Lorne Charles Henderson was born in Enniskillen Township, the youngest of three children born to David and Elizabeth (Robinson) Henderson. When Lorne was a month old, his parents moved the family to Lot 8, Concession 5, Enniskillen, the farm on which he grew up, farmed, and where the Henderson family continues to reside today.
Lorne began farming on his own account during the dark days of the Great Depression and got his start in the fall of 1937 when he entered a share-crop agreement with the owner of a farm on the 8th Concession.
He once recounted that his income from the first year of that venture was $50 and two loads of hay. The following year he fared a little better with the take being $100.
In 1939 Lorne began farming at Lot 6, Concession 5 Enniskillen, which belonged to his uncle, Arthur Henderson. Farming was a little better that year and he often recalled that 1940 brought bumper crops of wheat and oats that carried harvesting into Christmas.
Among the many to have made their mark on agricultural and the rural communities of Lambton County, few have left a more indelible imprint than the Hon. Lorne C. Henderson.
With a long and distinguished career of public service at both the local and provincial levels, Lorne was the consummate grassroots politician.
He was known for having the unique ability to set aside partisan political differences to work in the best interest of all his constituents and for the benefit of all farmers across the province.
In January 1946, Lorne was first elected as a councillor on Enniskillen Council and served in that capacity until 1950 when he was elected Deputy Reeve. In 1952 he was elected Reeve and in 1957, Warden of Lambton County. While best known for his role as the long-time MPP for the provincial riding of Lambton and his time as Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, Lorne was first and foremost a farmer and remained in this vocation his entire life. All who knew him could attest that he loved people, loved his province and certainly held a special affection for Lambton County.
In the summer of 1963, Lorne was encouraged to seek the nomination for the Conservative party in that fall’s provincial election. On Sept. 25, 1963 he was elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote. He was returned to that office in the elections of 1967, 1971, 1975, 1977 and 1981, increasing his majority of the vote each time. In all Lorne served 23 years as the MPP for Lambton.
In 1979 Premier William Davis gave him the job of his dreams when he appointed him Minister of Agriculture and Food. However, it really couldn’t have been a worse time to be Minister of Agriculture.
With interest rates at the time eclipsing 20 per cent and commodity prices in a slump, there was a flurry of farm bankruptcies and the Minister of Agriculture
received most of the heat.
David Henderson recalled: “Pig and cattle farmers were going broke by the handful and every morning there were calls for father’s resignation from the floor of the legislature,” he said. “They were difficult times for everyone.”
Nevertheless, Lorne was re-elected in 1981 with more than 63 per cent of the vote and the following year was appointed Provincial Secretary for Resources Development. After suffering some ill health, Lorne resigned from cabinet in 1983 but completed his term as MPP for Lambton.
In 1985, he retired from provincial politics and returned to the farm where he remained highly active in the local community until the time of his death in 2003.
Lorne attended a one-room school and while he advanced no further than Grade 8, education was always of great importance to him. As former Lambton MPP Marcel Beaubien noted: “Lorne’s formal education was at the elementary level, but when it came to politics, he certainly had the equivalent of a PhD.”
When Lorne took over the family farm in Enniskillen, he like others in the South Lambton area at that time, was largely engaged in livestock farming, primarily a cow-calf operation.
The heavy clay soil in South Lambton, was for the most part poorly drained and did not lend itself to the production of cash crops. Consequently, most farmers in the area restricted their farming operations to growing hay and pasturing cattle.
However, a neighbouring farm did have four runs of tile across it and at an early age Lorne recognized the value of tile drainage, taking notice that the land above the tile drains maintained better soil structure, was less compacted, and generally grew far superior crops. As a consequence, Lorne was one of the province’s most vocal advocates of farm tile drainage.