Whelan Remembered


By Joel Charron, Ron Giofu, Aaron Jahn and Emily DiCarlo


The Hon. Eugene F. Whelan led a colourful and distinguished career in public service both municipally and federally.

Born July 11, 1924 to parents Charles and Frances Whelan in Anderdon Township (now Amherstburg), he married wife Elizabeth in 1960.

Whelan, fondly known as “The Senator” to many, was a proud Canadian, deeply devoted to his country and fellow citizens. He served on the local Separate School Board at the age of 21, moved on to Township Council and the Essex County road committee in the 1950s, was Reeve of Anderdon Township and was elected as Warden of Essex County in 1962.  He also held a number of positions including Director and President of the Harrow Farmers Co-op, Director of the United Co-operatives of Ontario, the Co-operators Insurance Co. and the Ontario Winter Wheat Producers Marketing Board. He was also President of the Essex County branch, and Board Member of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

The Liberal icon was first elected as a Member of Parliament June 18, 1962 for the riding of Essex South, defeating Progressive Conservative incumbent Richard Thrasher. Whelan would be re-elected seven more times including 1963 (Essex South), 1965 (Essex South), 1968 (Essex), 1972 (Essex-Windsor), 1974 (Essex-Windsor), 1979 (Essex-Windsor) and 1980 (Essex-Windsor).

Whelan, a farmer by trade, served as the federal Minister of Agriculture under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau from 1972-79 and again from 1980-84.

As Minister he was instrumental in the creation of numerous programs in support of the growth of primary production and agribusiness in Canada, and especially supply  management. In addition to his work for Canadians, Eugene was active internationally through the World Food Program, was President of the World Food Council, and led the Canadian Delegations to the United Nations Pledging Conference in New York for five years. He hosted important international conferences in Canada and represented the Canadian government on numerous bi-lateral missions around the world. He led the way to normalization of relations with China by taking a delegation on agricultural cooperation there.


Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien consoles Elizabeth Whelan as her husband of over 50 years Senator Eugene Whelan is laid to rest Saturday morning.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien consoles Elizabeth Whelan as her husband of over 50 years Senator Eugene Whelan is laid to rest Saturday morning.

He also served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries in 1968-69 and as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Forestry in 1969-70.

As an MP, Whelan was no stranger to committee work having served on the Special Committee on Food and Drugs (1963-65), Standing Committee on Agriculture (1970-72 and again in 1979), Standing Committee on Agriculture and Colonization (1962-65), Standing Committee on Banking and Commerce (1963-65), Standing Committee on Estimates (1963-65), Standing Committee on Finance, Trade and Economic Affairs (1965), Standing Committee on Fisheries and Forestry (1968-72), Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development (1972), Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs (1966-67), Standing Committee on Labour, Manpower and Immigration (1969-70), Standing Committee on Marine and Fisheries (1963-65), Standing Committee on Mines, Forests and Waters (1964-65), Standing Committee on Miscellaneous Private Bills (1965-67), Standing Committee on Public Accounts (1963-1965) and the Standing Committee on Transport and Communications (1972 and 1979).

He chaired the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development in 1966-68.

Whelan also served on several joint committees including the Special Joint Committee on Consumer Credit and Cost of Living (1966-67), Standing Joint Committee on Printing (1962-63) and the Standing Joint Committee on the Restaurant of Parliament (1964-68).

While in cabinet, he also served on such committees as Legislation and House Planning (1980-84), Western Affairs (1980-84), Foreign and Defence Policy (1980-84), Economic Development (1980-82) and Economic and Regional Development (1982-84).

His bid to succeed Trudeau as Liberal leader failed in 1984.

In 1996, Prime Minister Jean Chretien appointed Whelan to the Senate, from where the latter retired on his

Hon. Eugene Whelan at the Remembrance Day  ceremony in 2011 in King’s Navy Yard Park.

Hon. Eugene Whelan at the Remembrance Day
ceremony in 2011 in King’s Navy Yard Park.

75th birthday in 1999. While in the Senate, Whelan was vice-chair of the Standing Committee of Agriculture and Forestry (1997-1999) and a member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry (1996-1999), Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs (1996-99), Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (1997-99) and the Subcommittee on Boreal Forest of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry (1997-99).

Whelan also served as president of the United Nations World Food Council from 1983-85 and was appointed Canadian ambassador to the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome.

He received the prestigious Freedom Award in 1986 from The Windsor/Detroit International Freedom Festival for his outstanding contributions to the cause of freedom and peace and was also the recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal. Senator Whelan was inducted into the Canadian, Ontario and Essex County Agriculture Hall of Fame.

In 1987, Whelan was awarded the honour of being an Officer of the Order of Canada and was invested into the Order of Canada in May 1988.

“During his many years as Minister of Agriculture, “The Great Canadian Farmer” turned Canada into a country known the world over for the efficient production of top-quality food. As former President of the World Food Council and more recently as a businessman, he had devoted himself to the cause of worldwide hunger through long-term agricultural improvement in developing countries, his biography reads on the Governor General’s website.

The many honours Whelan achieved in his 88 years included being named an Honorary Colonel in the 21st (Windsor) Service Battalion. He was also made an honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Windsor in 1983.

Whelan also helped broker “perestroika” in the former Soviet Union in 1983. After touring Canada with then Soviet Minister of Agriculture Mikhail Gorbachev, the Whelan family hosted a farewell reception for Gorbachev and Soviet Ambassador Aleksandr Yakovlev at their Amherstburg home. Discussions in the backyard of Whelan’s home during that reception helped provide the foundation for what became the historic “perestroika” political reform movement.

He also authored a book, “Whelan: The Man in the Green Stetson,” with co-author Rick Archbold in 1986.


Senator Eugene Whelan with wife Liz.

Senator Eugene Whelan with wife Liz.

Whelan was the father of three daughters, one of whom followed in her father’s footsteps to Ottawa. Susan Whelan served as the area’s MP from 1993-2004 (Essex-Windsor 1993-96 and Essex 1996-04) and served as Minister for International Cooperation in the Chretien Liberal government from 2002-03.

Among Whelan’s many accomplishments, some of those of which he was most proud include a number of local projects and initiatives. In the early 1980’s, along with his Cabinet colleagues, the Right Honourable Herb Gray and the Honourable Mark MacGuigan, Gene played an important role in preventing the downfall of the Chrysler Corporation and also made new investments by Ford possible with help from the federal government.

He was also able to help with numerous community projects, and was very proud of Amherstburg’s King’s Navy Yard Park and the K. Walter Ranta Marina as well as the Belle River Marina, to name just a few.

But perhaps what Whelan was most proud of was the fact that he was able to help literally thousands of individual constituents with issues of all sorts affecting them and their families.

Kathryn Levack describes a time many years ago when her late husband was laid off for a short time, and could not collect unemployment insurance.

The company he worked for consistently failed to send him the correct paperwork. Dedicated voters of Whelan, they decided to call him for assistance. Whelan made numerous phone calls, and within the week, they received the money that was owed to them.

Levack remains grateful to Whelan.

“Eugene Whelan cared about the everyday voters,” said Levack. “He knew many of them personally and was always willing to help people solve problems.”

Mayor Wayne Hurst said Whelan has had a “very distinguished career.”

“He represented not only the town of Amherstburg but the entire nation with class,” said Hurst. “He will most

A monument sits in King’s Navy Yard Park honoring the Hon. Eugene Whelan for his many contributions, enhancements and developments of Amherstburg.

A monument sits in King’s Navy Yard Park honoring the Hon. Eugene Whelan for his many contributions, enhancements and developments of Amherstburg.

certainly be missed.”

Hurst recalls the first time he was able to vote, he voted for Whelan.

“I was just a young lad in the Navy when I voted for Mr. Whelan,” he said. “Being from Amherstburg and his reputation amongst the people it was a smart vote.”

Hurst said he admired Whelan for having the ability “to speak for what he believed in.”

“He did a lot of good work for the farming community,” said Hurst. “He has made significant contributions and I believe over the years people will look back and see what he has contributed during his stay on this earth and be very grateful and appreciative of what he accomplished.”

Essex-MPP Taras Natyshak said Whelan was an “iconic figure.”

“You couldn’t help but be enthralled, as I was, every time you got a chance to speak with Eugene,” said Natyshak. “He has been at the fore front of so many important milestones in Canadian political history.

Natyshak said Whelan was a very personable figure, who was always “very generous with his time.”

“The ease at which he made you feel made you feel part of the process,” said Natyshak. “I marvel at the career he had. Eugene was old school. He occupied office when there was no internet or conference calls. He got things done on his word and a firm handshake.”

MP-Essex Jeff Watson said Whelan’s passing is “seismic” for the community. He mentioned that Whelan’s life, from humble beginnings to the international political stage should serve as an inspiration to everyone.

“He made tremendous contributions to our country and did a lot of work particularly on behalf of our farmers and he never lost his sense of being from a rural community,” said Watson.

Watson said through his years as an elected MP the two would see each other at events and Whelan would share a number of stories and some advice to the young MP.

“When I first started out he would share with me what politics was like and would always give me sound advice,” said Watson. “I always found him to be very warming. I certainly appreciated him and his family.”

MPP-Windsor West Teresa Piruzza said Whelan’s “list of accomplishments are one to be marveled.”

“Senator Whelan will always be remembered as a gentleman, advocate and friend to all Canadians. Seldom in political life can one bring about change to fundamentally reform and improve the lives of Canadians,” said Piruzza.


Former Amherstburg CAO Tom Kilgallin and Hon. Eugene Whelan have an afternoon chat in downtown Amherstburg in 2010.

Former Amherstburg CAO Tom Kilgallin and Hon. Eugene Whelan have an afternoon chat in downtown Amherstburg in 2010.

Whelan’s life was celebrated Saturday by former colleagues and friends, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien and fellow Windsor area Minister Herb Gray along with former members of his staff, friends and his three daughters Terry, Cathy, and Susan Whelan.

Chretien spoke fondly of his friend and former roommate in Ottawa, saying that he led a fulfilled life and was a great servant to his constituents and the country during his tenure as MP, Minister of Agriculture and Senator.

“I think that he was a great Canadian, a fabulous minister, extremely colourful, and a very, very good friend of mine,” said Chretien.  “He was elected in 1962, I arrived in ’63, he retired in 2000 and all that time I was a colleague with him, and he was a friend.  I’m sad, but he had a very good life and served the people of this area very well and Canada very well.”

“After that he was in the Senate and he was always there to give me good, grassroots, down to Earth advice.  He was not a big shot. He didn’t like the big shots very much.”

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Minister Diane Finley who was present to represent prime Minister Stephen Harper, said while she never had the pleasure of meeting the Senator, her rural roots gave her an appreciation of his work.

“Senator Whelan was obviously dedicated to his country, he was Agriculture Minister, for I believe longer than anyone else, being from an agricultural community I can really appreciate that.”

NDP Member of Parliament Joe Comartin remembered Whelan best during his first years in Parliament and said even until recently, Whelan would give him his thoughts on important issues.

“He was a man that just dominated the county ridings while I was growing up.  It’s the passing of an era really with his passing,” said Comartin.   “We don’t have politicians like him anymore and that’s a loss for our community here in Windsor-Essex County and for our country as a whole. “

University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman recounted how Canadian Scientists named a calf after Whelan when he was Agriculture Minister after making a breakthrough in predicting the sex of a calf prior to its birth.

“Eugene Whelan was Minister in Agriculture in Canada at a time when Canadian scientists achieved one of the firsts in the world, which was to use a test to determine the sex of a calf before it was born and to actually have a calf born of a predetermined sex,” Wildeman recalled.  “It was born on Christmas day, because Eugene Whelan was minister at the time, it was named Eugenia Carol.  He saw it and he was very proud of it.”

Whelan was escorted out of St. John the Baptist by an honour guard comprised of RCMP officers, Members of the Windsor Regiment, and the Knights of Columbus before being laid to rest.


SOURCES: Parliament of Canada website





County of Essex website

One response to “Whelan Remembered”

  1. Nicholas E. Hollis says:

    In addition to his Canadian stature, Gene Whelan had an important leadership role internationally. I first met him while he was serving as the president of the UN World Food Council- a ministerial body created after the 1974 World Food Summit in Rome- which sought to advance more policy/program coordination within the UN agencies concerned with agriculture/food security issues. In 1984 I was privileged to begin working with Gene on the Ethiopian famine crisis (He was Canada’s Minister of Agriculture at the time)- and later he became an active participant and a leader within an international non-governmental organization which I was managing with the late US Senator Jennings Randolph (D-WV)- a legendary American humanitarian. The group called the Agri-Energy Roundtable (AER) forged a unique dialogue between the food surplus and energy surplus nations, their private sectors and international agency leaders, and later gained United Nations recognition. Gene participated in and presided at numerous AER conferences and rose to become vice chairman, communicating with other famous leaders and former heads of state, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former UK prime minister James Callaghan among others. In 1996 we teamed up again at the FAO World Food Summit in Rome. In 2003 I was a guest on his radio show (Agriculture Hour). On behalf of the AER and his many worldwide friends who remember his service and sacrifices, we bid him a sad farewell. We were privileged to have known him, benefitted from his wisdom and great sense of humor. Rest in Peace Gene – you will be sorely missed.

    Nicholas E. Hollis
    Agri-Energy Roundtable (AER)