AudioDonald H. Huntley interview
D. Murray Brown (00:03):
This is an interview with Dr. Don Huntley, OAC, year 41 by Murray Brown for the oral history record of Guelph graduates for the Alumni Association. Don, we would like to start these recordings with some information regarding the factors that influenced you to decide to attend the Ontario Agricultural College at Guelph.
Donald H. Huntley (00:30):
Yes, I'd be glad to do that. I was born in Prince Edward Island in 1916, attended the Prince of Wales College, which is really a high school and a normal school attached to it. This is in Charlottetown and enabled me to take a summer course and become a teacher which was quite different from today in that there was no such a thing except a one year contract. And each year you had to try and get a contract to either continue or to go looking for a new school. And I don't think there was anyone that I knew that was in the same school any longer than two or three years, and since it was during the depressive years, there were more teachers looking for schools than there were schools. However, it was not a career that I wanted to continue with, which meant going to university and the choice of the college was probably because of my background, a farm background, and the very fact that I knew something about Guelph.
Donald H. Huntley (01:56):
The premier of the province, for example, was a graduate of Guelph and the butter maker in our village was also a graduate of Guelph and of course, OJ Stevenson, who was known to everyone in Canada that ever went to a decent high school. Although we might not have known him personally, And he was, these Shakespeare books that were used in all the high schools across Canada. Definitely stated that this man put out the book and all the examples of what was meant by Shakespeare OAC was mentioned. There is the place where this man was a professor. That's the thing that brought me to Guelph.
D. Murray Brown (02:48):
Don, would you give me a little background on coming to Guelph and something about your residence life? And did you eat in Creelman hall?
Donald H. Huntley (02:59):
Yes, I can well remember getting to Guelph after a long train ride and arriving at the station with a full trunk load that was supposed to be my provisions for a whole solid year and arranging for cottage wagon of four, 1926 cottage wagon to take my possessions up to Guelph. And I rode the almost worn out street car that bounced up to the university, Guelph the college, and ran smack into this peculiar ritual they had called an Invitation, which was really a horror story in itself and not only being in a noisy brawl, but I certainly thought then was just exercising human abuse. However, there was a very, very positive impression of the building. It was called the administration building, which was relatively new and the architecture was very much like a university.
Donald H. Huntley (04:24):
It had marvelous entrance area. It was due little Oak doors, but I was immediately told that there was no way you dare go through that door. For some reason, the door was not for students or staff. There were side doors, side doors for servants and side door for students. Anyway, everything inside the building was basic. There was no doubt that the food that was arranged in the hall that was a food place, but there were definitely Victorian regulations. And the residents, which was in the administration building four floors and was no cars allowed on the campus. No radios allowed, no drinking, no smoking and everything was very much apparently like it would've been in the Victorian College in England.
D. Murray Brown (05:40):
My next question is a little about academics. Could you explain some of your experiences with professors and the training you got at Guelph?
Donald H. Huntley (05:53):
We certainly kind of pass on an idea of what we thought at that time with the professors as we saw them for the first time. Actually, they seemed very much like the teachers that we did have at high school. Most of them apparently had own a first degree and the ones were six professors that had a PhD. The whole schedule at the institution of course, was a six day week. And with the institution that had a peculiar arrangement just getting to work in the morning. The professional staff had the privilege of coming in at nine o'clock with their, with their secretaries. But as far as the other staff that were working and the technicians, it started at six o'clock in the morning for the horseman and the cattleman. And at seven o'clock, the next group of staff arrives, which were the lowest ranking of the work. And this was followed by the technicians who came in at eight o'clock and at nine of course, then the whole total were there.
Donald H. Huntley (07:19):
By five o'clock the ones that came in last folded their chairs and headed home and at six o'clock, most of the rest of us had finished their day's work. It was unusual that we thought, the professional staff itself seemed unique in that they all seemed to be at the same age, which likely traces back to the fact that those people that had been on the staff know the promotions or know people added to the staff because of the depression, which meant that there was very few people of, say that had come to the institution in the last 10 or 15 years.
D. Murray Brown (08:09):
Don, what was your specialty as a student at Guelph?
Donald H. Huntley (08:14):
Well, at the beginning was, no, it wasn't a matter of specialty. The first two years was just a general education that covered maths and physics and chemistry and biology and introductory courses that were related to agriculture.
Donald H. Huntley (08:35):
In the last two years, the college had, I believe, 10 different options that they were called. They were specialized to a relatively small degree because there was definitely attempt to keep the total student group basically tied into agriculture, crop breeding, genetics, and statistical analysis and soil and crop and food and techniques were the ones that were called husbandry specialist. And it was this section of that, I was in that OAC.
D. Murray Brown (09:21):
What extra activities did you participate in Don?
Donald H. Huntley (09:25):
I think, in hindsight, it was limited. I was an executive of what was called the literary society, and associated with a related thing, which we called at that time, Parliamentary Club, which I was the speaker and I was on a bran executive as well. And on a later note of, I was their violinist in freshman band, that was performed twice weekly for, what we call, the dance hops at McDonald Hall.
D. Murray Brown (10:13):
Has your class kept in good contact over the last 56 years Don?
Donald H. Huntley (10:17):
To a certain degree this was true, but circumstances probably kept this to a low level at the beginning because the war periods certainly scattered everybody in the year. But I had a chance, I think, to perhaps keep in touch with more members of the year than most of them, because I was appointed as a permanent year president. And over the past 50 years, we have managed to keep in touch with faculty, all the members of the year. None of them really got lost.
D. Murray Brown (10:58):
Since the Air Force came on campus in 1941, did this cause any disruption in your final year, Don?
Donald H. Huntley (11:08):
It certainly did. There is no doubt that the takeover, most of the buildings that you see in McDonald Institute by the RCAF had a marked effect on all the classes that we had, and especially what might happen at the end, whether be able to be such a thing as a graduation ceremony. I believe we had some examinations and I'm sure the others were missed and we're not quite sure how we all got past the grades and degrees, but it did happen. And we in the spring, I don't remember the year, the time, but we did finally get our degrees from, Sir William Eulook, who was the chancellor. I believe in his hundredth year and quite a long speech from Cannon Cody who was the high priest of the University of Toronto. So even though we worried at the time, it was a relatively small hole dislocation when you look back at it after 50 years.
D. Murray Brown (12:31):
I know a little that about your career, Don, but would you summarize for me your career positions for the record
Donald H. Huntley (12:40):
1941 graduated, and at the time I was offered a research scholarship to do orders of study the genetics of disease resistance in plants that were used in agriculture at the University of Toronto, which evolved into a training program to produce meteorological officers for the Commonwealth Air Train Program that had been established in Canada. So that's so much for attempt to get into graduate programs. It was postponed, and I served as meteorological officer at RCF stations which were located at Kingston for about two years and for year, year and a half on the free arm station at GVA Nova Scotia. Well, after the war ended in fall of 1945, I was appointed sister professor in the Crop Science Department of OAC. And by 1952 had been promoted to department head at the time most of the ones that were senior had moved on.
Donald H. Huntley (14:14):
Doctor McConkey, I remember, who had been a professor, senior professor at OAC and had been in World War I and World War II. And at that particular end of the war had been for a time involved with the rehabilitation of Manchuria as it was taken from the Russians. And the Japanese were driven out. Well in turn, Mauchi Tuma of China decided to get rid of the Americans and Dr. McConkey by 1949. And Dr. McConkey was sent back home to Canada, but his interest in the conservation at that time meant that he really moved on to writing a book on conservation. Dr. Weir was given the opportunity to move to Dean of Agriculture in University of Manitoba. And he moved there. And Dr. [inaudible], the former head of the department headed out to [inaudible] to establish the equivalent of OAC in that country.
Donald H. Huntley (15:42):
Many of the other professors were so close to retirement that it meant that this ladder was shortened for a person like myself, which was probably the biggest reason why I became head of the department in 1966, 1962, I guess it was that I was really left the department and became director research for the newly appointed Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario. In 1966, this was expanded. And I also became the executive director of the Agricultural Research and Education division of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. As a part-time assignment in 1967, in 1968, I served as a member of the special study for the Science Council of Canada on a state existed in Agricultural Science in Canada. And one year later, in 1968, I was granted the honor of the LLD degree from the University of Guelph.
D. Murray Brown (17:08):
Don. I know you completed the PhD in the late 1940s. I think for the record, it would be of interest to know how you got back into graduate schools after your service in the Air Force.
Donald H. Huntley (17:22):
Well, World War II ended in 1945. Government programs were established to allow veterans both to start or renew their educational programs. Huge numbers came to all agricultural colleges. In fact, all colleges after 10 years of depression and five years of war, there was a shortage of professional staff, a shortage of technical staff, a shortage of classroom space, a shortage of technical equipment, housing for students. Really there was a crisis in everything but money, and thankfully, a sympathetic government. As a junior staff member of the Crop Science Department in the 1946 to 1948 I taught general courses on the development of plant species in to significant food varieties for both human and domesticated animals. Changes were made in the layout design of field experiments to determine.
Donald H. Huntley (18:40):
And in 1948, I was granted leave of absence to obtain a PhD in genetics and plant breeding at Iowa State University, absence to continue a PhD program in genetics and plant breeding at Iowa State University, which had the largest enrollment of graduate students in crop science in America, if not in all parts of Europe. The host plant of my research plan was OAC 21 Bali due to its susceptibility to the fungus causing mildew disease.
Donald H. Huntley (19:24):
The other plants used in this study came from the world collection of barley varieties, known to exhibit sub-resistance to the fungus. Very large populations of third generation progeny of specific crosses were required to determine the number of genes providing resistance in the parent varieties. And also whether the genes for resistance in the world's collection are the same or on different chromosomes. There was also a slight chance that I could establish the position on the various chromosomes in barley of which there were seven on which these particular genes were located, that the techniques were relatively primitive and this particular part of the program and had to wait until technology was actually introduced or developed, which maybe 10 years away.
D. Murray Brown (20:36):
The Agricultural College has always been very involved in extension material. How do you feel about the importance of that involvement of the Agriculture College in the agriculture community, Don?
Donald H. Huntley (20:55):
Well, at the beginning, I think we can say that since day one OAC has had a solid bonding with the agricultural communities of Ontario. Its mandate was partly educational, which was a provincial responsibility and partly agricultural research and extension, which was an identical federal and provincial responsibility. Back in Guelph in 1950 to resume a role in plant breeding and participation in the Department of Agricultural Extension at night schools in the new community centers that were established in nearly all of the counties of Ontario shortly after world war II. The crop's department increased its contact with the producer organizations within Ontario, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, and the Canadian Seed Growers Association. These groups made the final farm scale evaluation and seed increase in distribution. The varieties that were produced by OAC and other plant breeding stations. I suppose, as a result of this in 1967, I was made an honorary life member of the Canadian Seed Grower's Association of Canada.
D. Murray Brown (22:32):
Don, you mentioned the Canadian Seed Growers Association. I know you were very involved and it's obvious when you were made an honorary member. So would you tell us me a little bit about the seed industry in Canada?
Donald H. Huntley (22:49):
Well, in the postwar period, private seed merchants, which had of course had been in existence for some time, but they began expanding their role in a crop seed business as a private enterprise. First in hybrid corn, which were derived from private corn breeding companies in the United States, which were made subject to federal regulations based on superior performance data. But it was a matter of a private industry getting involved in the development of new varieties of field crops, along with well established, both provincial and federal departments of agriculture. The expansion of private industry plant breeding, and then seed production was affected by prejudice, of course, for groups that were very much against private industry. But over time, new employees of these private companies, as well as there were members that were established at the government institutions were really graduates from such places as OAC and peace prevailed. And that the cooperation of both the private enterprise and government institutions really kept progressing. By 1984, I was made an honorary life member of the Canadian Seed Breed Association.
D. Murray Brown (24:47):
Chemicals have had a big part to play in agricultural production in Ontario, Don. And I know you've had considerable influence on the use of agricultural chemicals on crops, not only for diseases and insects but in connection with weed control as well. Would you comment on this part of agriculture?
Donald H. Huntley (25:12):
Yes, it is true that chemicals, that agriculture has a very big effect on our prosperous agricultural industry. And the use of chemicals in agriculture began when someone found that copper sulfate spray would prevent potato blight and Paris green and flour dusting would kill Coleoptera beetles, which were just as disastrous as potato blight. There was no research costs or government involved. This was strictly farmer response in primitive times, but in the postwar period, chemical technology increased at a tremendous rate. Compounds found useful in agriculture were rapidly accepted to reduce loss from weeds and insects, bacteria, and fungi. However, widespread use of some compounds led to possible environmental damage and demands for much more intensive and lengthy testing powers of registration for use became an important matter. Private companies produced these chemical compounds and faced the extremely high cost of evaluation, which was increasing because of the length of time that was required.
D. Murray Brown (26:43):
Donald H. Huntley (26:45):
All of federal at provincial agricultural experiment stations participated in the evaluation of the use of chemical control of agricultural pests. It remains a large concern for both food reduction and the environment. In 1975, I was appointed chairman of the Pesticide Advisory Committee for the ministry of the environment. In 1980, I received an award, plaque from the Canadian Agricultural Chemical Association.
D. Murray Brown (27:21):
Don, before we finish this interview, I would be very interested in your opinions on how university has influenced your career.
Donald H. Huntley (27:35):
Well, I would say probably that it most likely resulted in a more interesting career for me and a more varied career and perhaps even a useful career. And secondly, it prevented me from becoming what I promised my grandfather I would be. A carpenter.
D. Murray Brown (27:57):
I would be interested in knowing a little bit about your career Don, or your activities since your retirement.
Donald H. Huntley (28:05):
Well on retirement and a very lucky contact, I was able to obtain wood from about 15 species of tropical, mostly rainforest, trees from which I made all sorts of tables, chest lamps, desk, book cases, hutches, bowls, and many other things that the signs were likely quake or fake, but the wood was magnificent. They spread across Canada in the homes of an extended family, four children and their spouses, and nine grandchildren. Four living in Quebec, five in Ontario, and nine in British Columbia.
D. Murray Brown (28:51):
Thank you for your cooperation, Don. This has been a very interesting and rewarding interview for me as one of your MSA students from 1953. It has just occurred to me that it will be 44 years, this coming May, since I completed that degree with considerable help from you. Many tons of crops have been produced in Ontario since that year. And I know you have contributed significantly to this production of safe, healthy food for Ontario residents.