A few garlic trailblazers set the stage for Ontario garlic farmers and gardeners to follow. Ted Maczka was a fixture in the Canadian garlic industry and was something of a cult figure at garlic events and festivals. Part showman, part funnyman, he was a garlic evangelist. From his farm in Prince Edward County, Ted answered questions for gardeners and farmers across Canada and was regularly featured on radio and in newspapers. Mark Cullen interviewed Ted on his CFRB radio show in 1995. Ted was in Toronto for the Royal Winter Fair, where he started garlic competitions in 1987.

After coming to Canada in 1952 from Poland, Ted trained as a tool and die maker. Although he had always gardened, it wasn’t until he heard that Canada imports most of its table garlic from China that he got inspired to start growing it in a larger scale in the 1970s and became a spokesperson for Ontario-grown garlic.

Known also as the “Fish Lake Garlic Man,” he sits close to the roots of the Ontario garlic family tree. He inspired many people, including several founders of past and current garlic festivals, myself included. Mary Stefura started the Canadian Garlic Festival in Sudbury in 1991. She invited Maczka to her second annual Canadian Garlic Festival but was nervous at first. “When I called the city clerk in his hometown, asking for Ted’s telephone number, they said, ‘Oh. Ted. Ah. Okay.’ I wondered if I had made a mistake. So, when Ted arrived in Sudbury the night before his appearance at the festival, I asked a friend to meet him for dinner. Well, it turns out that Ted had invited everyone in the restaurant to come to the festival the next day. He was a live wire.

Even his granddaughter, Ally, didn’t quite get Maczka’s pontifications. Later on, she realized, “It wasn’t logical, but his passion for his craft was mesmerizing and what made him so unique.

I was lucky to meet Ted before he passed away on December 30, 2013. I invited him to give a talk at the 2013 Toronto Garlic Festival. Afterward, visitors swarmed him with questions, and as long as he talked about garlic they were happy to listen.

At his memorial, I came to realize that Ted’s passion for garlic was a lightning rod for something much bigger. It was while talking with his granddaughter Ally that I understood that Ted believed in the importance of independent thinking and that garlic was a way for him to express this belief. It tore me up to see Ted’s garlic hat one last time on display. Ted’s Fish Lake Garlic Water remains one of my favorite recipes, and calls for just two ingredients (as told to Jim Dyer): pureed garlic with vodka poured over it.