Provincial Junior Farmers' mascot Gordie the bear reunited with his creator
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Gordie, the unofficial teddy bear mascot of the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario, was reunited with his creator on Tuesday, as Jean Bennett, from just south of Bayfield, met with the 80th President of the provincial organization in Seaforth to check in on her nearly-20-year-old stuffed creation.
In late March, Auburn’s Jolande Oudshoorn was elected president of the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario, becoming just the third Huron County resident to lead the provincial organization. She was pictured in both The Citizen and The Rural Voice accepting Gordie the bear from Past-President Jamie Schultz of Renfrew County. In recent years, the bear has become a vehicle for the safekeeping of the historical president’s pin, which dates back generations.
Then, the office of North Huron Publishing received a call.
Jean Bennett, from the Bayfield area, had seen the story in The Rural Voice and told the staff at the office that she was the person who had made the bear many years ago. She was hoping to meet Oudshoorn and have the first face-to-face she’d had with the bear in nearly 20 years.
Then, last Tuesday, Oudshoorn, Bennett, Citizen Editor Shawn Loughlin and Gordie all met at Cafe Darling in Seaforth to reminisce and do a bit of a historical deep dive.
Bennett, who says she’ll soon be turning 91 years old, couldn’t believe her eyes when she opened the pages of The Rural Voice to see the bear she created as part of a fundraiser for the Junior Farmers of Ontario all those years ago.
Bennett has made close to 50 bears over the years, for everything from church fundraisers to family reunions. However, the bear she created for the Junior Farmers in the early 2000s is one that has remained close to her heart. First off, it’s bigger than most of the other bears she has created over the years. Second, she and her late husband Art had a long and storied history with agriculture in Ontario and the Junior Farmers. Art passed away last year and was a leader in Ontario agriculture. He was elected to the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2013, nominated by the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario for his work in leadership training and development, as well as farm management training. In addition, he served as the secretary and treasurer of the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario and, for nearly a decade, he ran the group’s leadership camp.
So, when the provincial organization held its 60th annual general meeting, with an auction to go with it, Jean made a bear to be auctioned off that night. The winning bid was $350 in 2004 and the winning bidder was Allan Orr, the brother of the late Gordon Orr, who was the first-ever president of the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario. Bennett said Allan bought the bear, adorned with a smart red tie and a 2004-dated vest, out of appreciation for his brother and wrote a cheque that night for $400 for the organization.
Two years later, however, the bear made its way back to the organization. Soon enough, Gordie the bear (so named by Past-President Kurtis Smith), was made the official keeper of the president’s pin. In speaking with The Citizen that day, Oudshoorn said the need to keep the pin was essential, as it had survived an encounter with a snowplow (making its way through the machine) and had been lost over the years in more than one move. As a result, Gordie was employed to keep the pin safe and was to be passed from provincial president to president.
Bennett’s story dates back to 1817 when her ancestors came to Canada from England. They made a life for themselves for years in the Halton region. There, she met Art and they were married. They lived and farmed in that area for nearly 30 years before eventually retiring and seeking out a new home, which is when they found a home just south of Bayfield. They worked at renovating the home for over a decade, getting it up to snuff. Then, one day, all these years later, Bennett was reading her monthly issue of The Rural Voice when she saw a picture of the bear she had created to raise money for the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario nearly 20 years earlier. She saw it and knew she had to get in touch with Oudshoorn, the keeper of the bear.
Bennett said she thought Gordie’s tie looked a bit weathered, but that, otherwise, he looked like he was in pretty good shape.
Oudshoorn, for her part, said she was both surprised and intrigued when someone from North Huron Publishing reached out to her, saying the person who claimed she had made Gordie the bear had been in touch. She quickly contacted Bennett, who first began making stuffed bears to raise money at local church bazaars, and the meeting was set.
When Bennett knew she would be reunited with her stuffed creation, after reading about its importance to the organization in recent years, she thought it was “just wonderful” and was eager to learn more.
As for Oudshoorn, she wanted to meet with Bennett and learn more before sharing the story of Gordie the bear far and wide, and she said it was pretty amazing to be connected with the person who had created the bear and to hear Bennett’s story so many years later.