A Blyth native who became something of a celebrity across the province died Jan. 30, 1974 in Kitchener. A. H. Wilford, who was born in Blyth on March 16, 1887 and became known as the Rutabaga King, died in the Sunnyside Home, Kitchener.
Mr. Wilford spent nearly his entire life promoting something or other. In the early 1950s he promoted a trade fair in the Blyth arena that attracted exhibitors and viewers from far and wide.
He also became involved with promoting turnips (rutabagas) while in Blyth and carried the promotion on elsewhere to the point he gained the nickname “Rutabaga King”. On the birth of Justin Trudeau, Mr. Wilford, who was promoting for the chinchilla growers at the time, sent a chinchilla skin to the Prime Minister and his wife for the baby.
He said in a 1969 interview that he ran away from school at 13 and never went back. He tried farming and at 19 bought a warehouse at Wingham and packaged butter and cheese for shipment.
He later took a job consolidating small creameries into a large marketing pool for the Saskatchewan government and then went on to organize the Ontario Egg Pool.
In the early 1930s, Mr. Wilford went into publishing when he purchased Trade and Transportation, a Toronto magazine. He ran it full-time for 10 years and occasionally published an issue until he was into his 80s.
At one time, he said he once promoted Durham county turnips so well their price rose from 25 cents to $1.25 a bushel. He travelled through the United States with his car packed with bushels of turnips and made ceremonious presentations to mayors and governors.
He called his turnips “Rutabaga – the concentrated sunshine from Ontario.”
While rutabaga is a Swedish turnip and doesn’t grow in Durham County, Mr. Wilford said the name was interesting so he used it and it earned him, the title, King of the Rutabagas.
He lived in Toronto for many years and was official welcomer at Timothy Eaton United Church. His wife died in 1966 and he moved to London, Ont. and then to Kitchener and began doing a television show promoting “Canadian products for Canadian people” on CKCO-TV, Channel 13.
He started Canada House, a one-man organization promoting Canadian commercial goods. He acted as a goodwill ambassador for Fairview Park shopping centre and once played Santa Claus for the mall for a week when the regular Santa didn’t show up.
He started a photo-marketorium in Kitchener and Toronto in 1969 to help small Canadian manufacturers get in touch with foreign trade delegations. He believed photographs were the only way small manufacturers could make contact to export their goods.
He never stopped promoting. Once when the Queen visited London, Ont., Mr. Wilford made his way through security by saying he was from Canada House and he had a presentation to make to the Queen. He walked right up to the Queen and presented her with a rutabaga.
Stan Young, administrator of Sunnyside Home, called Mr. Wilford the home’s ambassador. Whenever visitors came to the home, Mr. Wilford would meet them at the front door, show them a “warm, friendly welcome” and offer to take them on a tour.
He also arranged for choirs and slide presentations for residents and promoted residents’ bus trips to other homes in Ontario by telephoning the news media and the police chief to arrange a “police escort” for the bus.
Funeral services were held Friday, Kitchener with burial in Wingham. He was the last surviving member of his family.
Reprinted from The Blyth Standard February 6, 1974.
‘Rutabaga King’ dies in Kitchener