Ewing, was born in Ireland in 1828, and emigrated to Canada as a young man and helped to survey the Township of Pilkington.


The late Joseph Wooddissee, who was born in Derbyshire, England and emigrated to the United States in 1850, finally settled in Maryborough Township in 1875 and for several years, along with his sons, Thomas, James, and Edmond, carried on one of the largest herds of Ayrshire cattle in Ontario.






The name of Arkell is famous the continent over.  Thomas Arkell came to Canada in 1831 and settled in Puslinch.  One of his sons, Henry, introduced the Oxford breed of sheep to America and later became the leading breeder and exhibitor of this breed on the continent.  Arkell Oxfords are still famous the country over.


The Cockburn family, descendents of John Cockburn, who came from Peebles, Scotland in 1834, have been good stock men in Puslinch.  They have, in the past, exhibited successfully at some of the bigger shows and John A., who now runs the business, still has some good Shorthorns and Yorkshires.


Isaac Groff, who was born in Waterloo County in 1854 and settled in Peel Township in 1876, was a successful breeder and exhibitor of Shorthorn cattle and finished steers for a number of years.  We should also mention the more recently established herds of the Aulds, Kay and Meyer, and many others, and the recent show ring success with steers from the herds of Kopas, of Elora, and Henderson, of Guelph, might be elaborated upon, but space will not permit, and we are up to the present time.






College Importations


Some mention should be made of the O.A.C and its connection with livestock.  Established in 1874, the College immediately commenced to lay the foundation for herds and flocks, and in 1876 imported the first Aberdeen Angus cattle to come to Canada.  The O.A.C. was also among the first to introduce Suffolk sheep to the country.  These importations have borne much fruit, for James Bowman, Ontario’s pioneer breeder of Angus cattle and Suffolk sheep, got his foundation stock at the college.  Mr. Bowman is the son of the late Wm. Bowman, who was born in Northumberland England in 1828.  He came to Canada in 1854, and his son James, who was born in Egremont, came to Guelph Township in 1891.  He started in Angus cattle 36 years ago, and in Suffolk sheep about 25 years ago.  Elm Park” Aberdeen Angus have stood at or near the top of the line in all of our leading shows for nearly three decades.  Mr. Bowman has been famous for his ability to breed the good ones, his winnings being made almost invariably on stock of his own breeding.  Along with Mr. John Lowe, of Elora, and the McAllisters, he is still at the head of the Angus contingent of the county.






The College also imported Devons in the early days, for Devons were then well thought of in certain parts of the country, the late George Rudd, a son of Nathaniel Rudd, and his sons, Wm. J. and Matthew, having a large herd in Eramosa Township.  George Rudd Sr. was born in Norfolk, England in 1821 and came to Canada with his parents in 1836.  The Rudd herd of Devons was exhibited with success all over Canada and at the bigger shows in the United States.  


The College has gone ahead with two breeds of heavy horses, three breeds of beef cattle, three breeds of dairy cattle, eight breeds of sheep, and three breeds of bacon hogs for a number of years, distributing surplus stock to breeders in this and other counties of the province.


Undoubtedly, the work of the Guelph Fat Stock Club, the oldest livestock club in Canada, and of the Ontario Provincial Winter Fair has had a beneficial effect upon the livestock progress of Wellington County.  Guelph has, from the beginning, been a show and selling centre for good stock and the club still holds an annual sale of pure-bred bulls each spring, while forty-three successful annual Winter Fairs have been held.  No one can estimate the stimulus this gives to local stock breeding enterprises. 








Members of Guelph Fat Stock Club About 1910



Left to right:



Top row:

Wm. Fisk, A. C. Barber, R. L. Torrance, Wm. Watson, Major G. B. Hood, James McDonald, Robert McDonald, Harry Lansing, A. W. Tyson, Albert Barber.



2nd row:

Alf. Hales, T. G. McMaster, F. W. Randall, Robert Barber, Prof. G. E. Day, James Anderson (the Laird), James McQueen, Edward Thomson, John Thompson.



Front row:

James Miller, H. C. Scholfield, J. M. Duff, C. L. Nelles, George J. Thorp, A. E. Meyer, Jas. Bowman.








The pure-bred dairy cattle industry is still young in Wellington County.  There are some good herds of Holsteins, a few good Ayrshires and individual Jerseys, but the development of the industry is just beginning.  The J. J. Fox herd of Holsteins is about the largest and best known at present, while many good breeders have smaller numbers of good cattle.  Dairying is bound to increase in the next half century and commercial herds of a high order are growing more numerous.



Commercial Stock


We have stressed the importance of the breeder of pure-bred stock.  He it was who laid the foundation for the great livestock business of Wellington County.  We should also like to be able to mention the hundreds of outstanding producers of commercial livestock, who have lived or are still living in this county.  No county in Ontario has been more famous for well-finished, stall-fed cattle, for good fat lambs and later, for select bacon hogs, than Wellington.  The value of this finished product has been the result of good breeding and careful feeding.   In keeping with the growth of cities, there is at the present time a turn toward dairying in some sections of the county, and a few more dairy herds are being established.  Undoubtedly, dairying will grow in importance in the county, but the beef and sheep foundations are solidly laid, and Wellington will likely continue as a leading beef and sheep district for years to come.


Again we say, all honour to the men who so successfully pioneered the livestock business in Wellington and even greater success to their children and their children’s children, who are faithfully carrying on.


Note: It is obvious to all that complete justice cannot be done to so large a subject in so large a county in one short article.  Doubtless, much that should have been included has been left out.  The writer asks the forbearance of the reader regarding any sins of omission.







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