OUTSTANDING: Vaughan farmer Paul Ekstein has exhibited his cattle at the Royal Winter Fair for about five decades. He was honoured with a spot in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame this year. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

Farmer plows on in Woodbridge

74-year-old honoured for agricultural achievements

OUTSTANDING: Vaughan farmer Paul Ekstein has exhibited his cattle at the Royal Winter Fair for about five decades. He was honoured with a spot in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame this year. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)
OUTSTANDING: Vaughan farmer Paul Ekstein has exhibited his cattle at the Royal Winter Fair for about five decades. He was honoured with a spot in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame this year. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

Paul Ekstein is one of a dwindling breed in Vaughan.

At 74 years young, the farmer and cattleman still grows his crops and raises his Holsteins, even as the urban jungle sprouts up around his Woodbridge farm at a blazing pace.

“I’m too old to move,” Ekstein says with a laugh.

Besides, he says, he loves his job running Quality Farms on Huntington Rd. too much to give it up.

“It’s an eight day a week job because you’re with livestock,” Ekstein says. “You can’t say: ‘We’re going to lock the key Friday night. We’ll see you Monday morning.’

“They got to be fed and looked after every day. But if you love the business, it’s a pleasure.”

Ekstein came to Canada with his family in 1939. In Czechoslovakia, where he was born, his father was a livestock dealer with an export business that saw cattle moved to many countries.

But dark days intervened.

“Hitler chased us out,” Ekstein says. “I was just three years old.

“We were allowed to come to Canada under one condition: that we had to stay on the farm, everybody, for five years. But it was no problem for us because we were used to farming anyway.”

Over the years, Ekstein built his agricultural business by first founding Quality Seeds, then moving on to cattle. Without a facility of his own, he kept his animals with Gerald Livingston, a friend and fellow Woodbridge farmer with land on Hwy. 7. The arrangement lasted 20 years, Ekstein says.

“I had a bull that did awful well selling semen and he made enough revenue that I could go ahead and build a new facility (in 1979),” he says. “He was an impressive bull.”

Today Eckstein’s operation includes two farms totalling 160 acres in the Hwy. 50 and Langstaff Rd. area, one of the last pockets of farmland in the rapidly growing city.

Despite the challenge to his way of life, Ekstein says urban encroachment hasn’t been all bad.

“The city has to grow somewhere and the land near us is and was bought by developers,” he says. “(Farmers) did get good money for their farms.”

Many of those farmers remained in the business, he says.

“It allowed them to go either north or east or somewhere else, buy a nice property and put up some nice buildings and maybe have a little money in the bank and have it a little easier for themselves.”

Still, some like Ekstein are holding on. According to figures in the 2006 census, only 1,175 of Vaughan’s total labour force of more than 130,000 worked in agriculture or other resource-based industries.

Ekstein’s son Ari followed his father into agriculture and now heads Quality Seeds, which has become a major supplier to the forage, lawn and turf markets.

After a lifetime of working the land and raising cattle, Ekstein was honoured by his peers and inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame at a weekend ceremony during this year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

“It was a proud moment,” he says. “I was lucky: they thought I was the right person.

“It’s a big honour and I’m humbled to be in it.”

Ekstein has been attending the Royal for “more or less” 55 years, he says, and has had his Holsteins compete against the best and win several awards, including two Grand Champion titles in the ’90s.

“This is like a beauty contest,” he says. “I’m not going to maybe have my best year, but I’ve been here so long, it’s a way of life and it gets in your blood, so you come anyway. But I’ll do ok.”

The 86th Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is on until Sunday. Doors are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information, including ticket prices and event schedules, visit www.royalfair.org.

“It’s a big deal,” Ekstein says. “This is the end and the highlight of the show season. This is the big one.”

Vaughan Today
In print: November 14, 2008, page 5
Online: November 14, 2008
Byline: Philip Alves
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