On to new things
Jean-Guy Desormeaux is retiring from over 55 years working in the slaughterhouse and butcher business.     Van Dusen photo

by Tom Van Dusen
AgriNews Staff Writer
CRYSLER – After more than 55 years in the slaughterhouse and butcher business, Jean-Guy Desormeaux, 75, has decided to toss in the cleaver and do something else in life… perhaps become a farm hand.

At age 19, Desormeaux started out in the slaughterhouse at the bridge here working for his uncle, eventually buying the business which includes a retail meat store. He’d quit school in the middle of Grade 9 to help on the family farm in Finch; one of 11 siblings, he took the job in nearby Crysler because there wasn’t enough work on the farm.

In an unusual turn of events, the Desormeaux operation isn’t closing… it has been sold. In fact, buyer Brian Vandenberg of Winchester came to Desormeaux to see if he wanted to sell.

“I did. In fact me and my wife Cecile wanted to get out of it for quite a while and tried to sell before. But it never worked out. Brian and me were able to come up with a deal. He told me enough of the small slaughterhouses were closing and he didn’t want to see this one go too.’’

While there are some details to hammer out, Desormeaux is confident enough that the sale will conclude that he put Vandenberg’s name on his 2019 handout calendar as co-owner.

A farmer and agri-businessman, Vandenberg plans to continue operating and even expand the plant which processes up to 60 beef, pigs and lambs a week and is booked into the new year. Desormeaux said his four employees will keep their jobs, including Jean-Marc and Sylvain, two of his three sons. The third, Joel, lives in the Philippines.

While there’s still a scattering of small abattoirs across eastern Ontario, many have shut down in recent years unable to keep up with ever-changing provincial regulations.  Desormeaux allowed that he’s experienced his own challenges with regulators, but has basically complied without argument.

While he didn’t get rich, Desormeaux said the business provided a comfortable living for his family and himself. However, there were 12-hour days and even Sunday mornings in the plant to contend with. Still, the family was able to get away on some driving holidays when the kids were young.

He has no urge to travel now. He might spend more time in retirement tinkering with antique cars, including his 1978 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and his 1964 Comet convertible. Other than the rag top feature, the car is the same as one he and Cecile owned when they were first married.

Desormeaux calls himself a people person and said one of the main reasons he has enjoyed his line of work is because of the daily interaction with customers. Over the years, families have become much smaller and eating habits have changed dramatically. It’s rare these days to sell a side or a quarter, and almost unheard of to sell a full carcass; for 600 pounds of beef, custom cut and wrapped, the total would come up to $2,400.

Unconcerned about his age, Desormeaux is serious about becoming a part-time field hand… although he admits he might need retraining: “Tractors have gotten a little bigger since back in my day.”