Clay Switzer grew up on a farm in Middlesex Co. and graduated from the OAC in 1951. After obtaining his MSc in Botany at Guelph and PhD in Plant Physiology at Iowa State University, he has had an outstanding career in Ontario agriculture. His positions in sequence have included faculty member and Chair of the Botany Department, Associate Dean and Dean of the OAC, President of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, and lastly, Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Ontario. He has also served as President of the University of Guelph Alumni Association.
In the interview, which is over one hour in length, he reminisces about his time as a student and in each of the positions he has held. He compares the mode of operation of Universities and government departments. He also describes his role in the 100th and 125th Anniversary celebrations of the OAC and in the development of the turfgrass Research Institute and the Conservatory and Gardens on the campus.
AudioClayton M. (Clay) Switzer interview
Tape 1 of 2 - Side A
ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
C.M. Switzer, O.A.C. ‘51
Ontario Agricultural College, 1951
Interviewed by Ed Brubaker
September 9, 1998
B This is an interview with Dr. Clayton Macfie Switzer, who was the Dean of O.A.C. for many years and it is being conducted in the Turfgrass Centre at Guelph by Ed Brubaker for the Alumni-In-Action program on Wednesday, September 9, 1998.
Clay, I will call you Clay because you’re widely known as that. Your home was near London to start with, where you raised on the farm and what was the farm like?
S Yes, that’s right Ed, I grew up down near London, Ontario on a farm, actually in Caradoc township which is about 20 miles west of London. The farm I grew up on specialized in potatoes as much as farms in those days specialized in anything. My dad was the typical mixed farmer of the 30's and 40's, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Cash crop wise he grew corn and potatoes and had a few head of cattle and half a dozen milking cows and he grew a few pigs, but a typical mixed farm and that’s where I grew up. I went to highschool in Strathroy for five years. I guess along about the middle of my last year in highschool I started to think about whether I should go back and become a farmer with my dad or whether I’d go on to university. I had sort of thought about going to the University of Western Ontario in London because it was close and my interest in those days was largely evolved around chemistry and I thought the University of Western Ontario was a good place to go to study chemistry. A thing I had been involved in as a youngster was the Potato Club and the Potato Club was one of the active clubs that the folks that worked for the then Department of Agriculture stimulated. I often think back to the fact that some of the people that I became involved with in later years had a major influence on the fact that instead of going to Western Ontario I decided to go to the Ontario Agricultural College. Specifically, Gord Bennett was Assistant Ag. Rep. in those days to W.K. Riddell who was the longtime Ag. Rep. in London for Middlesex County. The first to follow Gord Bennett in the Assistant Ag. Rep. job was Ken Lantz who, of course, I had opportunity to work with and, in fact, followed in subsequent years into the Deputy’s office in Toronto, so the whole circle went around and around. But, those guys, along with the Department of Agriculture Potato Specialists got me interested in the Potato Club and got me interested in showing potatoes and I was fortunate enough to win a first prize in a couple of classes at the London Potato Show and they thought that I should take my potatoes to the Provincial Show which was in Guelph, so my Dad brought me to Guelph and we participated, I didn’t win it - I’ll tell you that, but I did have an opportunity to look around the O.A.C.. This would be in the Spring of 1947 and really thought this was a pretty nice place, maybe better than Western Ontario for a farm boy to go to school, so when I got back I did the appropriate things with my teachers and we got an application in to O.A.C. and that’s how I got up here.
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B How old were you when you came?
S Well I was, lets see what was I, I turned 18, I guess, that summer - the summer of ‘47, so I started into College at 18. Our class was an interesting one, Ed, as you well will know, it was just after the War and the Class of ‘51 was approximately 50% return fellows, guys which spent up to five years overseas or in the services at least, and the other 50% were people, like myself, who were 18 or 19 years old right out of highschool, so it was a bit of a learning experience, quite frankly, to get involved with some of these older guys and to hear their experiences that they had overseas and some of us were quite impressed with some of the stories that we heard to tell you the truth, but it was a good mix. One of the things that I would want to put on record is the fact that the Class of ‘51 has been a very strong class over the years. Strong, in the sense, that we had a great feeling for each other and we have maintained that through a series of reunions. We are one of the few classes that have had a reunion every year since we graduated in 1951. The Class of ‘33 is renowned for starting that and our class has done that and there has been some others too, and we still have a very close relationship - we meet every year and some of my best friends still are friends that I made when I was an undergraduate student. Thinking of those days as an undergraduate student, I guess one of the things that probably had an impact on my life was the residence life. All of us in those days, with the exception of few people who were married, lived in residence and it was a great growing up experience. You had the opportunity, as I said, to talk to some older people and to learn how to sometimes say no also because there was always a lot of pressure to do this or do that or do another thing and I think, particularly me who was younger, had to sometimes have a little resistance - sometimes we didn’t have that resistance but, when we did, I think it helped us in developing an ability to say no sometimes when we, perhaps, didn’t think it was exactly the thing to do.
There are lots of memories, of course, about the residence days. When I think of the types of pranks that went on, I think of the pig that was put into the Conversat. The Conversat, of course, was the major dance, the formal dance, of those years and (chuckle!) I’m sure that none of my classmates were involved, but somebody found a pig that they were able to put a bit of grease on and they got the pig in to Creelman Hall and they released it and, of course, it wreaked a bit of havoc, I guess, before they got help. I guess the other one I’ll never forget was the time, at the end of my second year, I was elected President of the Class for our third year and my classmates thought that they should take me over to Mac Hall that evening after the elections. I was going with my wife, Dorothy, at that time, Dorothy Allan who was a student in Mac, and the guys came into my room about eleven o’clock at night and wrestled me out of bed, wrapped me in a blanket and very little else, and carried me over to Mac Hall. They proceeded then to somehow get the front door open and carried me through Mac Hall, up the stairs and down, much to the merriment of the young women that were all there and saw this going on. So there are many recollections of those undergraduate years, but those are just a few.
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S When I was finishing up, I like everybody who gets a Masters degree, I started to think about what I was going to do with my life. Jobs were plentiful in 1951, lots of jobs. I think everybody in my class had at least two, some of them three or four or five job offers as things were booming. The thing was that I had become rather impressed with plant physiology - largely through Dr. MacLachlan. It originally started out that at the end of second year, you will probably recall that in those days at O.A.C. you had to select a major or an option, and I had thought that I might take chemistry, which was my original thought when I was thinking of going to Western. I also thought about horticulture and I thought about if there was anything else so I went around to various departments to get my option card signed. When I went to Chemistry I was not really greeted with a lot of optimism and enthusiasm and somewhat the same in Horticulture, but then I went over to Botany as I thought Botany is not far off the horticultural area, I’ll see what I can do. The Head of Botany in those days was Dr. J.D. MacLachlan who, of course, later became our first President and was very much involved in the start of the University of Guelph. Anyway, Dr. MacLachlan greeted me and asked me what I was there for, I told him, and he said “Well, come on in and sit down”. I was there for, I think, the best part of an hour. In an hour he explained to me how if I studied Plant Physiology I could get the best of both worlds. If I had a choice of Chemistry I could use the chemistry, if I had a choice of Horticulture and some Botany I could combine the whole thing, so, the bottom line of that story is when I left I had my option card signed to take Botany and I never even thought about taking Botany until that time. So, the two years in Botany and then when I got through I decided, in spite of the good job offers that were around, there were very interesting things, 2,4-D was a rather new herbicide at that time, almost was magic, you know, you could take this little bit of liquid and spray it on your lawn and suddenly there was no dandelions and you had pure grass. Nobody knew much about it in the early 50's as to how it worked so a fellow named Bob Bibbey, Dr. Bibbey was the Plant Physiologist in Botany, he found out my name and invited me to do a Masters Degree with him, which I did. It worked out fine because my wife-to-be, actually my wife at that time as we were married in 1951, still had another year to go to get her degree in MacDonald Institute, so it worked out fine to stay here in Guelph and do my Masters. So, I did that and did a Masters’ thesis on how 2,4-D affected plants and was absorbed and moved in plants. Then, again, I was faced with that dilemma - you have a Masters degree now, do you go to work or do you continue on as (chuckle!) one of those perpetual students that were around at that time. Again, you sort of have to look back and say fate intervened because I had a really attractive job offer from Dow Chemical in Sarnia which I really thought a lot about because it was down in my home area of Western Ontario. About the time I think I was ready to accept it, I had a phone call from Iowa and the phone call was from a Professor named Walter Loomis. Now Walter Loomis had heard of me through Bob Bibbey, now Bibbey was my major professor at Guelph and he had been a student of Loomis so somehow in passing Bibbey mentioned that he had a student coming along that Loomis might be interested in so Loomis called me and that was pretty impressive to a young man, you know, to be called by a world famous professor down in the States. Even
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S if I hadn’t known that much about him I probably would have gone and worked with him at that point. So, by this time, Dorothy had graduated and we took off for Iowa and she got a job down there in the Home Economics department studying nutrition with youngsters out of the schools and I enrolled in the Ph.D. program which I completed two years later and then faced the same old dilemma again - now what do I do?
Well, I had three job offers, eh. Interesting, I’ll never forget this. The three job offers
were rather interesting. The first one was with the Dole Pineapple Company in Hawaii and they wanted a Plant Physiologist to go to Hawaii and work on how to better grow pineapples, the second one was from the Boyce Thompson Research Institute in New York City which was then world famous as one of the leading plant research institutes in the world and still is, and the third one came back from good old O.A.C.. Just about the time that I was available for employment in the summer of ‘55 one of the professors at Guelph left, I think it was George Barker who was one of my favourite professors when I was a student. George left to go to work with the United Fruit Company in South America and Central America and his position became open so I was offered a job as a Plant Physiologist back here in Guelph. Well, again, what to do? My wife was pregnant with our first child and we both had parents living in Ontario and the offer that I had was $4,000 a year, compared to $6,000 in New York and, in other words, if you put out the percentage it seems more reasonable but when you think of those dollar figures it sort of makes us wonder now but, in any event to make a long story short, we thought the opportunity to get back home is pretty compelling and to get back to the old O.A.C. and so we did and, of course, I have never been sorry and I think it was the right decision and I don’t think, in the long run, that I would have enjoyed living in Hawaii - it sounded very romantic for a while but, in the long run, I think this was the best decision. So we came back in 1955 and from ‘55 through ‘till about ‘67, I was a Professor, through a whole series of appointments starting at Lecturer, you know, then as Assistant Professor through the usual progression up through the ranks in the Botany department, did my teaching, taught a lot of students weed control and, as one reflects back I suppose on teaching, probably the highlight, I suppose of my life, in terms of academic was that teaching, I got to know so many students. You know, I taught every Diploma student that came to Guelph from 1957 to 1970 because they all had to take weed control. Some of them didn’t want to (chuckle!) but they did and I still remember these guys all over the province and, of course, many of them are very successful farmers now in Ontario and whenever I run into them why recognition factors are “I remember you had me make a collection of weeds”, then we laugh about “did you really make the collection or did you borrow it from somebody else?” and it becomes a good topic. I always remember though, one of the things that really impressed these Diploma kids and once I found out about it, I did it every year. My father taught me a little trick years ago about how you broke binder twine in your hands which is really rather simple, you simply wrap it around and you break it against itself and the twine actually cuts the twine, but most of these farm boys that were in the Diploma course had never seen this so when they turned in their weed
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S always had a big ball of binder twine there for them to tie up their weeds with it but I never had a knife or scissors or anything with it so they’d come over to me, of course, and say how do I cut the binder twine. “Cut it, you don’t cut it, you break it”and, of course, they’d say “Break binder twine, you can’t break binder twine” so I’d show them and, of course, to this day some of them remember that trick (chuckle!) more than they remember anything else that I taught them. I also taught, of course, other than the Diploma program, I taught Plant Physiology, I taught Weeds, I taught General Botany and was associated with a fairly large number of graduate students. I don’t want to mention many of my grad students.
B No, go ahead, we’d be glad to have anything here.
S Well one, certainly, that I have to mention is my first Ph.D. student Richard Frank. Richard, of course, was and is about the same age as I am and the two of us worked so well together. He was my student but I have often said that I probably learned more from my student than my student learned from me because Dick had a tremendous capacity for knowledge. We got along very well and he turned out just a top-notch Ph.D. thesis which led to three papers - you don’t usually get three good scientific papers out of one thesis which we did out of his. There are other grad students that I have had and have done good things - Bob Ingratta, my second last grad student is moving up in the Monsanto Company and doing very well. I hesitate to mention too many as I’ll forget somebody so we will leave it at that I guess for now. But those grad students were again a highlight. I guess for anybody to look back over their career as you are asking me to do there are certain things that are highlights. Teaching undergraduate students as well as teaching grad students and being involved with supervising grad students has always been a highlight.
So, I guess my career started to take a change in about 1967. I guess I had always been interested in committee work and I never regarded myself as a truly outstanding researcher, I did a little research but I enjoyed teaching a great deal and I enjoyed working on committees - the in-on-the-action where things, I realized fairly early where decisions were made and how they were made and I thought that rather than complaining about decisions maybe what I should do was get involved in making those (chuckle!) so as other people could complain about the ones I was involved with so I got to do a lot of committee work and I guess as a result of that then the time came for a change in the leadership of the Department of Botany and I was selected as the new Chair of Botany. That’s a rather interesting story there too. It was just about that time that the old days of the President or the Dean selecting Department Chairmen disappeared. I was the first one who was picked by a Search Committee and in that Search Committee was a committee of your peers of course from your own department and from others, chaired by the Dean (Dean Richards) and that committee screened or looked at various people and they made
the decision as to who would be Chair and, of course, that procedure has been used ever since. I always thought back that it was very interesting that I was the first one
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S selected in that way. So, I was Chair of the department then from 1967 through to 1970. An interesting time at O.A.C. because just about the time I was appointed Chair of Botany, Bill Winegard, was appointed to succeed Dr. MacLachlan as the second President of the University of Guelph. I had met Bill earlier because, before he came to Guelph, he was the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. I’d had the opportunity to represent Hugh Branion, who was our Dean of Graduate Studies, a couple of times on the Joint Committee that we had in those days between Toronto and Guelph on graduate studies and in that way I met Bill Winegard and, of course, I was very impressed by the man in the way that he carried out a meeting in his capacity as Associate Dean of Grad Studies so when he came here I expected that we would see the same kind of thing and, indeed we did. Those three years went by pretty quickly and then, in 1970, Rick Richards invited me to put my name in the hat for Associate Dean. Bill Tossell had been the first Associate Dean of the O.A.C.. In those days, the Associate Dean primarily looked after research. In about 1970, the University decided to have a full time Dean of Research at the University level and Bill Tossell was given that job which freed up an opening in O.A.C. and I applied for it and was selected as the Associate Dean of Research.
B By Selection Committee?
S By Selection Committee, yes, to work with Rick Richards. I did that from the beginning of 1970 through till the middle of ‘72 when Rick retired as Dean. At that stage, that was about the time too that the development of the “Terms” for administrative people came along and the generally accepted term was five years, renewable once, obviously a total of ten years. When Rick became Dean, of course, in 1962 as the first Dean of the O.A.C. so in 1972 his ten years was up and President Winegard established another Search Committee to select a Dean to take Rick’s place and, of course, I was interested in that having worked with Rick for a while and having seen what goes on in the College so I applied to put my name in the hat for that and was, very fortunately for me, selected so in 1972 I went into the Dean’s Office. So that brings us up to the start of that.
B Very good. Lets go back a little bit. You mentioned some of the stories that the returned veterans told. Can you recall any of them at all? One or two?
S Well, there were several. Again, the names have slipped a bit, but one of my classmates had spent some time in a prisoner of war camp and I remember, I don’t remember the details to tell you the truth, but I remember sort of shuddering almost at the experience that he must have gone through. Another one had been caught up in a Japanese situation and had been in the Japanese labour camps and the scars of that, not the physical scars, but the mental scars I think were with him until he died - he passed away fairly early. On the lighter side, I think of stories, of course, of the one chap, well it really isn’t very
funny, but again one of my classmates lost his teeth in the war and I never did find out exactly
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S how this happened, whether it was an accident or what had happened, but he came back as a relatively young man with false teeth and he made quite a joke of this and used to from time to time take his teeth out and running around (chuckle!) snapping his teeth at anybody who happened to be in the room and, of course, they tell me at least, this often used to happen when he was in a bar and saw some young lady across the room. You know, some of these things in retrospect there is some humour in them but I guess the recollection that I mainly had of the stories that I heard was one that made me believe that how lucky I was not to have lived through some of the things these guys did. They were rough times.
B Fortunately, they have not had to fight another war since then.
S Exactly. (chuckle!) I guess all of us who have been in residence at the O.A.C. have stories about Creelman Hall, the fish on Friday, the mystery meat that was occasionally served. I think what we liked about Creelman Hall, particularly in the early days, was that those of us who had come from farms were used to having a plentiful supply of good food and Creelman supplied that. Creelman always had extra bread and extra milk that one could pick up 4 or 5 pieces of bread and a jug of milk and take it back to the room. It was good, it was great, but the negative side was I always remember the meat that came wrapped in some kind of covering and it looked a little on the greasy side and you never knew what it was until you saw beside it a pile of mint jelly and then you knew it had to be lamb or perhaps sheep (chuckle!) - we were never too sure but that one never really went over very well - they didn’t serve it too often but I think to this day I have never really developed a good taste for lamb even though, of course, the lamb we get now is pretty darn good. Of course, there was always the odd bun fight that went on when everybody dived under the tables as the buns flew around. The tin trays, of course, were a feature of those days. When we moved in here in 1947, the dining room still had the tin trays that were used by the air force because during the war the air force was here on the campus and used the campus as a training facility and, of course, were fed in the dining room. They had these piles and piles of tin trays. Well, the tin trays were still here and we used to be served our food on the tin trays with the different holes in them where the different types of food were placed. But the interesting part about the tin trays was that they were not only useful for serving food, but the boys would bang them with a spoon and they would make a tremendous racket. This became sort of a tradition that whenever a particularly good looking woman walked into the dining hall she was always greeted by a banging on the trays by everybody around the table. I guess the other thing I remember about the dining hall was that they used to have fairly strict hours and if you didn’t eat by six o’clock, you didn’t eat. Some of us were involved in athletics and I was playing intercollegiate basketball at the time. We used to practice every night after school and our practices never finished until about 6:30 or quarter to seven so we had to have a
special dispensation in order to come in without getting cleaned up and we would come in in our sweat suit, as it were, and we sometimes ran afoul of the Student Government representative of the day who felt that we should have been dressed more properly than
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S we were. I guess another thing I remember about the dining hall was that some of the professors used to have their own table. At the far end of the dining hall there was an alcove, still is an alcove in Creelman Hall, and there were special tables there for the faculty and while the rest of us had tin trays the faculty was served on dishes which we thought was a bit discriminatory. Those are some of my recollections anyway.
B Did they get mystery meat too?
S I think their menu was the same as ours. It was just that they didn’t have to go through the line.
B You mentioned that some of the Student Council thought that you should be dressed up. Was there a dress code?
S Yes, there was. In the early days, when I was in first and second year, for dinner you had to wear a tie and, as I said, coming in from practice, first of all we didn’t have time because the dining hall would stay open a little bit for us but they didn’t stay open too long. So we sort of got around the dress code. It was agreed after a while but I remember having some words as it were with some of the Student Council. That’s a good point as it was policed by the students and it was good that there was such a code - I wasn’t against it but it was just under the circumstances you didn’t have time to go and put on a tie.
B Initiation. Did you ever get involved in that?
S That’s a good point. The Class of ‘51, I don’t remember a lot about our own initiation. We remember more about our initiation of the Class of ‘52. What I do remember about ours was that we were lined up the first or second day on the front campus, out in front of what we used to call the Administration Building which is now called Johnston Hall of course, and we were spoken to by the Head of the Student’s Council. The President of the Student Council was a man named Everett Biggs. Everett Biggs later became Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Deputy Minister of Environment. He had been in the Service and I think had been a captain in the tank core. Anyway, he was one tough customer and he lined up all of us freshmen out on the front campus, and I can still see him. He strode up and down in front of us and he told us how low we were and how much we needed to be trained and that he was going to see that we became excellent students in the O.A.C.. However, I think he was right (chuckle!). Most of us did. Well the Initiation itself, that wasn’t really part of the Initiation that was like Orientation I suppose. The Initiation in those days was always put on by the second year, the sophomore class of course initiated the freshmen. We were, therefore, initiated by the Class of ‘50 and the only thing that I
really remember about it was that the football field in those days was on the front campus and along each side of the football field were bleachers that were put up in the fall and
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S then taken down after the football season. The bleachers allowed you to go underneath them if you got down to use them, the expression was “duck walk” and for anyone who hasn’t duck walked it is possible by people who are in their teens and early twenties but it was very difficult. It involves grasping your heels and waddling as it were and we were forced to do that up and down the whole length of the football field underneath the bleachers. (End of Side A)
Tape 1 of 2 - Side B - C.M. Switzer ‘51
S Well, our initiation as I said was not very memorable but I do remember quite a bit about the initiation of the Class of ‘52. We had a bit of an advantage there because our year was the last of the big years that followed the war. We weren’t as big as your Class of ‘49 but we had over 200 in our class at that time in second year. We ended up graduating 180 but there were a little over 200 at that stage. The Class of ‘52 was the first of the smaller years which had really nobody in it that had been in the service came in in their class. I think they came in with about 70 students and here we were with around 200 so it really wasn’t quite a fair thing so we dominated them in terms of initiation. I don’t think we were too tough on them. I do recall though having them lined up about six o’clock in front of Mac Hall and we forced them to march up and down in front of Mac Hall and sing songs to the girls - nothing very hard on them. I think there was some tomato fights in those days. Of course, on the campus in those days, if you’ll recall there were crops grown and the Hort people used to grow crops behind the Horticultural building. At that time of the year the tomatoes had been picked that were going to be used for research and everything had just been left in the field. That became an ideal place for people to get ammunition (chuckle!) for tomato fights and I think we kind of had a sport (if you like) pelting the Class of ‘52.
So, in any event, going back to my days in the Dean’s Office - I was there for 11 years from 1972 to ‘83. I had a year off in the middle when I went down to the United States and looked at other Colleges to see what they were doing and it was certainly helpful to me and I like to think it was perhaps helpful to our whole program because I did bring back, steal if you like (chuckle!), certain ideas of things that they were doing there that I thought we could benefit from. It was a great experience to have this time in the Dean’s Office. I was very fortunate to follow Rick Richards. Rick had just done tremendous work in setting up the College. As first Dean, he had been involved in the start of the new system where the College was part of the University and I think Rick had concern at the outset, and rightly so. With the University developing there was a possibility, at least, that the Ontario Agricultural College might be given sort of a short shrift, that it would be set aside in a way so that the newer parts of the University would be given the lion’s share of support and he did a wonderful job of keeping OAC in the forefront of the University so that when I moved in there in 1972 that problem didn’t exist and it was well
established that the University of Guelph was going to develop in certain ways but that it was going to keep Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine at the forefront of its mandate and I give Rick
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S every credit for that.
During my time in the office I guess there are many, many things that one could talk about, but I guess the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of OAC would be one of those that would certainly come to mind first. This occurred, of course, in 1974. The College was founded, obviously (chuckle!), one hundred years earlier, in 1874 and built on the location where it now is and it was called the Stone farm. A lot of the history on that, of course, was written in the book by Alex Ross called “The College on the Hill” which was written as part of the OAC Centennial Celebrations. That book is still well worth reading and I think the present Dean, Dean McLaughlin, is still using the book to give out to various students as an award as a prize and, hopefully, they read it because there is a lot of very very interesting information about the early days of the founding of this College. Our year-long celebrations were really something I thought. There was great participation, not only by the faculty but by the students and by Alumni. The culmination of the celebrations was a whole week of celebrations in the summer in 1974 and each day in that week we devoted to celebrating one of our client groups. For example, one of the days was government day, if you like, and we honored the relationship that we’d had over the years with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and with the Feds. Then we had our days for the farm groups and that kind of thing. We had dinners were we brought people in and we honored 100 people that we thought had made great contributions to agriculture with their relationship to OAC over the years and that little booklet had been widely used over the years, and if I do say so, in my latter experiences in the Government where there were honors to be given it was interesting how many people would go back to look at the 100 people we picked and some of them would show up again and again as being truly exceptional outstanding people in agriculture. So that was probably one of the highlights of it. So many things happened during the eleven years it’s hard to pinpoint too many of them.
B Any major achievements that you think that you accomplished or steered their direction?
S Again, that’s a hard thing. As you well know, if you head up a group, any achievements that take place are the result of a whole lot of people working together. I was blessed with a tremendous faculty, there’s no question about that. We were working at a time of an expansion and we were allowed, particularly in the early 70's, to add new faculty. It wasn’t quite as true towards the end of my term in the early 80's, we were then
consolidating but we added a large number of exceptionally talented young faculty members during my years in the office. I guess another thing I’d say about those years was that I was always very appreciative about the support that the OAC got from the
Senior Administration. Bill Winegard, as President, supported the OAC as a major focus of the University. His successor, Don Forester, did similarly, and so I always felt pretty
good about the fact that the person who was given the responsibility as Dean could go to the President and be pretty sure of being supported - as long as you had, you know, your case well made (chuckle!) - that was good and I think that, to this day even, that the
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S present President of the University recognizes the importance of the OAC within the whole structure.
As far as Programs are concerned, I saw the research program develop greatly in the ten year period, again through no great effort on my part, the times were right you know, and you go around some times and see things developing that would you like to take credit for but probably whoever was Dean at the time the same thing would have happened. The one thing that I would say though is that the fact that Bill Winegard gave me six months to go down into the States in 1975 to look at other institutions which was very helpful. I visited 14 different land-grant institutions in a period of six months, spent about a week at each one and then sometimes I did two or three in a row, a week here, a week there then I’d come back to Guelph and try to consolidate what I had learned in those and with the help of Mike Jenkinson and others in the office tried to pass on anything that was useful to our own people. The one thing that I think I picked up down there that I did make good use of here was the concept of getting our story out to the public in general. I don’t think there has ever been any question that the farmers of Ontario and the food processors and all those people knew what an education in agriculture was all about but I think that if I had any contribution to make in those years it was trying to get the importance of an agricultural education and a research in agriculture out to the general public. I spent a lot of time talking to service clubs, to people at fall fairs and things of this kind where you could get an audience of people who maybe understood a little about agriculture but weren’t as knowledgeable as they could be, so I spent a lot of time doing that and I’d like to think that that was helpful.
B And writing.
S And writing, yes that’s right. Some of the stuff you had the opportunity to write up or to do what we’re doing today - talk to some people in the press or sit down with a TV camera and you’d talk to them about what the OAC was doing. So I enjoyed that.
B Good. Now, after you’ve left here and you had a short sabbatical and then took on a new role as President of the AIC.
S Yes, well I guess I was President of the AIC about the time I was leaving the office here and frankly that was not by chance because I had been invited to let my name stand for President of AIC and I know that you know, having the role that you played, that that is a job that can take and should take a lot of time. I really didn’t see that I could do that while I was Dean, but knowing that my second term as Dean was finishing in the Spring of ‘83, I took on that role as President and little did I know at that stage that before I finished my year I was going to end up with another job that was going to take a lot of
time too, but no it was very good because I did finish my second term as Dean in June ‘83 and Freeman McEwen then became Dean and I was on leave during the summer and fall of 1983 and during that time I spent a fair bit of time in Ottawa trying to get a grasp of what
Tape 1 of 2 - Side B - C.M. Switzer ‘51 Page 12
S the Agricultural Institute of Canada is all about and if there was anything that I could do to facilitate their work. Again I guess the main thing I tried to do was to tie together all the different professional institutes and the scientific societies under an umbrella organization that would work. As we both know, that hasn’t always worked as well as one would like to see it work. The Fall of ‘83 I had a very interesting call and that was to go down to Toronto to have a visit with the Minister of Agriculture. I had run into Dennis Timbrell a few times and I wasn’t sure just what he had in mind but I accepted his offer to come down and visit with him and I was almost floored when he invited me to become his new Deputy. I had had no experience at all, of course, in the senior government administration and I was a little taken aback that I had been invited to do that given the fact that the usual thing was to move somebody up who had government experience, but they had had quite a reorganization in the Ministry and so I agreed. I think what they were looking for was sort of an outside face but a face who perhaps was known in agriculture and who could bring in some thoughts from outside the government but not so radical (chuckle!) that might upset the people who were directly involved in the agricultural systems. I suggested to Mr. Timbrell that I couldn’t make this decision immediately I had to think about it because this was really quite a radical thing. I had planned to take my full year of sabbatical after finishing my job in the Dean’s Office and then go back into teaching and research which I figured I could do until the end of my career - my retirement time - and I had sort of got myself geared up to do that in my mind, at least. As it turned out, Dorothy and I were heading out to England. I was giving a paper at a Plant Protection conference in Brighton, England in November ‘83 and that week was just immediately after I had my conversation with Timbrell, so I begged him for a little time and it was suggested that I call him when I got back. So, we talked it over over there and decided that the experience would be a very good one - so we took it and I never regretted, it was a tremendous experience to spend six years in the Deputy’s office. I served with four difference Ministers, Dennis Timbrell, of course, to start with and he was followed by Phil Andrews and then by Ross Stevenson. It was rather interesting that both Phil Andrews and Ross Stevenson had been students of mine - both members of the Class of OAC ‘65 and I was the Honorary President of ‘65 (chuckle!) so it was rather interesting that here my former students are now my immediate bosses and we had some laughs over that but it was a good working relationship that I had with both of them. The government changed, of course, that Spring and then Jack Riddell became the new Minister and, of course, Jack and I were not that much different in ages. Jack had been a student here after I came back on staff and Jack graduated in 1957 from OAC and I got back on staff in ‘55 so I had known him as an undergraduate student. He and I had an interesting history in the sense that his father was the same W.K. Riddell who had been
the Ag. Rep. when I had made up my mind to go to OAC and it would have had something to do with Ken Lantz and Gord Bennett in getting me here so the wheel really
revolved at this point that I am now working with the son of the man that had something
something to do with me starting my career. Jack and I, I think, worked very well together. I spent the rest of my time up until 1989 with Jack and he was still the Minister when I retired in ‘89. Those years in the Deputy’s Office were, again, good years - a lot
Tape 1 of 2 - Side B - C.M. Switzer ‘51 Page 13
S of things happened in agriculture and I think of the financial problems the farmers faced in
the mid-‘80's - it was when the interest rates went sky-high and farmers who had been lent money because they were told by their bankers that they should be borrowing more suddenly were faced with a hundred thousand dollar debt at 18% or 19% and they went out of business in spite of the fact that, we the government, Ministry of Agriculture and Food, had all kinds of programs to put in place to help them, they weren’t sufficient to keep a lot of them in place, so it was a tough time for agriculture. It was a good time, though, to be there because the challenges were not great. We did not have to face the cut backs that were faced by subsequent folks who had the position that I had. In fact, the governments that were in place during the six years that I was Deputy were very congenial towards agriculture and I think the budget essentially every year was increased and it was largely in part, I think, because of the need for the extra money in the agricultural community. Our staffing went up. When I left there were 2,200 people working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. I think right now there are fewer than 1,000 so the cut-backs have been major.
B Any major differences you saw working in the Dean’s Office and working in the Deputy’s Office?
S That’s a very interesting question. I guess the answer is yes and no. I will tell you a little antidote that shows that there was a difference, at least at the outset. The decision making at the University was, and probably still is, largely a matter of consensus. When I wanted something done, let’s say that I thought was for the benefit of the OAC, the way in which you would get your way was to bring in the Heads of the departments, propose the idea, suggest to them that they might like to take this back to discuss it with their departments, call a meeting for a week later, have them bring back the feed-back from their departments, perhaps repeat that procedure another time and after three or four such meetings, hopefully, there would be a consensus that this was a good idea. I assumed when I went down to the Deputy’s Office that the same thing would happen in Government. But after I had been there a couple of weeks I remember having a talk with my Senior Management Committee and suggesting to them that it might be a good idea if we thought about doing a certain thing. I fully expected that they would take it down to their different branches and discuss it and then next week we’d talk about it. Low and behold, the next morning I went into work and found out that it had happened. The Deputy had spoken (chuckle!) - he had suggested that this would be a good thing and it happened. Well, obviously, I slowed up then (chuckle!) at making my suggestions and that was a major difference between the University and the Government. I think that’s changed now over the years. I think that the higher role that the Deputy Ministers used to
have over their staff was changing as I moved in and it has changed a lot since then and I really sense, although I have been out of it now for close to ten years, I sense that decision making in Governments now, at the bureaucrat level, is much more consensus oriented that it was prior to my time there. Of course, having been brought up that way in the educational system, I tried to bring that thought into our Department that that was the
Tape 1 of 2 - Side B - C.M. Switzer ‘51 Page 14
S best way to make decisions.
B One of the best Ministers, possibly, that Agriculture ever had was W.A. Stewart and he was Minister for part of your tenure as Dean here -
S Yes, yes indeed. I really never had the opportunity to work with him directly, of course, because he had left the Ministry before I went there and, I guess I was trying to think of the Ministers that succeeded, I think Bill Newman who was another classmate of mine - Bill was the Class of ‘51 and then, I guess, Bill Newman was followed by Lorne Henderson, I believe, and Lorne Henderson was followed by Dennis Timbrell so I was three Ministers away from Bill Stewart. But I did have the opportunity, of course, when I was in the Dean’s Office to work with Mr. Stewart and also, of course, to work with another eminent OAC graduate named Dick Hilliard. Dick Hilliard was Deputy Minister of the days, or part of the time at least, that Bill Stewart was Minister and, of course, the other person that one always thinks about as being involved with Bill Stewart was Everett Biggs. The combination of Bill Stewart and Everett Biggs was just a fantastic combination for this province. Everett, of course, was a graduate of this institution. My relationship to them was interesting, I always remember when Dick Hilliard was Deputy that when he had a disagreement with something that we were doing in OAC he would phone me. Dick liked to get going early in the morning and he knew that I came into work fairly early too so if the phone rang about a quarter to eight, or sometime between seven thirty and a quarter to eight, I had an idea that it might be Dick Hilliard. When Dick opened a conversation about something he wasn’t too pleased about the conversation always started with “damn it Switzer” (and I would hold the receiver maybe 10" from my ear) and listen to the rest of his conversation before I attempted to say anything. Dick was fairly definite in his views. Mr. Stewart was much more, as you’d expect, much more smooth in his condemnation of something that we shouldn’t do. I’ll never forget, though, that his actions could be very quick and very swift. The one that always sticks in my mind was when one of our faculty members had said some negative things about Marketing Boards. Mr. Stewart called and, did not suggest, he said “you will remove $50,000 from the budget of that department and you will move the $50,000 over into Apiculture where I have some problems” and I remember saying “but,but,but! (chuckle!) Mr. Stewart and he said “don’t question it, do it”, so I was Associate Dean at the time, this was before I was Dean, so I immediately hastened in to see Dean Richards and told him what had happened and the Dean, of course, called back but the bottom line was that Mr. Stewart meant what he had asked for. Now, one could argue that that was political interference with an academic situation and I suppose in one sense that it was but
on the other hand one could argue that the Ministry of Agriculture and Food was putting up money to do certain things
and it was seen that things were not being done with the money that they put up that, presumably, they had every right to withdraw the money and you could argue it both ways depending on where you stand. I guess this was a most interesting thing and I should just
Tape 1 of 2 - Side B - C.M. Switzer ‘51 Page 15
S comment on this. I suspect I run into very few people who had held both the position as Dean of an agricultural college and then Deputy Minister,
B Bill Reek went the other way.
S That’s right. Bill Reek had been Deputy Minister and then became President of OAC. Exactly. But there aren’t many in Canada that I’m aware of . The interesting part of it is that one is forced to have both perspectives and I’m sure that Bill Reek coming in as President of this institution after having been Deputy Minister had to change some of his thinking. I certainly know that when I went down to Toronto I had to change some of my thinking, vis-a-vis what went on at the University. You become much more hard nosed, if you like, about how your dollars are being spent when you are responsible for those dollars at the Government level - I don’t mean to imply that we were irresponsible at the University but you look at it in a different way. I take your point that you mentioned Mr. Reek because I always remember going way back to my early days as a student that Bill Reek, of course, was President here when I guess both you and I were undergrads and I always remember when I was first President of my class being ushered into his office because some of our class had done something they shouldn’t have and the Class President was always called on the carpet and I still remember that fear and trepidation with which I went into his office (chuckle!). The other thing worth mentioning about Mr. Reek is that I think one of the finest ladies that I have ever met was his wife. Mrs. Reek, of course, lived for many years and I always remember her in 1974 when we had our Centennial - she came back to the campus and was sort of our Lady of Honor at several of the events. She has, of course, long since gone now but I still think of her as a real lady.
B Clay, you have had a lot of interest in the Alumni Association here at the University. Can you tell us your role in some of it?
S Yes, certainly that goes back a long way to when I was Dean I was very much involved as Dean with the OAC Alumni Association as the Dean of the College is always Honorary President of the group so I really got tied into them a lot. More recently, after I retired in 1989, the then President, Brian Segal, asked me if I would do some work with him and one of the things that he invited me to do was to make some contacts with the alumni group, so I got more and more involved with the University of Guelph alumni as opposed to the OAC alumni, of course, OAC is a part of it. That culminated a few years ago when I was made President of the University of Guelph Alumni Association. It was a great experience because I got to know a lot of people outside of the OAC who were pretty
strong alumni and very interested in the welfare of this institution too. One of the other things though, going back to my work with Brian Segal, Brian invited me to look
into the possibility of developing a building on the site that we are sitting on right now. That was a very enjoyable experience for me because it gave me the opportunity to work with some of my former friends in the turf industry and we went out and were able to raise
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S a million and a half dollars from the industry to build the building we are sitting in here. It’s a unique building in the sense that it is a true indication of how government and university and the private sector can work together. The government supplied the land - we are sitting on government land, the industry built the building, and the university staffs it and this is, to me, a great way to do business. In fact, this is being done more and more now.
B I’ll just interrupt here to say that we are talking about the Guelph Turfgrass Institute on the east side of Victoria Road and the land used to belong to the Reformatory.
S That’s right, well it’s government land formerly used by the Reformatory and then the OAC farmed the land as part of the research contract here - it still does, there is still corn produced here.
The other thing that I should mention to you is my recent (chuckle!) involvement. There
have been a couple of very interesting projects - you know the monetary bit that we now get involved in these days.
I co-chaired a committee along with Don Blackburn to arrange some celebrations to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of the OAC and this, of course, happens in 1999 and having gone through it, as I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed and thought it was a wonderful time in 1974 and we are now looking forward to celebrating the 125th.
The other thing that I was doing recently was Chairing a committee to raise enough funds to renovate the Old Horticultural Pagoda greenhouse - we are now calling it the Conservatory greenhouse and we think there is enough interest among OAC Alumni and other Alumni to renovate it, put it back into the state that some of us remember it when we were undergrad students. Quite a few of the years, included yours I guess, have already contributed to the gardens - there are six gardens now outside the old greenhouse contributed to by four different years - ‘49, ‘51, ‘55 and ‘65 and then two other gardens that have been funded from other sources and we are looking to raise another three hundred thousand dollars to finish off the greenhouse.
So all of these things, Ed, keeps one busy and, of course, my action with the Alumni is ongoing and that’s a thing, I’m sure, that you and I will continue on as long as we are able.
B and you enjoy it.
S Yes - as do you I’m sure.
B Yes, very much so.
Tape 1 of 2 - Side B - C.M. Switzer ‘51 Page 17
S Yes - that’s for sure.
B Ok, looking back on your career some things always happen by chance and yet you feel that you made good choices when coming to the OAC, going into the option you did, coming back to the OAC provided a good life for you.
S Yes, it’s nice to be able to say that if you could look back over and then make changes, you wouldn’t make any. (Chuckle!) You probably would make a few but certainly in the career choices that I made, and all the choices weren’t mine either - you know the old story about being in the right place at the right time is so true and you know I have just been lucky - being in the Dean’s Office when I was and it was a great time being in the Deputy’s Office when I was and now I’m able to sit here with you (chuckle!). We are very fortunate to be able to do this kind of thing.
B We lived in a good time in agriculture and worked in a good time.
S Absolutely. One would like to think, as they say, “It ain’t over yet”. I don’t think it is. I think as you know, we are seeing so many changes in agriculture. The small farm that I grew up on, and perhaps you did too, no longer really exists. The farms now are bigger - but the same kind of people are farming.
B Still family farms.
S Still family farms and I don’t see them really changing. I saw that for years. Going back in the 70's when people were talking corporates. (End of Tape 1)
Tape 2 of 2 - Side A - C.M. Switzer ‘51
B O.K. Clay, you were talking about corporate farms and how our family farm still exists. Do you want to expand on that?
S Yes, I guess when I was thinking back over the years that when I was a kid the family farm was considered to be ‘the thing’. As we went on through the years I remember in the 70's there used to be a lot of people said “the family farm is gone, it’s dead”. The
only way a farmer is going to be able to exist is if he becomes part of the corporation. I never really believed that because I have always felt that part of the reason that a farmer is successful is because he is running his own show and its his own family farm. I think what we have seen is that the farms have certainly become bigger and farms are certainly incorporated for business reasons but a lot of those young people that I remember teaching as students here are now out on farms as family farms. I had a call the other day from an individual who has a family farm, dairy operation, a good sized one down near
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S Hamilton and he called me because he’d seen somewhere about the OAC’s 125 Celebrations and he wanted to know about what their year might be doing about it so I was chatting with him and he and his daughter both still have separate farm operations - and it’s certainly called a family farm.
B Well, that’s good. You got back to the 125 Celebrations again. Can you tell us something about the plans that you hope to do because that’s less than a year away now.
S It surely is. One of the things that we are hoping to do is to have a series of Seminars, sort of to celebrate the event - having a Seminar per month. We have invited each of the Departments of OAC to take the lead in picking a particular month and they will bring in a speaker and that speaker will presumable talk about something that’s of interest broadly to the OAC at which, hopefully, will show that developments are taking place and things for the future are going to be even better or different at least. So that’s one.
Another thing that we are doing, you will recall that back in ‘74, we had a committee that
selected one hundred individuals who had made contributions. Well, this year, we thought maybe what we’d look at is what kind of accomplishments have taken place as the result of OAC having been in existence and thought, obviously, we are at 125 years surely there is 125 accomplishments. So, Freeman McEwen who followed me in the Dean’s Office - now retired, of course, took on the Chairmanship of this committee and he has brought in several other former staff and faculty of the OAC and with a lot of help from other people they have come up with a list of 125 accomplishments. The idea now is to get a one-page writeup of each of those accomplishments, perhaps with a picture, and this will be published in a book format and made available fairly early in 1999 and we hope that this book might be of interest to a lot of people but we will also probably use the book as a gift for speakers and things of this kind. So that’s one of the major ongoing things for the 1999 Celebrations.
We also hope to focus in on Alumni Weekend. Alumni Weekend in 1999, of course, is in June and we are planning to extend that weekend by a day so that the weekend, instead of starting Friday night, will start Thursday night. The program is yet to be fully developed but one of the things we have the Committee working on is to develop a Heritage Dinner and Ball, we’re calling it, for the Friday night and that would be open to everybody, not just OAC Alumni as we are trying to ensure that this Celebration of OAC’s birthday is seen as a University celebration too. We’d like to involve the whole university and I’m
hopeful that will happen. The University of Guelph Alumni is involved and there are representatives on our committee from other parts of the University as well as OAC. So it’s moving on - we are meeting once a month and I think by the end of this year, or before the end of this year, we’ll have our program well in place.
The one thing I should have mentioned, going back to another point I made earlier, is that one of the focal points of the Celebrations in June of ‘99 will be the official opening of the
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S renovated Greenhouse - vis-à-vis the Conservatory. We are hopeful, and I’m fairly confident, 99% confident (chuckle!), that we will have raised the money to not only fix it up and put it back in the shape that it was in when you and I were students here but have enough money to ensure that it’s maintained. The universities in the world these days, of course, are not interested in having new buildings unless there is also some kind of funding in an endowment of some kind that will allow them to be looked after and that’s part of our fund raising in this - it’s not just to get enough money to do it but to set up an endowment. I’m hopeful that we’ll have that all done and in place and, in fact, the greenhouse will be completed for Alumni Weekend.
B The gardens are well underway?
S The gardens are well underway. They are very attractive. We’ve had all kinds of people that have wandered through them so far and have been really very pleased with it. I think the long-term plan of this is that the gardens will eventually become an entrance way to the University Centre building. The thought is of a new parking lot where the present Food Technology building is, the storage building. I believe that the thought is that that building will come down in due course and there will be a parking lot there leading in off the Ring Road. People will park there and walk through the gardens, through the renovated Conservatory greenhouse and into the University Centre. The Conservatory greenhouse will then be a place where there could be static exhibits put, demonstrations and things of this kind so that people coming through can get an idea of perhaps where things are, maps and things of this kind. As well it will be a greenhouse - I mean we expect to have plants in it (chuckle!) although this is not going to be a working greenhouse in the sense of environmental controls or anything like that. So that’s the plan.
B Very good. It will make a nice entrance too and give people a good impression coming for the first time.
S Exactly. I think this is what President Rozanski wants to see, but at the present time he’s not wildly enthused about where people park in a lot where they have to walk through a parking lot and then they’re at the back door of the building. They don’t get much of a feel for the University. I think our University here is noted for the thing that OAC started many years ago, that it was a beautiful campus and anything that we can do to enhance
that, which is what this is going to do, should be to the benefit of the University.
B OK. Clay, we have talked a lot about the past. Do you have any long-term ambitions now? You have your own consulting company and what are your goals that way?
S Well, again, that’s a question that forces me to think about some of these things that one doesn’t always think about too far in advance. I guess the only comment I’d make, Ed, is that I have no intention of (ah) - I don’t think that the way I am would allow me to sort of
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S put up my feet and read the paper every day and call it a day. As long as I’m
healthy, I want to do something just as I know (chuckle!) you do. There are so many things that one can do. I know the University, particularly in these days, has all kinds of openings, if you want to put it that way, for volunteers and, in fact, I think is crying out for volunteers. This effort that we are doing now with the Conservatory, with the OAC 125 - these are just examples of things of these - the effort you are doing with the taping. I mean, these are things some of the Alumni can do and I think that people like you and I are going to continue to look for things like that to do. No, I don’t have a long term vision, I’ll wait and see what comes up, and act accordingly. I have become fairly involved in the Rotary Club. The Rotary Club, like other Service Clubs, gets involved in what I like to call “good things” and certainly there are some people who are Rotarians who do nothing else but do ‘good things’ with the Rotary. They are involved with crippled children, they are involved with older people, etc. etc. etc., so there is never ending things that one can do. I don’t have any long-term plans for doing any of these particularly but, as I say, I think one reacts to what comes up and does the best they can.
B Your in a position now where your not told what to do, but pick and choose.
S It’s a nice position isn’t it -
S - a great position to be able to do that and, of course, one has family to think of. We have four grandchildren now and one likes to be able to think that you could spend a little more time with them. My youngest boy is teaching at the American University in Cairo, Egypt and he’s presently, as of a month ago, starting a year’s leave in Canada with his two boys and his wife, of course. One of his boys is getting on to eleven years of age so they are going to be living in Guelph for the next year. You asked about my long-term plans - I don’t know about those, but my short-term plans (chuckle!) one of them is to spend some time with my eleven year old grandson who, having spent six of years of life in Egypt, I haven’t seen much of so I am looking forward to getting to know him a bit and having him to get to know me. That is going to be a fairly high priority over the next year but there are still lots of things to do.
B Will you take him out golfing, recreation camping, fishing?
S Well, I’m not much of a camper or fisherman, but my back yard is sort of my camp and my swimming pool is my fishing but, no your absolutely right, there is a lot of things, with him around, that I may do that I’ve never done before (chuckle!) and, yes, I’d like
to get him involved in the same things I do, like golfing and maybe he’d like to see what a
curling stone is all about. But, there will be things that he’ll want to do too. He’s never seen a big league ball game and certainly one of the things on the agenda is to get him down to see the Blue Jays in action and things of that kind. So, we are looking forward to
Tape 2 of 2 - Side A - C.M. Switzer 51 Page 21
B and your daughter?
S My daughter is in Ottawa. She works for Stats Canada and enjoys it immensely - has her own place there. She works in the Census area so it’s rather interesting to hear her views on how they keep modifying the way in which they take census. She’s in the research side so her team is to figure out better ways of doing the census so that there is more accuracy brought into it.
Then our oldest son lives in Toronto. They have two children and we do see quite a bit of them too. He’s in the music business down there and we have the opportunity to see a fair bit of them, so it’s a busy life and we are enjoying it immensely.
B that’s good.
OK, this is the end of the tape. Thank you very much, Clay, for a very interesting visit here with you this afternoon.
S My pleasure. It’s an honour to be included.
B Good, we’re glad to have you.