Greenhouse Canada

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Thirty-five years of growing

September 8, 2014  By Dave Harrison

Dr. Theo Blom and Wayne Brown have been involved since its inception.

From lecture halls and hockey rinks on a university campus, to a state-of-the-art convention centre adjacent to one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, the Canadian Greenhouse Conference has certainly come a long way over the past 35 years.

From lecture halls and hockey rinks on a university campus, to a state-of-the-art convention centre adjacent to one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, the Canadian Greenhouse Conference has certainly come a long way over the past 35 years.

Beginning in 1979 at the University of Guelph, and continuing with subsequent moves – first to the Toronto International Centre and more recently to its current home at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls – the conference has established itself as a major focus for the industry.


It’s helped introduce numerous new technologies and growing methods, along with new varieties, to Canadian growers. Leading national and international speakers have been at the podium. It’s a busy marketplace of products and services in a trade show that’s continuing to grow.

And conference proceeds generously support research projects across Canada, to the tune of $700,000 since its inception.

Two current CGC board members have been involved since its launch. They can recall the excitement surrounding the plans for that first conference held Nov. 9-10 (a Friday and Saturday) of 1979 at the University of Guelph.

Dr. Theo Blom had only a few years earlier (1977) begun working as a greenhouse floriculture extension specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

Wayne Brown had just started working that September with OMAF, also in greenhouse floriculture.

“Information was the key motivation,” says Blom. “Back then, there was not a lot of information readily available to growers.”

And this was a time of great change in the industry, adds Brown. “Technological advances and new ways of growing were taking off in a big way.”

Seeding by hand with a vibrating seeder, for example, was still the way many crops were started.

Information on specific popular crops, such as geraniums, was hard to come by. The conference helped solve that. “It was important for growers to listen to a speaker and learn how they did it,” Blom explains.

Organizers of the first conference weren’t sure what to expect. They knew how popular Bedding Plants International conferences had become. They also had experience with the series of regional grower meetings OMAF hosted across the province each year.

“It was a stab in the dark,” Brown explains. Organizers ordered about 500 name badges, “and were sure they would have lots left over.”

How wrong they were. They ran out of badges. The conference, says Brown, “was an amazing success.”

More than 1,000 people attended the first show, which, in addition to two days of seminars, also included 62 trade show booths.

What else do they recall about the early years of the conference? The weather, of course. “You could usually count on snow or freezing rain on at least one day,” jokes Brown.

In addition to new technologies and production methods, the early educational sessions also featured presentations on the basics. Crop scheduling talks, says Blom, were always popular.

“How do you schedule a bedding plant crop when you have 25 species, and you want them all to be ready by the second week of May? When do you start seeding, when do you transplant? Growers were gobbling up that information.”

Also popular early on were talks on plant growth regulators with plug production, says Brown. Talks on nutrition with soilless media were also popular.

CGC was not the only source of this new information. Many growers travelled to Europe for production updates and new variety information.

But CGC certainly brought the Canadian industry together like no other conference could. “It was a great influencer,” says Blom.

Brown agrees. “As much as anything, the social aspect allowed people to interact and network. It certainly helped facilitate change and the adoption of new ideas. The trade show has always been a great way to showcase new technologies and products.”

We were able to sample some early editions of Canadian Florist, Greenhouse and Nursery (CFGN) and Greenhouse Canada to compile an overview of the CGC’s development and highlights over the years.

Please note: We did not have access to original photos from the early years and many of the pictures were scanned from magazine pages, consequently they may not be as sharp as they were when first taken.

CFGN previewed the event in the lead-up months to the conference. In its Aug. 25, 1979, edition, the magazine congratulated organizers for selecting the University of Guelph as the site of the show.

1979: left to right: Ron Dutton and Dr. Jim Tsujita


“The committee that selected the site for the first Canadian Greenhouse Conference certainly should be commended on their choice. One would be hard pressed to suggest a more accommodating facility than the University Centre at the University of Guelph … Besides having the floor space to comfortably house 70 trade fair booths, the Centre offers complete service right at your fingertips. The cafeteria is on the same level as the trade fair and will be very handy for a coffee or a quick bite to eat … Many of the students will be potential customers in a few short years. Exposure to the industry at a conference such as this will be an excellent experience for horticulture students … ”

Admission was $10, or $5 for students, and covered both days of seminars and the trade show.

And how well did the show go over? From the Dec. 29, 1979, edition of CFG&N we read:

“Attendance, which surpassed 1,000, was virtually double even the most optimistic estimates of the organizing committee. The registration area was running by the skin of their teeth as they ran out of registration forms and badge holders early Saturday afternoon, and had to make do by any means available.”

There were 62 trade show booths that first year.

The first volunteer award recipient was Peter Heywood, editor of Canadian Florist.

“We should not forget that this conference was a result of the efforts of six groups,” said Heywood, “the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers’ Marketing Board, the Canadian region of Bedding Plants International, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Flowers Canada (Ontario), allied trades, and the horticulture science department of the University of Guelph, working together for a common goal – ‘The dissemination of pertinent information for the betterment of the greenhouse industry in Canada.’”

The pressure was clearly on for the 1980 edition. Could the sponsors maintain that momentum, and host an even bigger and better show the next year?

1980: U.S. horticulturist and publisher Vic Ball.


Indeed they could. The 1980 trade show grew to 65 booths, and attendance increased by 20 per cent over the inaugural conference (to 1,200).

Among the speakers was Vic Ball of Ball Horticultural, who discussed Trends In Bedding Plants. Among these trends were: a steady rise in demand for vegetable bedding plants and 4”, 5” and 6” annuals sold in flower, as one California grower described, for “instant colour”; plug-grown annuals which were expected to soon increase in market share; and an acceleration in the development of new varieties.

The impact of the conference, beyond its educational and sales opportunities, soon was seen in broader industry support, especially in the area of research.

In 1981, the CGC executive committee distributed $10,000 in donations to four organizations, including $5,000 to the Cecil Delworth Foundation, $2,000 apiece to the Bedding Plant Foundation and the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Producers Marketing Board, and $1,000 to the University of Guelph’s horticulture science department’s Greenhouse Contingency Fund.

The 1981 edition featured 81 exhibitors and 1,339 attendees.

The Best Booth awards program made its debut this year. Inaugural award-winners were Growers Technical Services Ltd. and Yoder Canada.

Registrations in 1982 were up 15 per cent over the previous year, with some Friday speaker sessions “standing room only,” noted CFG&N in its conference recap.

1982: Barney Wilson (right) of Flowers Canada speaks to Eugene Whelan


In 1982, federal Agriculture Minister Eugene Whelan addressed the conference and toured the trade show. Excerpts from Whelan’s speech illustrated Ottawa’s impression of the industry.

“I guess a greenhouse operator has to be a Jack or Jill of all trades – an entomologist, an accountant, a horticulturist, a marketing expert, and an engineer. And it looks like it wouldn’t hurt to know a bit about computers, too.”

The 1983 conference and trade show featured 83 exhibitors and attracted 1,600 attendees.

Following up on the 1982 speech by his federal counterpart, Ontario agriculture minister Dennis Timbrell opened the fifth annual CGC.

He stressed the importance of the greenhouse industry to the Canadian economy. In the previous year (1982), exports of potted, flowering plants exceeded $10 million, whereas five years ago floriculture exports were negligible.

The major reason for this increase, he said, is the production of quality products.

The 1984 conference, which attracted 1,600 people and 91 exhibitors, was officially opened by U of G president Dr. Burt Matthews.

The conference received the Gold Hat Award from the Cecil Delworth Foundation in recognition of the CGC’s contributions over its first five years totalling $40,000 for industry research and education.

The conference presented the U of G with a $5,000 cheque to the Horticulture Research Greenhouse Building Trust Fund. It was also decided to increase the 1985 exhibitor booth fees by $50, and increase the grower registration fees by $5 to be directed to the Trust Fund.

The trade show topped the 100-exhibitor mark for the first time, a milestone indeed. Attendance was estimated at about 1,500 visitors.

Ontario Agriculture Minister Jack Riddell was among the speakers, and his admiration for the industry was oft-repeated in his speech.

“Growing Ideas is the slogan for this conference. But, more than that, it could serve just as well as a motto for the industry you represent. I can think of few other segments of the agriculture and food industry that are as quick to pick up on new techniques and new developments…”

The conference attracted over 1,600 growers in 1987. The 108 trade show exhibitors occupied over 10,717 square feet of booth space.

1987:  Some of the 1987 CGC volunteers pose during a reception. At back, left to right, are Bernie Grodzinski, Amby Zitrok, Jim Tsujita, Ron Dutton, Mike Dixon and Rej Picard; in front, Norm McCollum, Don Kitchen, Dennis Muir and John Hughes.


Donna Cobbledick began her duties as executive co-ordinator with the CGC during preparations for the 1987 event.

Regional industry reports have been popular speaker topics. At the 1987 show, John Judge, then the manager of the Red Hat Co-operative Ltd. in Alberta, updated the growth of that organization. “Alberta has approximately 50 acres of greenhouse vegetable production, which consists of 35 acres of cucumbers and 15 acres of tomatoes. Of this total, 30 acres of cucumbers and five acres of tomatoes are distributed through Red Hat Co-op… ”

The tenth annual conference saw a record attendance of 2,102 people, along with a record number of exhibitors (110).

International themes are always well received during the speakers program. Ray van Staalduinen of the Ontario Flower Growers Co-operative was asked in 1987 to comment on the Free Trade Agreement being proposed for Canada and the U.S.

He noted that, in 1987, between 20 and 25 per cent of Ontario greenhouse production was already exported. He said some of the advantages of the new deal included “secure access” to the U.S. market, lower costs of raw materials, a recognition of testing facilities to facilitate new chemical registrations, and hopefully the elimination of non-tariff barriers “that now commonly occur at border crossings.”

The conference was presented with a Patron Award by the Bedding Plants International Foundation. This is the highest level of recognition and acknowledges support of $10,000 and more.

The 1990 conference featured a call for new ideas, with prizes of $500 for the best suggestion, and $250 to the runner-up. It was a fairly open competition, although commercial products or services were ineligible. “Anything is eligible, provided it makes the growers’ or retailers’ jobs easier, more convenient or more efficient.”

1990: Part of the show at the U of G arena complex.


Eight entries were received. The top prize went to a conveyor lift mechanism submitted by Spring Valley Gardens (Niagara) Inc. A twine winder innovation submitted by Bruce Tropical Produce of Tiverton, Ontario, was runner-up.

This was also the year the conference was able to utilize the new twin-rinks at the university.

Some 2,040 people attended the 1991 show. This year marked the move to a weekday schedule from a weekend conference, and the use of the second U of G twin-pad for the trade show. The trade show was sold out by mid-August. Organizers found that by moving to a Thursday/Friday format, from a Friday/Saturday schedule, attendance was more even over the two days. In the past, the Saturday numbers were down a little from the Friday.

This year’s show attracted 143 exhibitors and 2,084 attendees. Both arenas in the university’s twin-pad sports complex were utilized for the trade show.

The pre-conference bus tour focused on the London, Stratford and Kitchener-Waterloo districts of central southwestern Ontario, with 100 growers making the daylong trip to various growers.

Attendance totalled 2,083 people, and some 149 exhibitors took part.

This year marked the introduction of a regular vegetable bus tour to complement the floriculture tours. Vegetable tours had been held every two to three years since the late-1980s.

The Bedding Plant Foundation presented the conference with a Crystal Patron Award, recognizing donors who have contributed $15,000 or more.

A record-breaking 2,204 visitors attended in 1994, eclipsing the 1988 record of 2,102. The trade show featured 150 booths, up slightly from 1993 (147).

This year (1995) saw a 15 per cent increase in attendance over 1993, with a record-setting 2,401 visitors. The trade show featured 146 exhibitors, with 28 companies on the waiting list.


1996:  Delworth donation from Niagara Economic and Tourism Corp.


It was a record-breaking year for the 18th annual edition – Growing Ideas ‘96. (Editor’s note: it was also my first conference as editor of Greenhouse Canada!) The event attracted 2,480 visitors, eclipsing the previous mark of 2,401 set in 1995. Twenty-four seminars were presented.

Among changes for the 1997 edition was some extra elbow room for the trade show, as the University of Guelph opened up some space in the gymnasium to augment the twin-pad arenas.

Floriculture research was again a big winner as the conference presented the Cecil Delworth Foundation with another $50,000 donation. From 1981 to 1997, the CGC had donated some $145,000 to the foundation, part of $230,000 in total industry donations over those years!

In his welcoming address published in our 20th anniversary conference preview in October 1998, trade fair committee chairman Cliff Janitsch said there was much to celebrate in recalling the first two decades of the CGC.

The attendance prediction was correct, with over 2,800 visitors recorded, up from 2,736 the previous year. Exhibit space was again sold out, with 173 firms taking part. In 1979, some 62 companies were involved.

Twenty-year volunteer awards were presented to John Hughes, Jim Tsujita, Glen Lumis, Marilyn Hann, Dean Louttit, Don Kitchen, John Proctor, Theo Blom, Wayne Brown, Ron Dutton, Vince Souza-Machado, and Sylvia Willms.

Companies who have exhibited since the conference began were also honoured with plaques, including A.T. Plastics Inc.; Ball Seed Co.; Campbell, O’Brien Ltd.; Canadian Florist, Greenhouse and Nursery; Cravo Equipment Ltd.; Custom Medallion Inc.; FIBRgro Horticultural Products; Flowers Canada; Growers Greenhouse Supplies Inc.; Horta-Craft Ltd.; Jack Van Klaveren Ltd.; Jacobs Greenhouse Mfg. Ltd.; Jiffy Products; Frank Jonkman and Sons Ltd.; Kord Products Ltd.; Plant Products Co Ltd.; Premier Horticulture Ltd.; Smithers-Oasis; Stokes Seeds Ltd.; Vanhof and Blokker Ltd.; Westbrook Greenhouse Systems Ltd.; Yoder Canada Ltd.; and Zwart Systems.

The 1999 edition attracted 2,784 people and 195 exhibitors (up from 173 in 1998). Over 21 years, the conference has channelled some $338,000 in donations into the industry.

The 2000 edition attracted 2,787 visitors, and featured another sold-out trade show with 192 exhibitors.

2000: Bill Vermeer (left) honoured with Living Tribute for Delworth Foundation. 


One of the highlights of the 2000 reception was the announcement of a Living Tribute for the Cecil Delworth Foundation honouring Bill Vermeer. Some $20,000 was pledged to floriculture research via the Tribute.

After 22 years at the University of Guelph, the conference announced early in 2001 it was moving to Toronto and the International Centre. After months of study, CGC officials had concluded that “there was really no other choice,” said executive committee chairman Cliff Janitsch. “We had outgrown the University of Guelph, and I think the school felt the same way.”

The conference announced early in 2001 it was moving to Toronto and the International Centre (above).


The new home for the conference drew rave reviews from exhibitors and attendees. Fears by organizers the change to new venue might initially affect attendance proved unfounded as 2,798 people registered, up slightly from 2000 totals of 2,787.

Registering for the conference became even easier in 2002 with the acceptance of online registrations. Those using the Internet could even save $5 off the $30 onsite fee.

The CGC took over additional space (an extra 35,000 square feet) at the International Centre, meaning more space for the trade show. The seminar rooms were also accommodated in the same hall, as some sessions in 2001 were held in an adjacent hall.

Attendance rose to 2,866, and the trade show expanded to 407 booth spaces from 364 in 2001. There were 210 exhibitors in 2002 compared to 208 in 2001.


The 2003 edition paid tribute to some of the “founding fathers” of the conference. 


The 2003 edition paid tribute to some of the “founding fathers” of the conference. Trade fair committee chairperson Dwayne Pyper presented commemorative shovels to Wayne Brown, Clarence Swanton (accepting on behalf of the late Ib Nonnecke), Rej Picard, Ray Van Staalduinen, Arlene Heywood (accepting on behalf of the late Peter Heywood), John Hughes and Jim Tsujita. Absent were Charlie Hall and Don Moore.

Included among the 2,581 registrants was a three-person delegation from Russia led by Alexander Tsydendambaev, editor-in-chief of GreenhouseLand magazine. The growers accompanying him managed greenhouses of 30 and 50 hectares, respectively.

The 2005 show featured 194 exhibitors.

The 2006 conference attracted 2,378 people and 199 trade show exhibitors, including 34 newcomers.

A special award was presented to the Ontario Flower Growers for their longtime support of the event.


2007: Dr. Allan Armitage, at right, at book signing.


The speaker program in 2007 featured two highly recognizable industry veterans. Anna Ball, president and CEO of Ball Horticultural Company, was the keynote speaker, while renowned researcher and educator Dr. Allan Armitage of the University of Georgia was among the educational session speakers.

The 2008 keynote speaker was Dr. Patrick Moore, a leader in the international environmental movement for some 30 years. He was a founding member of Greenpeace, before leaving the organization to serve as the chairperson and chief scientist for the environmental consulting firm, Greenspirit Strategies.

Helping officially open the show was Leona Dombrowsky, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Attendance was 1,934, with 153 exhibitors taking part.

The 2010 conference marked the end of two eras in the history of the show. It was the last show for longtime conference coordinator Donna Cobbledick, who stepped down to spend more time with her family after 24 years with the conference, and the last year in Toronto.

Joining the CGC team that year was Carol Pupo as the new executive coordinator.

And in other news, it was announced the show was moving to the newly built Niagara Falls Convention Centre, officially known as the Scotiabank Convention Centre, in 2011.

The move to the new convention centre in 2011 was quite magical – literally.

The conference immediately felt at home in the Scotiabank Convention Centre.


The CGC hosted “A Night Of Illusion” social get-together at the Greg Frewin Theatre in Niagara Falls.

The conference was also magical in its popularity: attendance rose to 2,275, the highest total in quite some time.

Anna Ball returned as the keynote speaker in 2012, discussing “Trends In the Industry” to a packed audience.

The CGC welcomed Glenna Cairnie as its new marketing and event coordinator. She took over from Bob Cobbledick, who was retiring after many years with the CGC.

The Wednesday Night social event featured the Second City Touring Improv Company.

Total attendance this year was 2,390.

The 2013 show featured some very good news indeed for greenhouse vegetable research. Parliamentary Assistant Pierre Lemieux, representing Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, was on hand to announce new funding of $2.7 million to the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers for research projects.

Attendance was 2,474, yet another year of growth in registration numbers.

The Wednesday night social get-together – The Gathering – featured comedian Bob Cates.

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