Waterford Heritage & Agricultural Museum (WHAM)

WHAM – Small Museum, Big Ideas

The Honourable John Strickler Martin was born near Cheapside, Haldimand County in 1875. From an early age, Martin was fascinated by poultry and following the family’s move to a farm in Port Dover, he tended to the flock and began raising his very own chickens. Through perseverance, his drive for knowledge, and determination, Martin’s school-boy hobby transitioned into an international business garnering him considerable fame and fortune.

After graduating high school, Martin attended Normal College and acquired his teaching certificate, returning to Port Dover High School as a teacher and, in short-order, vice principle. His ambitions as both an educator and chicken breeder consumed him. Early mornings and late nights were spent between the chicken barn and his home office for lesson planning, a challenging balancing act.

Martin attempted to combine both careers by bringing eggs and hens to the backyard of the school. On two separate occasions jokesters hid his hens and overturned the coop. Incidents like these may have helped influence Martin’s early retirement – age 31 – from teaching. His focus was now fully directed towards his chickens; specifically the White Wyandotte variety.

By 1914, Martin had found great success in his breeding of White Wyandottes. International recognition and first prize awards earned him the title of the “Wyandotte King of America”. At the New York State Fair, Martin won an outstanding 36 out of 42 first place prizes. This notoriety meant that his chicken farm overlooking Silver Lake in Port Dover was seen as one of the finest and most extensive poultry farms in the world. Poultry in Norfolk County was unquestionably put on the map thanks to Martin’s overwhelming accomplishments. In fact, Martin’s Wyandottes were considered too valuable for their eggs or meat and instead coveted by breeders around the globe with his birds being sold throughout Europe, India, and South Africa.

Aside from being one of Canada’s most exceptional chicken breeders, Martin used his knowledge and means to support his community. He was a member of the Port Dover Masonic Lodge, later becoming Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Canada, chair of the Board of Trade and served as Reeve for Port Dover. At the age of 48, he entered into politics and represented Norfolk South and then Norfolk in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as a Conservative member from 1923 to 1930. His farming background earned him the important appointment of Minister of Agriculture in those same years.

John Strickler Martin sadly died in office, age 56. The Canadian Poultry Magazine wrote: “John S Martin was one of those men who give of their best in any work, which they undertake.  What he did for the farmers of Ontario in his position as minister of agriculture only those whom he worked with and for can tell.  At Guelph College he was beloved by the staff and pupils, among the farming community, even as among the Fancy, his friends were legion, drawn to him by his sincerity, his thoroughness, his generosity and his kindness of manner.  He was indeed full of the milk of human kindness.”