THE END

1954-2006 A champion breeder who named every one of his cattle, he loved the farm, even if ‘he was not a dude’

CHARLES JOHN WATSON,CATHY GULLI,NICHOLAS KÖHLER December 4 2006
THE END

1954-2006 A champion breeder who named every one of his cattle, he loved the farm, even if ‘he was not a dude’

CHARLES JOHN WATSON,CATHY GULLI,NICHOLAS KÖHLER December 4 2006

1954-2006 A champion breeder who named every one of his cattle, he loved the farm, even if ‘he was not a dude’

THE END

CHARLES JOHN WATSON

Charles John Watson was born on Feb. 18, 1954. His father, Charles Sr., was the fourth in a string of Charles Watsons born into the rolling farmlands of southwestern Ontario. Though his son Charlie Jr.—who also answered to C.J.—was born in Toronto, as the fifth Charles of the Watson clan he would feel the allure of his forebears’ farming roots.

When he turned eight, Charlie Jr. and his younger sister, Shirley, moved with their father and mother, Ethel, settling into a model home on a development run by his father that would become modern Brampton, Ont. The younger Charles grew up in a town built largely by his father, who had left the farm to become a shrewd businessman, raising golf courses and malls rather than cattle. Still, when Charlie Sr. named the streets off Brampton’s main drag, he called one Charoláis Boulevard for his favoured breed of French-imported white cattle.

Each summer, Charlie Jr. left for Dromore, Ont., the village where the Watsons still ran the farm where he fell in love with cattle.

Although as a young man he spent a year at Wilfrid Laurier University studying business,

Charlie Jr. left at 20, moving into the country home his grandfather built to work the family farm—now called Wat-Cha—with its black-trimmed white bungalows and barns. As the son of a wealthy man, he could have cho-

sen an easy life; on the farm, however, he was treated just as any other employee, working as hard as the men who were paid to be there.

He was fun-loving, sociable and committed to quiet country living. When, one summer, his father asked that he work in town, Charlie Jr. lasted a week. As a bachelor, Charlie Jr. “was good-looking, tall, thin, had hair that was a little shaggy, a moustache-but very good-looking,” recalls one family member. Still, “he was not a dude—he wasn’t the kind of guy who would even wear a cowboy hat,” says Neil Gillies, who once consulted for Charlie Jr. At 23, while attending a cattle fair out West, he met Laurel, a Calgary woman then working on her father’s cattle breeding publication. They married a year after they met.

The young couple’s early life together was scarred by tragedy: their first child, daughter Cheyenne, died soon after being born on Nov. 23,1979—a date Charlie Jr. would mark each year after. But two healthy children followed—first a second daughter, Cierra, then

a son, Charles. Meanwhile, cattle farming remained his all-consuming passion. “Having all those cows was like having several hundred puppy dogs,” says his daughter, Cierra, now 25. Charlie Jr. “named each and every one of them. He loved them and talked to them and treated them like they had their own personalities.”

Charlie Jr.’s success as a cattle breeder had much to do with the “keen eye” he inherited from his father. “He was able to find a diamond in the rough better than anybody I ever met,” says Wayne Burgess, who met Charlie Jr. when they were both young farmers. Charlie Jr. spent hours watching his cattle, selecting those with the best genes. “He’d just go to the barn, in the summer, in the evenings, [and watch],” says Laurie Fisher, Charlie’s girlfriend after his separation from Laurel.

Charlie Jr. liked nothing better than to hit the agricultural fairs circuit. “He lived for the show ring,” says Scott Bohrson, 22, his herdsman for the last two years. Charlie Jr. would take him to shows, along with Wayne Burgess. “It’s been said we are pretty much like brothers,” says Wayne. They attended up to a dozen shows a year—Louisville, Houston and the Toronto Royal Winter Fair were among their favourites. But nothing topped the annual Canadian Western Agribition in Regina, where for decades Charlie Jr. was one of the few Ontario farmers who showed up. “He loved the competition, and the camaraderie between breeders,” says Burgess. Agribition had been good to him over the years, especially in 2005, when his prized Charoláis, the one he named Wat-Cha N’th Degree, won both Grand Champion Bull and Show Bull of the Year. “We celebrated a lot,” recalls Bohrson, “every time, cocktails were poured.” Last Saturday, Charlie Jr. and Laurie flew into Regina for Agribition. The cattle arrived, as did Wayne and Scott. On Sunday they were busy, setting and catching up. Some time on the evening of Nov. 19, 2006, Charlie Jr. went out walking. His body was found before midnight in an alley between the Agribition Building and barns; he had apparently been struck by a car. Charlie Jr. was pronounced dead at Pasqua Hospital, minutes before the first day of Agribition, at age 52. To honour him, Charoláis breeders will wear black ribbons. In Charlie Jr.’s place, Wayne will show his cattle. “I’ve helped him for a lot of years. I’ll do it one more time,” he says.

CATHY GULLI

NICHOLAS KÖHLER