Burt Matthews

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Burt Matthews came to the OAC at the age of 16 from Kerwood in Middlesex Co. in 1943, and graduated in 1947. He won the Wildman trophy for football in his senior year. Burt had a distinguished career: as a soil scientist and head of the Soil Science Department at Guelph (1962-1966); as Vice-President academic of the University of Guelph (1966-1970); as President of the University of Waterloo (1970-1981); and as President of the University of Guelph (1983-1988).

The interview touches on all aspects of his career including his role in fundraising at the UofG and the conversion of the sheep barn to Alumni House.

Graduation Year




Interview Date


D. Murray Brown

Call Number

RE1 UOG A1340103


Burt Matthews interview


Tape 1 of 1 Side A
Ontario Agricultural College, 1947
Interviewed by D. Murray Brown
May 28, 1997
B This is an interview with Burton C. Matthews, a graduate of year 1947, in the Ontario Agricultural College, conducted by Murray Brown of the year ’51, OAC. Burt, where were your roots as a young person?
M I was born in Metcalf Township, which is in Middlesex County at Kerwood, which is a little village between Strathroy and Watford – about half way between Strathroy and Watford.
B Yes, and what made you attend OAC? I understand – well, by your birth date, you were only sixteen when you entered the OAC, in1943. What prompted you to attend Agricultural College?
M Well, I was at the point where I had to do something. I had graduated from High School, and I didn’t really want to stop going to school. So I chose OAC because it was inexpensive. The other choice was the University of Western Ontario – in Medicine, and that was more expensive, at least from a point of view of my family’s economic situation, it was (chuckle) expensive, and so I ended up going to Guelph.
B Great- and you would have entered there in the fall of 1943…
M 1943
B and did you live in residence, at that time?
M No, no. We didn’t get back into residence until - I believe it was the Christmas-time of our second year, when we finally got back into residence. Previous to that, for a year and a half, the first year – total first year and the first semester of the second year, we were living off campus, and riding the bus to the campus every day.
B Do you recall what you paid for room and board off campus?
M I think it was around twenty-five dollars a month.
B When I entered OAC in the fall of 1947, the year you graduated, we paid nine dollars per week in residence.
M Yeah. And that included food.
B Yes.
M Uh, the twenty-five dollars, I think, didn’t include food, from my point of view…off campus.
B Yes.
M Yes.
B Well, and do you have any recollections of experiences in residence, when you moved into residence. I remember we lived in Johnston Hall. Did you move into what was known as the Administration Building at that time?
M We moved, for that final second semester of the second year. I think I moved into Johnston Hall. I think that’s right. I do know for sure, that for my third and fourth year, I lived in Rugby Alley. That was the (chuckle) hallway up above the cafeteria in Johnston Hall, and I played football.
B Yes, I remember you having won the Ted Wildman Trophy in your final year.
M Yes.
B Yes, so you…
M So, I played one – the first year, and at that time, of course, Baldy Baldwin was the colourful coach we had, and at that time the football team lived together – not just in the fall, while we were playing football, but the whole year.
B Yes.
M We’d stayed in Rugby Alley.
B Yes, I think, maybe when I was a student, some of the football players moved out and the basketball players and hockey players…
M Yeah…
B … would they have lived in Rugby Alley?
M Sure, after I graduated, the “Rugby Alley” idea disappeared, and you might be quite right, that brought the basketball team in, but then it wasn’t long before the whole thing – the - the whole idea of having a football team isolated in the residence was abandoned. And I think (chuckle) that was a good thing.
B Yes. Where there any, professors that had an impression on your mind, and made – influence you – for your career?
M Well, I guess I would have to say I was very much impressed with Jerry Ruhnke. And of course, that’s – it was in that department, the Chemistry Department, where I was majoring anyway…
B Umhm
M …so he was certainly an influence, encouraging me to get into “Soil Chemistry” and “Soil Science” in general.
B Umhm
M There were others, like Runions , who was our Honourary President, actually.
B Umhm
M He was a - a great person to offer encouragement and advice.
B Great. Now I can recall meeting you in, I believe it was about May of 1949. And in fact it was kind of a sad occasion, because you were working in the Soils Department, having returned from completing your Masters, and it was the time that – that Len Webber had taken polio – I can remember that distinctly. I think I met you, and either someone told you that morning.
M Is that right?
B So I know that you were employed in the Soils Department, from the time you did your Masters, but I expect you also worked there as an undergraduate as well.
M Yes. I – I worked there. I worked for two years – after my second year, I went on “Soil Survey”.
B On “Soil Survey”
M And after my second year, and after my third year. So I was two years on “Soil Survey”, most of it in Eastern Ontario, and much of it with Rick Richards, of course. The two of us were unmarried. I was obviously unmarried, and he was as well. And so, we spent a couple of summers on “Soil Survey”.
B Great. I didn’t start on ”Soil Survey” my first summer. I remember I was the last one hired on by – Frank Morwick, who was acting Chairman the summer of 1949. And so I was the – perhaps the “joe-boy” in the Department that summer.
M (laughter)
B But I did start on “Soil Survey” in September of that year…
M Oh, yes.
B …with John Gillespie, up in Grey County.
M Oh, did you?
B Yes, because – I believe it was Ken Pretty joined – joined you, because Daryl Dolson had to head up a survey party, because somebody got sick.
M Yeh
B Well, enough about the “Soils Department” at the present time. You went on, later to become Chairman of that department
M Yes. I was Chairman of the Soils Department following Rick Richards, who, in 1962 – had become Dean of the OAC in the new Associated Faculties, I think it was called or … Federated Colleges, it was called – which was established in 1964. And then, in 1966, I was appointed Vice-president Academic of the new University of Guelph.
B But before that Burt, since I joined the Faculty in I think it was January the first, of 1966, you were for a short time – term appointment, setting up the Research Station Services for the University of Guelph.
M Yes. That would have been – I – I believe it would have been in 1965, that I was assigned for – I think six months, to set up the operation management of the Research Station at Elora. Prior to that, I had been involved in selecting the first couple of farms – George Jones and I – were the ones who selected the first uh, parcels of land to become the Elora Research Station. And then I took the six months or so, to prepare the Research Station Report. And the recommendations from that report were implemented and Jack Gallin became the first Director of Research Station Services.
B Yes. I remember when I was in the Soils Department and Jack becoming Director of Research Station Services for Guelph.
M Yeh.
B And so then – some time in late 1966, then, I believe you were made Vice – President of the University of Guelph
M I think it was in June,1966.
B Umhm
M And yes that’s – that’s right.
B …until 1970?
M Until I went to Waterloo. Yes.
B And then in 1970, you became President of the University of Waterloo.
M Yes.
B And we won’t dwell on that,…
M No. We’ll…
B But I would like to review a little bit of the time that you were President of the University of Guelph, and I believe – what year did you become President of the University of Guelph?
M 1983. The end of the year. I was appointed in September. I took up the office on January the 1st, and I continued until 1988, September 1988.
B Yes. I remember the challenging times they were with respect to raising capital money for facilities in Guelph.
M …this was uh, rather an interesting development. During the interview period with the committee and so on, for the Presidency of the University of Guelph, there was no mention made to me about the expectation that we’d have to set up a fund-raising campaign. But, I was invited to attend a Board meeting in October. This was prior to my taking up the post. And at that meeting the Board approved the establishment of a fund-raising campaign. So that was really what I ended up doing. It was one of the major efforts that I had during my time as President.
B Yes. I remember one of the outcomes from that campaign was the double rink arena situated beside the Crop Science Building and that’s been a real asset to the University.
M That’s – That’s one of them. There were buildings over at the OVC as well, and at Mac - there was some buildings there... and the Daycare Centre was part of that total Fund-raising Campaign. It was hard. But we exceeded our goal.
B And would you know whether the Alumni House – Alumni House was established in the old Sheep Barn before you became President?
M (Chuckle) Oh–h-h. That - that’s mine. That Alumni House – the old Sheep Barn, when I arrived was in a state of disrepair, and there was some pressure on me to convert it to an animal zoo - farm animals – where people could come and visit to see what farm animals look like – people from the city and so on. It didn’t seem to me like a very good idea. Then the Alumni got the idea that they’d like to have this converted to an Alumni House for their activities. And I was pretty luke-warm about this, because it was going cost
about five hundred thousand dollars, and that was a lot of money, even in those days. And, however, I did on one occasion, when they visited me, say if they could come up with three hundred thousand dollars, the - the project was a go. I’d find the other two hundred thousand. Well, for goodness sake they did. In a matter of a month or two they were back (chuckle) and – and they had the commitment for the funding of the Alumni House. So, they proceeded to do it and it was a wonderful thing to do.
B Yes.
M Absolutely’
B I couldn’t agree more..
M I’d like to take full credit for it, but I can’t do that. (Laughter)
B Well, I agree with you, because one of the advantages of having Alumni House where it is, is that when Alumni come to visit Alumni Affairs, they can find parking.
M Oh, yeh. Oh yeh.
B Because it’s on the perimeter of the campus, and there is some parking.
M It’s easy access from the regional roads too.
B Yes. Although I’ve found out recently, that - that when people park in the parking lots across the road, they do get tickets.
M Oh, do they?
B And right now, I am working on the possibility of having those who are active on committees for Alumni, that they can get free parking passes,…
M That’s right…
B … which I understand they have at the University of Waterloo.
M Oh, yeh.
B You may have established that?
M Yes. Sure. I think that’s the perfectly reasonable thing to offer, is free parking while they’re there on University business. But they’re not getting paid anything else.
B I’m - Yes, I’m glad – I’m glad you agree with me.
M (Laughter)
B We’ve been discussing your career, Burt. Now I’d like to go back to your undergraduate days, and your – your classmates. Where there any classmates who you forecast to become millionaires…
M (chuckle)
B … or to develop careers that were - were unusual? And certainly I know you’ve had a very distinctive career, and ah, you may know of others who did too.
M Well, they were all ah, important individuals who had a lot of potential. That’s the first thing to say. Some of them, who continued to work close to agriculture and close to the colleges, people like Bill Tossell and Clare Rennie. They were classmates and they spent their whole career there – either at Guelph or in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. There were others whoI think, one or two of them might have been millionaires before they graduated, so I – I don’t know that.
B Those were the days just after the Second World War…
M Yeh. And we had, coming back into our class, were twelve or so return people, who had been in the Service, and they came back, and so, in the fall of 1944 - 45, we had an influx of about, I think about twelve or fifteen people, whohad been at Guelph…
B And most of these chaps were overseas?
M Oh, yes. Most of them had come back from overseas, yes, and they were discharged a little bit earlier…
B Yes. So you would have a lot – some senior people, and a lot of junior people like yourself in residence.
M …the interesting thing is, they were more senior in experience, but the number of years between us was not very great. I mean, four or five years at the most.
B Right.
M They weren’t that much older than we were, but on the other hand, they had a lot of experiences that…
B Did some of these fellows then move into residence with you?
M Yeh, oh yeh. They were in Mills Hall…
B Oh, yes.
M Yep.
B And uh, were there any particular student pranks that developed when you were a student that you recall…
M Well, the usual water fights. We weren’t very original in those days, I think, as students, in developing pranks - the water fights in Johnston Hall were something that a - a number of people were involved with, including some in my class.
B Yes. I can remember when I was a student, we also had water fights…
M Yeh…
B ..and when Dr. MacLachlan became President of the University, which – just – was a year or so before I graduated, he really clamped down on water fights…
M (chuckle)
B …and we got fined heavily.
M Is that right?
B Do you recall any fines, when you were a student?
M I don’t think so. I – I don’t remember paying any fines – no.
B Oh…
M I don’t remember that. But there may have been. There may have been.
B Since you ended up in administration at the University of Guelph, I guess it was 1970, do you recall any pranks the students got into, as an administrator at the University?
M Well, I think that – there weren’t – by that time it wasn’t so much prank, as demonstrations, about various things – the war in Vietnam, or whatever. And we had a number of demonstrations of that kind. I can recall one where they – they filled the Presidential area and Vice-President’s offices in the Library – the new Library. And they sat there for a couple of days, as far as I can recall it. I can’t even now recall what the objections were. This is while I was Vice-President, before having gone to Waterloo.
B Now this would be “Yuppie” time?
M Yeh. This was “Yuppie” time, if you like. Yeh.
B In the late – it was the late sixties, early seventies
M Yeh, and then, when I was back in Guelph, in the early eighties, ’83 – ’88 – mid-eighties, I had some demonstrations at – at that time, about various things, and I can recall one in particular where they crashed the Board meeting. We had to remove them from the – from the Board meeting room. By that time, you know, we’re talking now about ’88, ’86, ’87, by that time the student demonstrations - everywhere had largely disappeared, and uh, except for some minor ones in the past year where…
B Yes. There’s one of these at the University of Guelph, this past late winter.
M Yeh, but those are, it seems to me rather minor disrupt- disruptions. But my philosophy on dealing with the demonstrations was to let them sit, and eventually the – the students get tired and they’ll go away.
B Yes. I expect that’s the – the best approach. Burt, since you had a very unique experience in being President of two universities in Ontario, and perhaps one of the first, ah, and the two universities are quite different - the University of Waterloo being famous for engineering and mathematics – the University of Guelph famous for agriculture, veterinary medicine and home economics. I would like you to comment on the differences in - in administration of the – of the two universities.
M Well, in some respects there - there are no differences. Administration of the university is the same no matter what university it is, because you are dealing with people, and you succeed by the management of resources – effectively and so on. At the same time, there are differences which are derived from the difference in the history of the institutions. University of Waterloo, as you mentioned, began with an Engineering Co-operative Programme, which was a unique thing in Canada. And it grew from that sort of background into the Arts and so on. And at Guelph, as you well know, the basic origins of the University of Guelph are in agriculture, veterinary medicine and – and home economics. And also, Guelph faculty and staff were Civil Servants for a number of – well, from the beginning of the colleges, until the University was established. And so that brought into that University Administration, some of the effects or the impact of the association with the Civil Service and with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. And that – some of that is still there. And that’s all to the good. I – I think that the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture and Food now is largely moved to Guelph is a good thing. It helps, and - and also the colleges are now part of the Guelph operation. And I think that’s all to the good. The University of Guelph is unique because of those things, and that’s the way it should be.
B Yes. I was going to ask you about your philosophy or your opinion on the – the new arrangement, because it - it was rather unique when the entire Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food provided a contract to the University of Guelph for the Research and Extension Services and now it is extended beyond that and so I’m interest - interested to hear your - your comment in that regard. Ah, I guess time will tell, whether the University will suffer from dollars, but that’s not likely to happen.
M I don’t - I don’t think that the University is going to suffer in terms of the government funding, because it has embraced the colleges now. I’m talking about the Agricultural Colleges, not the Community Colleges.
B Certainly
M No, I - I think it’s – it was the right move. I thought it was the right move ten years ago, when they decided to build the new building there. At that time, I was not aware of any consideration of the Colleges becoming part of the Guelph operation. That is a more recent- of more recent origin I think.
B Yes. I understand from the Director of the Diploma Programme at the present time, the person that’s responsible for registrations, that registrations are up at all the Agricultural Colleges, and -including the diploma programme at Guelph.
M Is that right? Well.
B Burt, I recall, you had two sons, right?
M Yes.
B …and could you tell me a little bit about where they are, and what their careers are?
M Well, there were two of them, David and Tom. David is the older one, and he graduated from Western and then took a Masters Degree at the University of Waterloo in Region and Urban Planning and now has his own business in Mississauga, consulting business on planning – Urban and Regional Planning – Consultancy, I’d put it that way. And he consults with developers or – or with government departments, whatever is - is required.
B Yes. And your younger son is …
M Tom graduated from – from the “Hotel School” at the University of Guelph, and worked for various large hotel companies until about four years ago, and he went out on his own as a hotel management consulting firm. And as now – has six or seven properties, Ramada Inns and so on,– not just Ramada Inns, but others as well, out in Alberta and British Columbia.
B And so he lives in Calgary.
M Yeh. Lives in Calgary, but he has properties at Penticton and Kelowna, and Prince George, and Vancouver. Yeh
B Burt, the other member of your family is your wife Lois, and I understand then in the building that’s named after yourself at the University of Waterloo, there’s a Library there that - could you tell me a little bit about that Library?
M Yes. There’s the Matthews Building that houses the Faculty of Applied Health Studies, and in that building there is a library, and her name is attached to the Library in the Matthews Building. I should also mention that she is commemorated or she has the Lois Matthews Garden at Guelph. Well, you - you probably didn’t know about it.
B No. I didn’t know about that.
M Well. The gardens behind the President’s House are named the “Lois Matthews Gardens” and there is a plaque there, which says so.
B That shows you how much I’ve been walking around campus seeing these things.
M (Chuckle) Well you know the little garden in where they – we used to have a tent up. Used to put a tent up out there and have receptions and so on out there.
B Yes, I’ve attended … I’ve attended University receptions for new students in that garden recently…
M …there’s a plaque there.
B Well, great.
M At least there used to be.
B Well I’m sure it’s still there.
M (Chuckle)
B Before we conclude this tape, is there anything you would like to talk about, that we haven’t covered, Burt?
M I don’t think there is anything that I can think of at the moment. We seem to have covered a variety of things, of course if we were to repeat this interview, next month, or next year, I’m sure there’d be other topics come up. So there you are.
B Well, thanks a lot, Burt. This has been an interview with Dr. Burton C. Matthews, of OAC year ’47, conducted by Murray Brown of OAC year ’51, on May the 28th, 1997.

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