Noble Villeneuve was a man of his people – one built on principles gathered through a lifetime in the region, and not crippled by the cruelty of politics. He was the last of a breed of politicians that truly worked for his constituents, rather than getting by on cheapshots at his Queen’s Park counterparts. Countless stories have been told about Villeneuve in the days following his death last week, so here’s another, and it’s one that will never be forgotten by staff reporter Tom Schoch and his family.
It was December of 1988 and time was becoming an issue. I was nine years old and my family was scrambling to rebuild after a devastating fire in September destroyed our barn, all of our dry feed, and reduced a silo to a smouldering pile of rubble. Through the amazing hard work of neighbours, friends and local builders, we had managed to construct a brand new, state-of-the-art barn in little more than two months. An astonishing feat and wonderful example of what community truly means.
During construction, we had moved what remained of our herd to a farm on Forward Road, but it was a very short-term solution and not a facility that would sustain our operation through the winter.
The new barn was ready, but my parents had hit a major stumbling block: we couldn’t get power to the new building. My parents had been in conversation with Ontario Hydro for weeks in a futile attempt to connect the new building to the existing hydro pole on our property. My parents were told that they needed to install a new pole as regulations had changed. However, they were not a priority and the crews would get to the job when they could.
My mother, ever the stubborn and determined woman, went to the Hydro office and demanded to speak with someone in charge after weeks of futile arguments and phone calls. When she was finally afforded a face-to-face meeting, they reiterated their stance and told her that they would not replace the pole until the spring since winter had started to set in. Despite having a new barn ready to go, my family would be without power until the following year and be forced to spend the winter in our temporary barn. This was not something that our operation would survive.
With no other options, my mother decided to call our MPP Noble Villeneuve as a last resort to plead her case. She reached the Villeneuve household and laid out the story to his wife, Elaine, as Noble was in Toronto on business. Mrs. Villeneuve reassured my mother that she would call Noble in Toronto immediately and that someone would get back to her as soon as possible. It was a Thursday night and my parents had played their last card.
The next morning, my parents were surprised to receive a phone call from Noble himself. He was leaving Toronto and he gave his word to my parents that they would have power within days. He would personally see to it.
Buoyed by the phone call, my parents had a glimmer of hope. But would a politician really do as Noble had promised? Was my family really that much of a priority?
That evening, as my parents discussed what real options they had left in a worst-case scenario, they were shocked to see a convoy of Ontario Hydro trucks turn into the laneway. At the end of the column was Noble Villeneuve. They headed straight for the barn and the hydro pole in question.
Presumably he had gone to the Hydro office, said a few words and forced a crew back on the road, late on a Friday evening. Mr. Villeneuve stayed for the entire operation and walked with the crew to make sure that the job was done right. When the old pole was reconnected and all the systems tested in the barn, the crews packed up and headed home. Noble was the very last to leave.
It’s hard to imagine in today’s political climate that a politician would go to such lengths to help a farming family in a rural town. But if you knew Noble, it wasn’t much of a stretch.
He was an excellent public servant, a voice for farmers and a man who diligently represented this community with pride and honour.
To my family he was much more than that; he was a noble neighbour and a man of his word.