"Don't take any risk-try my seeds” is printed on our company's first pricelist. These may be bold words, but the importance of using quality seed when gardening is an enduring principle of William Dam Seeds. From humble beginnings in a rented farmhouse, delivering orders by bicycle, to our current farm in the Golden Horseshoe that integrates shipping with computer networking; our history has been one of providing quality seed to gardeners.
Our first customers were fellow Dutch immigrants, and we still have correspondence of William reassuring them that life in Canada would get better. He wrote a booklet "Hoe Kweek ik mijn eigen Groenten in Canada?" to help them adjust to gardening in a new climate.
The 1950's saw us using agents to collect orders and offering school fundraisers. We even sold tulip bulbs! The catalogue was printed in Dutch, English, and German, some of the catalogue headings still reflect this heritage. In 1957 we moved to Ancaster to take advantage of better shipping routes. That property became part of a ramp to the 403, so a new farm was purchased in West Flamborough.
1962 featured our first colour catalogue cover (total colour throughout would not happen until 1995). The biggest change that our company has taken happened in the late 1960's: the switch to untreated seed. People thought we were crazy then, and it was difficult to obtain untreated seed! But, William Dam suffered from skin rashes that he linked to the chemicals used in seed storage. We continue to provide untreated seed for the safety of our employees, who handle the seed each day, and for the encouragement of organic gardening among gardeners of all ages.
The organic gardening movement has grown along with us, and for their support of our products, we are grateful. William Dam Seeds is pleased to be the first registered seed company in Canada to feature a line of certified organically grown seeds. This line was introduced in 2000 with caution, since the quality of seed was not proven. As the seed breeders and growers are developing commercially acceptable seed we continue to increase our selection.
Since the late 1990's, computers and in-house design capabilities have allowed us to put our unique stamp on our catalogue as well as seed packets. From stock house packets, to black and white (or green and brown!) to our current custom-built packets, we continue to change with technology.
The new millennium has seen change in our buildings, equipment, and gardens. We have expanded to become more efficient in packaging seed and shipping orders. Our business is audited by inspectors from the Canadian Seed Institute for quality practices associated with seed importers and for our ongoing organic certification as a seed handler. We have become industry judges for new varieties in vegetables, cool season flowers, and cutflowers and part of 2 display garden networks: the All America Selections and Fleuroselect.
Our guiding principles have been those of quality and research. We are curious gardeners, supporting our suppliers in their efforts to bring gardeners novel and nutritious items, and better strains for challenging conditions. We continue to marvel at the colours and patterns that form in our gardens. Glory be to God for His wonderful creation, and for the possibility to work closely with it.
Notes from our 60th anniversary catalogue:
From Maria Dam(co-founder, wife of first president, William):
Papa (Wim) and I immigrated to Canada on the Waterman in June of 1947. We met while working for the same seed company Turkenburg in Bodegraven, Holland. He started there in 1935, but I was already working in the office before he came. Other employees told me that the baas(boss) had hired a good-looking assistant manager, but I wasn't too interested at first. We married in 1938. Wim was on active duty during the mobilization (World War 2) when our oldest daughter Joan was born. The war and 5 years of occupation started in May of 1940. Wim was actively involved in resistance activities including the hiding of fugitives and transport of weapons. Sometimes he had to hide. A very anxious time. (editor's addition: William was later decorated with a medal given by Queen Beatrix for his efforts. Both he and his boss at Turkenburg were also involved in keeping people from being transported to work camps by giving them "necessary work” to do at the seed company.)
Yes, then we started the seed company on the kitchen table in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Sometimes we checked orders while taking care of children. Many Immigrants had to improvise and make do with what we had at hand in those days. We only moved 3 times. And we were blessed in so many ways. Now, at age 95, most of my generation is gone, but by Gods Grace I still can be active in my home and garden, and do something in the business during the winter months.
From Rene Dam (president from 1977-2005):
My earliest recollections about my dad and his starting up the seed business was accompanying him around the neighbourhood, gathering orders from recent immigrants and their friends in his 1938 Dodge car- with the cracked engine block.
My parents had immigrated from Holland in June 1947 to seek a new life in Canada, after 5 years of occupation and war in their homeland. In 1949 Dad made the first start while working at a day job at the Polymer Rubber plant in Sarnia, Ontario. In 1956 they moved to Ancaster, with a final move to our present location at West Flamborough (now Hamilton) in 1959.
I started work with the company in 1963, joining and my parents Maria and William, and my sister Leda. My other sisters, Joan, Christine, and Mieke have all been active working in the business at some point of its history. Dad sold the business to me in 1977, but continued to work until his death in 1994. My mother is still active here to this day. My wife Annette has been involved with the business since 1971.
My son Bill joined us in 1990 after some studies at Guelph University. In 2005, he took over at the helm of the business. His wife Christine, and our daughters Connie and Michelle continue to do valuable work in the business. After 45 years of involvement with the business, I will stay active during the busy season as long as I am useful, and the Lord gives me health.
From William Dam Jr (current president):
As I am writing this, the first snow is falling. Summer is over and fall has crept up on us. One of the beauties of living in Ontario is our weather is unpredictable and every year is different than the previous, but the seasons always bless us with plenty. We have just finished harvesting our winter carrots and cabbage, the Borekole is just getting right for picking. The flower trials are now mulch.
It is a great country we live in. Canada allows us as third and fourth generation of immigrants to still call ourselves Dutch Canadians. When my grandfather (Opa) immigrated to Canada he started William Dam Seeds to fill a void: many of the European Immigrants in the early 50's after World War II could not find their familiar vegetables. The traditional dubblewitten, tuinbonen, snijbeets, endive, borekole, schwartzwurzel, etc. were not available in Canada; and if they were, the new immigrants did not know enough English to ask for them. At that time gardening was a necessity of life, since there were no large chain stores importing produce from all over the world and the new immigrant families were large and poor. I have always been told that history is a book to learn from, so it is with our past 60 years. I believe that Canada is a nation of immigrants, all with our own customs and preferred vegetables and flowers. As we look forward to another 60 years in business, we look at the many cultures that make up our nation and the multitude of possibilities that exist for gardening.
At William Dam Seeds we believe that we all can make a difference in the world. Whether it be in improving the world with sustainable agriculture, disaster relief work and community building in developing countries, by growing a row for the local foodbank, or educating the next generation of gardeners.
Thank you for your continuing support of our company!
Our seed is not chemically treated. This has been confused with organic seed, which to our knowledge it is not in all cases. We have been purchasing our seed from the most reputable sources available. These companies have growing fields all over the globe and do research to maintain their high standards of quality and new developments. These progressive seed companies maintain a large genetic stock of parent lines (many are heirlooms) for breeding work. We have visited some of the world's foremost seed companies and were impressed by the level of commitment to seed purity and research to bring the best varieties to home gardeners. We are proud to be associated with our suppliers and are confident that the seed we receive reflects their high standards and ours.
Some seeds are sold with a coating on them. The coating is for ease of seeding, whether for visibility or to keep it intact. The coating is usually made of a clay based product and some are certified organic. One of our suppliers coats their organic seed to easily identify it from their conventional untreated line. The colouring in the coating is made of food grade materials; it is non toxic.
We promote sustainable agriculture; that is maintaining healthy soil with natural means so that we don't deplete the soil that we rely on to grow our food. Healthy soil produces healthy plants that can withstand disease and insects so that pesticides are not needed on a regular basis. Hybrids are also beneficial to increasing disease and insect resistance, while providing the gardener with increased yields, flavour, and nutrition.
Our seed is meant to be sown and grown- it is not food grade. We make no claims to be a sprouting seed supplier.
None of the products that we sell are Genetically Modified Organisms. To our knowledge, there are no vegetable seeds available to us that have undergone this process. We are aware that some of the seed companies that we purchase from also have divisions that work in genetically modified plant breeding, but we have assurances that the breeding work in no way crosses over to the part of the company that we deal with. These companies produce some of the finest untreated vegetable varieties for home and market use and they have the technology to properly assess purity and germination.