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Description found in Archives

Eugene F. Whelan fonds [textual record]. 


1956, 1960-1996

Place of creation


169.9 m of textual records.

Scope and content

Fonds consists of records created by Whelan during his years as Minister of Agriculture, 1972-1979 and 1980-1984. There are also records preceding these detailing his years as an MP for Essex, from 1962 onwards, as well as records documenting his years as a Senator, from 1996 to 1999.

Textual record Finding aid is a file list. MSS2469 1 0 (Electronic)

Biography / Administrative history

Eugene Francis Whelan, ("Gene" Whelan) , was born 11 July 1924 near Amherstburg, Ontario. Descended of Irish settlers, he continued the family tradition of farming.

His first public service was as member of the School Board of Anderson Township, Ontario; he was later elected Reeve for the same district.

He was first elected to the House of Commons in the riding of Essex, as a Liberal, in the General Federal Election of 18 June 1962. He won every in every following Federal election which he contested (1963, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979 and 1980), holding the Essex seat from 1962 to 1984.

In the House of Commons, Whelan held a number of offices before, and in addition to, Minister of Agriculture. In 1968-1968, he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance; in 1969-1970 he served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries. He also served on the following committees over his lengthy career in the House of Commons: Standing Committee on Fisheries and Forestry (1968-1972); Standing Committee on Transportation and Communications (1979); and Standing Committee on Agriculture (1979).

His primary distinction in the House was, of course, as Minister of Agriculture, a post which he held from 1972 to 1984, except for the brief Clark interregnum (5 May 1979 - 14 December 1979).

In 1984, when Pierre Eliot Trudeau resigned as head of the Liberal Party, Whelan contested the Party leadership. His campaign was unsuccessful.

Trudeau, before dissolving the House, had appointed Whelan as Canadian Ambassador to the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. Brian Mulroney, running as Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in the General Federal Election of 1984, angered by this appointment, promised to rescind it, should he be elected. He was – he did.

In 1987, for his meritorious service to the people of Canada, Whelan was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

In 1996 Whelan was named to the Senate by the Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. He swerved in the Upper House until the age of 75, resigning on 18 September 1999. While a Senator, he served as a member on the following Senate committees: Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs (1996-1997); Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry (1996-1997); Subcommittee of Boreal Forests of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry (1997-1999); Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (1997-1999); Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs (1997-1999); and the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry (1997-1999). He served as Vice-Chairman of the latter-named committee in the period 1997-1999.

Gene Whelan grew into a prominent political figure during the classically Trudeau years of Canadian politics. He was well-known for his unique sartorial embellishment – a green Stetson, which he wore everywhere throughout his 12 and-a-bit years as Minister of Agriculture. He was generally a man very direct and plain-spoken, a characteristic which endeared him to many, and occasionally led to piquant public moments with other politicians and officials. A populist, he believed in everyman, respected everyman, and saw political service as nigh unto a divine calling to do as much good for others as possible. During his last tenure of the office of Minister of Agriculture, Whelan became good friends with Aleksandr Iakovlev (Yakovlev), the USSR's Ambassador to Canada. Both men were ardent agriculturalists ( Iakovlev recognized that agriculture in the Soviet Union was its achilles' heel, and was rapturous about Canadian agricultural ways). When Mikhail Gorbachev, then Soviet Minister of Agriculture, came to Canada in 1983, it was natural for Iakovlev to connect Gorbachev with Whelan. Thus began the three-week odyssey across Canada for Iakovlev and Gorbachev, accompanied fully by Gene Whelan. At the end of that tour, the Whelans hosted a farewell reception for Gorbachev at their Amherstburg home. It was at this reception, in the evening of 19 May 1983, that Iakovlev and Gorbachev took a private wee walk into a corner of the Whelans' back yard, had an earnest discussion, and resolved that the old ways in the USSR had to end. According to Iakovlev's own words, this is where perestroika was born – a full 80% of its features were covered in that brief time in Gene Whelan's back yard.

He as made Honorary Colonel of the 21st (Windsor) Service Battalion.


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