Potato King Sign Unveil November 12th, 2021 in front of the Train Museum on Railway Street

Article courtesy of Debbie Morin and the Cochrane Times Post

Last Updated November 15th, 2021

Local farmers honoured for potato past

Bud the spud had nothing on two local farmers in the 1950s when they were awarded Champion Potato Growers at the Royal Winter Fair.

Growing potatoes has been a long history in the community and last week, the accomplishments of Gabriel Kolomeitz and David Hackett were commemorated with plaque at the train museum.

In 1917, the north was opening up with the help of various government funding plans and local board of trade organizations.

In Cochrane, the Board of Trade was advertising an agreement with local farmers. The participants would receive so many free bags of seed potatoes which were donated from the Patriotic Fund if they agreed to plant, cultivate, harvest and deliver half of the crop resulting from their growth. The Board of Trade was to sell the potatoes and put the proceeds towards patriotic purposes.

In town, there were several lots secured for public use to grow potatoes.

How many people took up the cause isn’t really known but, potatoes continued to be grown in Cochrane and by 1941 the Ontario government noted that Cochrane was regarded as one of the leading potato producers in the province.

In 1940, the Hackett farm produced 562 bushels while George Hackett set an objective of 800 bushels to the acre for 1941.
According to Alice Marwick’s Northland Post, however, it wasn’t all bright. “Little progress was made, either in clearing the land, or in the production of crops, discouraged and disgusted, too many settlers continued to leave their lots and seek easier tasks and milder climate.”

In 1944, a regional conference saw over one hundred farmer from the region join to discuss their problems which included that “imported potatoes were blocking the sales of local ones.”

In the late 1940’s dozens of Dutch families had moved into the Cochrane area with land settlement applications. With government intervention, by 1949 over 5000 acres of land had been cleared and 4,300 acres was plowed in the Cochrane district.

But crops were reliant on the weather and many years bushels of potatoes didn’t survive because of early frost or rain.

Two local farmers who spend countless hours in the fields planting and harvest potatoes were awarded for their efforts.

Gabriel Kolomeitz received a gold watch for his Irish Cobbler in 1953 at the Royal Winter Fair. He was the guest of honour at a dinner where he was presented the American Potash Institute Trophy.

The following year, David Hackett won a sterling silver platter for his achievement in the 1954 Royal Winter Fair.

Hackett went on to receive other honours for his contributions to agriculture with his potatoes winning prizes at various fairs. He also worked as a potato inspector through New Liskeard.

Bill Heavener believed that these accomplishments should be recognized and he has been working tirelessly to get some sort of commemoration done for the gentlemen and his determination paid off when the Town put up a plaque in their honour.

Jack Mann told those in attendance that farming in those days was not like today, most of the work was down by hard work with the use of horses.

At the unveiling Mayor Denis Clement said “I want to thank everyone for coming today. This was the brainchild of Bill Heavener. We had to do this, it is our history. If we don’t know where we have been how do we get to where we are going. This is very important. The Kolomeitz family and the Hackett family need to be recognized. It is important for the community. It is a farming community, it is a railway community, it is a logging community and we can’t lose sight of the agriculture that has been going on for a hundred years. These pioneers certainly deserve this. It is a small token but at least it is here. As people walk by hopefully they will notice.”

Heavener also wanted to thank two other individuals: Elaine Kolomeitz and Valerie Chapleau for their work on the “One potato – two potato” program with the schools prior to COVID. He noted that their contribution to teaching the next generation about farming was invaluable.

“Children will soon find out that a potato is round and brown and and it doesn’t just come in a potato chip bag.”
Elaine Kolomeitz accepted the praise noting “I can’t wait to get back with the kids.”

Heavener wanted to thank Mayor Clement and Jason Boyer, Director of Community Services for their assistance with the project.

Representatives from both families were on hand for the event.

Wendy Hackett-Lamarche said she was surprised but grateful for the honour, as did Elaine Kolomeitz.

Phillip and Elaine Kolomeitz now lives on the farm where his father’s winning potatoes were grown.