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George Atkins

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Abstract

George Atkins grew up on a dairy and orchard farm in Halton County. He graduated from OAC in 1939. Following graduation, he spent a year taking several courses at the University of Wisconsin and then returned to the family farm. During his 15 years farming, he played a key role in the early development of the Ontario Junior Farmers Association and the Halton Region Conservation Authority.

In 1955 he became the farm commentator for CBC radio and television in Toronto, holding this position for 25 years. During his last five years at CBC, he was responsible for the formation of The Developing Countries Farm Radio Network. When he retired from the CBC in 1980, he continued to actively manage The Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, up to 1990.

He talks extensively about College life, including excerpts from his diary, kept during his college days. Initiation, College staff, campus life, student organizations and student pranks are included in his remembrances in the last two tapes.

Graduation Year

1939

College

OAC

Interview Date

Interviewer

B. Schneller

Call Number

RE1 UOG A1340108

Audio

George Atkins interview

Transcript

 ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
GEORGE STUART ATKINS, OAC ‘39
Ontario Agricultural College, 1939
Interviewed by Brad Schneller
February 4, 1998
Edited Transcript
B It’s February 4, 1989 and this is an interview with George Stuart Atkins, a graduate of OAC, 1939. We are in his home, The Woodlands, on Bronte Creek in Oakville, before the fire, on a very nice day with the birds outside. But the whole thing began, I believe George, when you were born right here on this farm.
G Actually Brad, I wasn’t born here. I was four years old when we moved to this house. I was born in the United States. My father’s family was American and my mother’s family was Canadian. I was born in New Jersey on July 1, 1917. When I got going to school, it was in 1925 and went to the little red schoolhouse on the corner of our farm. Throughout primary and secondary school my main interest was in the farm and farming. And it was just natural that I would go to the closest agricultural college and that was the Ontario Agricultural College.
I’d like to start off by saying the motto of the OAC is Nulla Sine Dies Linea. That is a good motto, which provides all of us a firm foundation on which to build our lives and careers. Field husbandry was my option and my orientation was to return to the farm here. It was just that I was here all through the summers during my high school life and, actually I went to Appleby College in Oakville. After I had finished two or three or four years at the one room school house, I’d come home at night and I’d be working on the farm milking and doing the different things that need to be done and all summer I would be working out doing the farming along with the others that we had on the farm here.
B Someone must have influenced you to attend the OAC. Was there anyone in particular, was your family involved or was it just that you wanted to be a farmer with a little more education?
G In those days we were thinking about modern agriculture. We had 40 acres of orchard, on a 300-acre farm. On this farm as I was growing up, we were already carrying on orchard practices that were right up to date. The Ontario Government made a movie of our orchard farm called Modern Orchard Practice. They didn’t know in those days, back in the ‘20’s, that there was a film department in the Ontario Government. But anyway farming was what I was just brought up to be.
B When you went there I suppose they had initiation and was there anything you wanted to mention about your first days at Guelph? What was the feeling during those days about living in residence? 2
G I lived in what is now Johnston Hall. In those days it was the Ad Building. There was a man who worked on our farm during the depression. He had been a foreman when Johnston Hall was being built and would talk about how the building was built. I wanted a single room. I felt that I wanted to be able to study on my own and not having roomed with anybody else. Fortunately I did get a single room. Every time I look at the Ad Building from the front, I look up and there are dormer windows along the top floor and mine was the one just to the left of the tower. I was able to look out on the campus and see everything that was going on. When there were football games I had a really a good seat.
I used to get a pair of binoculars, go up there and be able to see more than some of the people down on the field. In second year I had a room on the second floor right next to the Dean’s Office. I don’t know, maybe they thought I should be there. In third year I was around at the back in the south wing and in fourth year I lived in Mill’s Hall. My room in Mill’s Hall was right over the front door. What used to happen when people, coming back from the dining hall on a wintry day like today when you could make good snowballs, would throw the snowballs just over the doorway so that they would sort of break and go down people’s necks as they would enter. But several times the snowballs went just a little too high and came right through my window. I think my window was probably the one broken more than anybody else’s on the campus. I’ll never forget one time I had a project on my desk. It was the final form of a special drawing and everything in ink. It got completely sprayed with ice and snow. I had to do it all over again.
B What were some of the groups that you got involved with, such as public speaking?
G In public speaking there was Professor Lowell and Professor McLean. They would get us together two nights a week for an hour in our residence. There’d be about 7 or 8 people in a group with the whole class broken down into these groups. We had to do public speaking, which could be an impromptu speech or a prepared speech. Everybody had a little pad of paper. They’d tell you what was wrong with what you did. After you’d thought you’d made a good speech, you’d read all these slips of paper, and I’ll tell you, it helped a lot in developing your ability. Well, interestingly enough, there were enough of us in our class that after that first year, we decided that we were going to continue. We continued throughout our whole four years at the OAC. We called ourselves the Socratites, named after Socrates. There are many of the people in that group who have done pretty well over the years. One of them was Lorne Sonley who worked in the World Bank and he still lives in Washington but anyway there were many others.
B That grew into what was known as the Parliament of OAC.
G The Parliament came out of that, yes. Dick Hilliard was the speaker of the Parliament and later he became Deputy Minister of Agriculture. It was the first Parliament that was ever established on the campus. It lasted a few years but I guess it finally petered out.
B And one of the other things was attending a conference out in the west. Was that as a result of the Parliament?
G No, actually that was a Canadian Conference of University Students. There were half a dozen of us went. I guess you had to pay your own way so I had saved up enough money. Of 3
course in those days our tuition didn’t cost all that much, not like it does today. I think it was just maybe $50 a term or something like that and room and board was cheap. I was very fortunate to be able to go to Winnipeg. It was probably one of my first conferences that I ever really attended.
B What are some of the other extra curricular activities that you became involved with?
G I played the violin so I played in the orchestra. I also was in the Glee Club or the Philharmonic Society and we’d put on a musical show every year. Incidentally it was there that I met Janet Blackwood, Professor Blackwood’s daughter. The very first word she ever said to me was “keep quiet.” We were the boys that were of course sitting in the back rows and the girls toward the front. We were rehearsing some of the singing and I guess maybe I was singing too loudly or chattering. Anyway that was when I first met her and that was in my first year. She took the two-year course for girls and started the same year as I did. Of course she was finished two years before I was and then she went off and took a nursing course in Toronto. I graduated in ’39 and we were married in December of ’41.
I did some debating and public speaking. Then they also had a college band. That was the first year that they got it all decked up with really good uniforms and a drum majorette at the front. I decided that I wanted to belong to the band. I didn’t know how to do any band instruments but I noticed that they didn’t have any cymbals in the band. I went to whoever was the director and said, “Look, I could play the cymbals”. Okay, that’s a good idea, so I got in the band. Everywhere we’d march around, I’d play these cymbals. I got to go on the bus to all the football games whether they were in Western or Toronto or McMaster. Interestingly enough the girl, who was the drum majorette, about 5 years ago, was in touch with me. She lives down in the States. She called up and wanted to know if she could drop in and so we had a bit of a chat and that’s kind of interesting.
B Some of the lectures must have been outstanding for you!
G Yes, I remember the very first lecture that we had from Professor Blackwood, who was a professor of physics. On the way out of the classroom, he was standing at the door kind of like a minister does at a church when everybody is going out. He just took me by the arm and said “Come here, I want to talk to you.” This is our very first lecture and he says, “I like you”. “I noticed that you were paying attention every bit of the time to what I was saying.” Interestingly enough it was later that I married his daughter. I’ll just tell you that I only failed one class in one course in the whole four years that I was there. It happened to be one that Professor Blackwood was teaching, Hydrostatics, and I was actually going with Janet at the time. He told me what he thought. Is this the kind of thing you are interested in?
B This is great.
G The other course that I should have failed, but didn’t, was chemistry. We had a Professor McNab. What we used to have, and anybody who was doing chemistry in those days would remember, for handing out the reagents that you would use in the lab, there was always a little sort of square piece of paper. They would hand you the chemical on that at the dispensary. It just so happened that on one occasion I got a piece of my examination book of inorganic chemistry. I was never any good at math. It just so happened that the piece 4
that I got the reagent on was off of the cover of the exam book and it had my marks. They were all added up and they added up to about 26 or something like that. It had been crossed out with a red pencil and 40 put in. That was a pass mark. So, I guess Professor McNab said “Well, there’s no way this guy’s ever going to make it so I’ll just give him a pass”.
B What about field trips? You must have had a number of trips in Field Husbandry?
G Yes, we’d go with Dr. McConkey, who was the Field Husbandry teacher that I really liked. He was absolutely well I liked by all. He took us out on trips to look at the ecology. I remember him taking us out and we looked at the hills and valleys around Guelph. He explained all about geology and how the glaciers had shaped the area. The glaciers had plowed their way across the countryside and he showed us the eskers and the drumlins and all those things. I really loved that.
Then of course there was Agricultural Engineering or Farm Mechanics. That was a very special course for me. We would go out and actually do plowing or we would we would go snow plowing. We would go out to a farm equipment company like International Harvester and go through their factories.
Then I remember for poultry we went to an egg plant. Back in those days most of us wore suits. I remember one of the things that was a bit of fun. We were walking through this egg plant and some guy would pick up an egg off of the conveyor belt and just drop them in the person’s pocket of their suit coat. Then just happen to sort of say, “Oh ‘scuse me”, and bump against you. Here were all these eggs that’d be busted.
B Were there some other pranks that stand out?
G Yes, there were lots of them. I think one of them was on Doc Staples. He was a professor of Animal Husbandry and horses were his thing. He would always fill in when an Animal Husbandry professor couldn’t be at a lecture. He would always give us the same old lecture on the care and management of the brood mare. I was in Chicago one time after I had graduated and met him there. He used to take judging teams to the International Livestock Exposition. We were all chatting in a pub or somewhere and were talking about Halloween. He told this story and of course I happened to be involved. The story was that on Halloween day there was a manure spreader around the back of the beef barn. Doc Staples had said to his people who were working, “let’s fill it up, then nobody will pull it away and you know, do something with it”. Well, so there it was sitting behind the barn completely full of manure. We had a class of 110 and so around the residence it was decided to lets go and get that load of manure. We hauled it, pulled it all the way up to the front of the dining hall, Creelman Hall. As you know there’s the big, sort of a porch that’s raised maybe 15, 20 steps above the ground level. About 100 of us picked this thing up and lifted it with all the manure in it, right up onto the steps. I’ll never forget and this was when I was in Chicago like 4 or 5 years later. Doc Staples was telling this story and how this is what happened. When he was describing it he says, “There wasn’t one turd fell off of that manure spreader”. Of course the next day everybody had to go to breakfast and go around this manure spreader. However we were enlisted to take it back down again. 5
B Where was Janet living? Was she in residence?
G No, that was the good part about Janet Blackwood. They lived at, I think, 14 College Avenue. I didn’t have to worry about a curfew. We didn’t have to have any special time to be in. She was just a wonderful girl.
B Were those the years when they had the trolley?
G Yes, indeed, they were four wheeled trolleys. The wheels were sort of near the middle and what used to happen sometimes on their way downtown, there’d be 20 or 30 people, mostly boys or guys, and half of them would get on the front and half at the back and they got the thing teeter-tottering as it was going down the hill and of course it’d go right off the tracks. The poor guy who was running it had an awful time, but anyway we’d always get out and lift it back on again.
B Did you go to the theatre downtown?
G We went to the show once in a while.
B Was most of the entertainment right on campus?
G Yes, yes. I’ll tell you one thing. I was an Anglican and I used to go to the Anglican Church. I remember I would sometimes invite a girl to go with me to church and I remember one of them said, “No thanks”. “You know the Anglicans are always getting up and down, kneeling and standing up” and she says, “If I want to go to the gym, I’ll use the college gym!”
B OK graduation day, I imagine that was a highlight!
G Yes, It was indeed. We got our diplomas from the Chancellor of the University of Toronto. In those days OAC was an Agricultural Faculty of the University of Toronto. It was Sir William Mulock, I will never forget him and how impressed I was with him. As I’m thinking about graduation day, it is interesting that exactly 50 years later, the University of Guelph gave me an Honorary Doctor of Laws and invited me to come and give the convocation address. It was quite a moving thing for me. That was the same year that I was made a member of the Order of Canada. Graduating from Guelph with the Bachelor of Science degree that I had earned by hard work in 1939 and in 1989 the Honorary Doctor of Laws.
B Let’s take the years in between now. As soon as you graduated what did you do?
G After I graduated I came directly back to the farm for that summer. Then right after that summer I went to the University of Wisconsin for a year because I wanted to get as much education as I could. I did not go to take a Master’s Degree because then one would have to study right down one particular line of work but I was coming back to farm so I took as many courses as I could cram into my time. I took Animal Science, Field Crop Work, Horticulture, Agricultural Engineering, Farm Business and Legal Practice and many, many things, as many as I could. Some courses I took exams, others I did what they called electives. That was a marvelous year spent at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. And then I came back in the spring of 1940 and started farming here at home. I always did research projects here in connection with OAC and with the Cooperative Union and with the University of Wisconsin. I was doing trials and field crop tests and cultivation tests and 6
those tests continued right from the time I came back from Wisconsin in 1940 right up until 1955, the whole time that I was farming.
B The first test that you were involved with, you did that while you were at Guelph?
G That’s right. I did some while I was a student because I had to do my thesis for the Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree. That was on all types of cereal grasses, wheat, oats, barley and rye. They were dehydrated and I went through a whole thing and wrote my thesis on that. It’s in the library at the University of Guelph.
B During the time when you were on the farm you did a lot of lecturing and teaching and working with the Department of Agriculture and the OAC!
G Right, that was another thing I did because I’d been to college. I guess I was able to talk. Of course farm equipment and farm machinery were a very special thing for me. I made my own equipment. This was back in wartime and, for instance, I made a manure loader. You couldn’t buy one. I also made a corn loader for loading corn from the corn binder up onto the wagon. In those early years after graduation, I had the opportunity to assist with the night schools in the various counties. I was invited back to Guelph to teach an ambulance driving course for girls. As a matter of fact, my own girlfriend, Janet, this was before we were married, took that course. That was kind of nice. I did some field crop judging over those years in the adjoining counties while I was farming. I farmed for 15 years before going to the CBC. In addition, I grew and exhibited grain. I made myself a handpicking machine out of an old sewing machine with a belt that went through and the grain would drop one by one and I’d flick off the poor ones and the good ones would go on into the bin. With that I did hand picking and I won some pretty good prizes both at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in the seed grain classes and also at the International Hay and Grain Show in Chicago.
B At that time you started to get involved with Junior Farmers and many other organizations?
G Yes, in the Junior Farmers I was a member of our local club. I got to be president of it and then moved on into the county. I was on the Provincial Board and in fact I was at the actual meeting and I seconded the motion, which resulted in the formation of the Junior Farmers Association of Ontario. I wrote the first Constitution for the Junior Farmers of Ontario. Dick Hilliard, who was then Junior Extension Field Man and later became Deputy Minister of Agriculture, he commissioned me to write a handbook for Junior Farmers, which I did. It took a long time to do, but yes, I did that. I used to go to meetings in Toronto and of course I was farming all this time. While I was doing that, I remember there was on the Hamilton radio station CHML, a radio program for young people. They were all city kids. I called up the man who owned the station, a man called Ken Sobel. I said “Why don’t you have a program for young farmers, young farm people?” and he said, “Oh, that’s a good idea. Come in and let’s talk about it”. You can guess who got the job to do a Junior Farm Program. We started out with the three counties around Hamilton, Wentworth, Haldimand and Halton. Each club in the county would put on a program. We alternated back and forth and each club in a season would do about two programs. Then we got them going all across Ontario. 7
Incidentally, at the same time I had been invited to participate in the National Farm Radio Forum.
B Was that your introduction to the CBC and the long career that you had with the CBC?
G Yes, I guess that’s where they sort of took notice of me because I was a young farmer, I knew what farmer’s needed to know. I listened to the farm broadcasts and I would say “Look, why don’t you do this or why don’t you do that?” and they said “Look, you talk like a farmer and you know what farmers need and you’ve had this experience, you’ve been to Guelph, you know the scientific as well as the practical side so we would like to have you come and be a farm commentator”. And I said, “Well, I don’t know. I like being a farmer.” They finally said, “Well, look, if you come to the CBC we’ll pay you $5,000 a year.” And I said “Well look, when you can up that to $100 a week, $5,200 a year, I’ll come and try it”. I had a neighbour and I was talking about it to him and he said, “Look George, you go and try it for six months. I’ll take over your herd and look after the cattle and your farm”.
I started on September 1, 1955 and by Christmas I knew that that was for me. I could help more people by being on the air and doing that kind of job as a farm commentator than I could by being a straight farmer. I rented out my farmland and I got rid of the cows in the springtime. It was kinda hard to do. I’ll tell you during my time at the CBC, and I was there for 25 years as a farm commentator doing both radio and television, I never once got up in the morning and didn’t want to go to work. Now that’s a pretty good recommendation. And when I finally came to the end of my 25 years, they said, “Well look, you’ve got so much sick leave piled up, we don’t know what to do with it!” They weren’t supposed to give you credit for sick leave that you had piled up but I think they did.
B There’s so many experiences with the CBC that you could relate. Tell us how the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network came about.
G Yes, the way I happened to do that, at one point the CBC was invited to send a commentator to assist in a workshop in Africa for farm commentators, farm broadcasters. They invited the BBC and All India Radio to send a commentator. The three of us met in Lusaka, Zambia in 1975, I think it was in April. We put together a course, a workshop and these people came from all over Africa. When I was working with those men, and there were some women too, I discovered that they were telling their farmers things that were not appropriate for the farmer.
They’d tell them about how to fix spark plugs in the tractor and all about buying fertilizers and pesticides. I said, “ Instead of fertilizers and pesticides, why don’t you tell them about animal manure, plowing down legumes and making compost? Why don’t you tell them about raising oxen and things like that instead of fixing spark plugs in tractors, cause they can’t afford tractors? How many tractors do they have?” And the fellow from Sierra Leone said, “1 in 80,000 has a tractor!” I said, “How big is your audience?” He said, “Oh, I’ve got a big audience – 800,000!” and I said, “So you’re talking to 10 people about how to fix the spark plugs in the tractor. If you would tell them how to raise oxen, that’s something they could afford to do. They said, “Well we don’t have that kind of information, about compost and plowing down legumes.” So I said, “If I were to find it and send it to you would you use it?” And they both, these were two farm broadcasters I was talking to, they both said “Yes” 8
and that’s how I got the idea and within 4 years and the help of Massey Ferguson, the Developing Counties Farm Radio Network was established in 26 countries with 34 farm broadcasters and now its grown, well we have participants, I think its 1400 of them all over the world. So that’s the way the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network began.
B That’s marvelous. Now I would like to go back to your family. You mentioned your family, your children and the influence that OAC has had on your family life.
G First of all, my father-in-law, Professor Blackwood was a professor there. Incidentally there’s a building named after him now, the Farm Mechanics Building. He was head of the Agricultural Engineering Department and Physics. Then Janet graduated from Mac Institute and I graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College. Then two of our daughters met their husbands there.
B They went to Guelph?
G Yes, our oldest daughter went to Guelph and she married Phil Andrews who is a fruit farmer on the Niagara Peninsula. He later became Minister of Energy and Minster of Agriculture and Health. He’s back farming now again. Margaret, his wife, she was there at Guelph and met him there. Then our third daughter Nora, she met her man there and they went farming in Simcoe County. Our second daughter was a nurse. She married a high school teacher and got her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Windsor but she took her Master’s at Guelph. Took her 7 years, but she persisted while she was working and got her Master’s in Rural Extension. Her husband went there and got his Master’s while he was teaching high school. So there’s three of our daughter’s all have been there and graduated. Then we have grandchildren, 3 boys in the one family and one has already graduated a couple of years ago. The second one is in the middle of his 4 years. Right at this moment he’s over in Scotland on an exchange but he’ll be back next semester. He’s studying at University of Glasgow. The youngest brother in that family has just started this year. So the University of Guelph has been of great importance in our family life. Then I’m gathering my papers together and already I have taken a truck load of them to the University Library Archives. I’m still working on them from my various careers and getting them together and they’re there along with the papers of a number of other people in Ontario who are associated with Agriculture.
B In 1974, you received the OAC Centennial Medal and you have also received numerous other awards. Would you like to comment on those?
G Yes, I have and it’s all because, maybe people just think he’s a kind of a nice old guy. Back in my broadcasting days I received the Cowhide Trophy, which was for the best effort of the CBC farm commentators across Canada. I’m very proud of that. Then the Farm Writer’s have awards and I got awards every year on those. Then I was elected a Fellow of the Agricultural Institute of Canada in 1980. For that I am very thankful and quite proud of the FAIC initials after my name. I was also named a Distinguished Agrologist in the Ontario Institute of Agrologists in 1987. There are quite a few other things.
B For many years you have been involved with the National Association of Farmer Broadcasters and I believe you have been the Archivist for a number of years there. 9
G No, I was the Parliamentarian for 19 years. I always said, “Well I guess the reason they had me as Parliamentarian is because I was one of the very few people who came from a country that had a Parliament because there aren’t too many Canadians in that organization”. I have been made a lifetime voting member of that organization. There are only four lifetime voting members so I am quite thrilled about that. I also received the Paul Harris Award, from Rotary International. I’m very proud that I was elected to that. Then I’m in the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame. There are other things, but I think that maybe that’s enough to talk about for now.
B Anything that you would like to leave in the way of a message concerning the OAC and the influence on people?
G The OAC, one of the founding Colleges of the University of Guelph, had an incredible effect on my whole life and career. I have had really three careers, a full time farmer right here at the Woodlands in Oakville, used to be Bronte, for 15 years. Then the next was the CBC Farm Commentator in Radio and Television for 25 years and then after that the establishing of the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network. I started it and ran it for a full 10 years. We built it up to 100,000,000 listeners in that time. I retired, finally, 5 years ago when I was 75. But every step of the way, I have always been able to go back to the OAC and the University of Guelph and be involved with things there, getting and gathering information. I was on an advisory council for the University Part Time Studies and Continuing Education for quite a while. When The Developing Countries Farm Radio Network was in its early stages of development, we established an office for the French and Spanish Divisions at the University of Guelph with the assistance of the University. It’s been marvelous because there are international students and connections all over the world. It’s sort of part of my fabric, woven into my being associated with the University of Guelph, and especially with the Ontario Agricultural College. So no, I wouldn’t be who I am if it hadn’t been for the OAC.
B George, that’s been a great tribute, the influence of the OAC, but I believe you have a tape there that talks about some of your life. Maybe you’d like to mention that and one thing that I’d like to hear for the record is your ending that you had on each broadcast!
G Ok, that’s kind of a nice way to finish up things here. Yes, the piece of tape that I’m going to play was recorded way back in 1983. There’s a person called Arthur Black. He started out at the CBC as a farm commentator for a while and then he finally ended up as a regular program host. At the present time, in 1998, he’s on every Saturday morning on the CBC doing ‘Basic Black’, which is the name of his program. He’s a very clever writer and a wonderful guy. He and I got to be pretty good friends. After he left the CBC he did this piece that you are going to hear now. I think it was on the Sunday morning program called Fresh Air. So let’s just listen to what Arthur has to say about me. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.
Arthur Well I see that George Atkins is in the news again. Now for anybody who has met George Atkins I could probably stop right there and you’d only have to meet him once. George Atkins is that kind of a person. I suspect George Atkins is the model that Reader’s Digest had in mind when they coined the feature, “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Met”. For the 18 or 19 Canadians who haven’t met George Atkins, perhaps an introduction is in order. Why don’t I tell you about my introduction to George Atkins! It happened on my 10
very first day in the radio business. I was sitting in a radio studio in Toronto waiting to make my first broadcast of Livestock Market Reports, since you ask. I was gazing at the blinking lights and the whirling tapes and the litter of knobs and dials and buttons and levers trying to figure out who was the Producer and who was the Technician and who was the Junior Central Region assistant to the Script Director and whether the lump in my throat was ever going to go away.
Suddenly the control room door opened and bearing down on me like a naval destroyer was George Atkins. He was nattily dressed. I have yet to see George not wearing a tie. He had a smile that went from the Atlantic to the Pacific and an iron gray forelock that kept straying downward toward his wide and merry eyes. He had a script tucked up under one arm. His other hand was stretched out in front of him like the bow of a ship. In microseconds, he was enthusiastically shaking my hand like a reluctant pump handle. “Well” said George. He starts all conversations with “Well.” Someone tried to perform the introductions but George already knew who I was. He knew where I’d grown up and where I’d gone to school and which of my uncles had sold cattle at the Ontario Public Stockyards. We’d just met and already he knew more about me than anybody this side of my mother.
That, I would soon learn, was vintage George Atkins. He was always a couple of steps ahead of everybody else and that was curious, because George Atkins didn’t look like he knew more than everybody else! George always seemed to me to be a kind of happy go-lucky Will Rogers without the sting. George was country. He has a flat, nasal, Southern Ontario twang in his voice. He always treated the telephone with acute suspicion, as if Alexander Graham Bell’s brainchild was a kind of tractor accessory that hadn’t panned out. If he was talking on the phone to somebody across town, George figured it was safest to yell loud enough to be heard out the window. If he was talking to somebody in another city you didn’t want to be there. To meet George Atkins was to meet a simple, decent, uncomplicated, pleasant man who exuded a kind of infectious joy. “Well, I’m just a farmer, you know!” George was fond of saying. Which was sort of true if you could accept a farmer who drove a canary yellow convertible at barely subsonic speeds between Toronto’s CBC studios and his estate in Oakville!
One thing you soon learned about the man – there were no flies on George Atkins. I could spend the next hour spinning George Atkins stories, but I’ll just tell you the one. Back in the ‘60’s Prince Phillip paid a visit to Canada. Now, Royalty is always a major media event. The big TV and Radio Networks and Stations rolled out their high priced talent to cover the visit, a flotilla of color commentators, cameramen and sound technicians established a beachhead in the lobby of the Toronto hotel that Prince Phillip was staying in. They summoned the Prince’s Press Secretary to establish the order of interviews. The Press Secretary came and frostily announced there would be no interviews! “Uh except for a – is there a Mr. George Atkins here?” And picking his way daintily through the TV cameras and the cables and open-jawed, dumbfounded TV and radio superstars, came Agricultural Commentator, George Atkins, his battered portable Sony under his arm, his forelock askew murmuring, “Well, thank you very much.” He got the only media interview with Prince Phillip on that tour. Why? Because George Atkins had written to Buckingham Palace six years earlier, requesting an interview. 11
A few years back, George’s unmistakable voice disappeared from the CBC Toronto Radio Noon Agriculture slot that it had occupied for decades. Some people thought that perhaps George Atkins had finally retired! They should have known George better than that. I began all this by saying that his name was in the news again. Well, it was all about the radio programs that George Atkins is producing from his Oakville Ontario home. He set up something called The Developing Countries Farm Radio Network. Now we, in Canada, don’t get to hear George’s work nowadays but other folks do. Farmers that listen to All India Radio, for instance, as well as people listening to Radio Australia, Voice of America and Radio Canada International. George Atkins now preaches agriculture to an audience estimated to be upwards of 100,000,000 people. The newspapers quote George as saying that “Radio is now the most universal way of communicating in the third world”. Well, nobody knows how to mix radio waves and agriculture better than George Atkins. So that’s what George Atkins is doing these days, teaching as many people in the world as he can reach, how to farm. And now I see that George wasn’t really pulling our legs all those years when he ‘Awe shucks’d” his way around saying, “Well, I’m just a farmer you know!” That’s what he is, all right. He’s just working a much bigger spread these days! I’m Arthur Black in Thunder Bay.
G Well, that was done back in 1983, and now, in 1998, the audience of Developing Countries Farm Radio Network has grown from 100,000,000 to close to 700,000,000. Regarding the ending that I had for all of my broadcasts, after I left the CBC, I continued to use it for the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network You know, I found that the farm broadcasters all over the world were using it, ending their programs. What it does, it tells the non-farmer how much, how important the farmer is and not to give that farmer short shift because you wouldn’t eat if it weren’t for the farmer, the farmer produces the food that you have on your table. It’s also telling the farmer you are a most important person. You are in the basic industry because a lot of farmers suffer a little from lack of self-esteem. So this is a double-edged sword telling two messages, one to the farmer, one to the non-farmers. So now, I’ll finish this little piece the way I always did at the CBC and then on Developing Countries Farm Radio Network. ‘Serving agriculture, the basic industry, this is George Atkins’.

TRANSCRIPT 2

 ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
GEORGE STUART ATKINS, OAC ‘39
Ontario Agricultural College, 1939
February 5, 1998
Edited transcript
This is Dr. George Stuart Atkins and I am recording this on Thursday, February 5, 1998. On Wednesday the fourth of February, Brad Schneller dropped in here to have a visit with me and to do a recording and after doing that with him I got thinking about it and I thought there might be more things of interest that could be filed along with that first tape. So this is really a second tape. He told me that there was a lot of information about the Ontario Agricultural College and my association with it that we hadn’t covered and he suggested a few areas, so that’s what I am doing now.
I have thought a little bit about archives and in fact at this moment, at age 80, I’m putting quite a few of my papers into various archives. I think perhaps in the other tape it was mentioned that my papers are being deposited at the University of Guelph in the library there. But thinking about archives, I noticed in the Globe and Mail a comment that was written by Sir Arthur Doughty, he is really the person who was the architect of the National Archives of Canada. Here is a quote directly from him from 1924. He said, “Of all national assets, archives are the most precious. They are the gift of one generation to another and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization.”
I think that’s very true and because of that I am pleased to add a little bit more to the Archives of the Alumni Association of the University of Guelph. What I’m going to talk about are just some of the little incidental things about some of the people around the college in my day. I was a student from 1935-’39. I found a little old diary that I kept, of the very first days at college and I am just going to read you, two or three little bits of it.
First, is Monday, September 23,1935. “Fine day, left for college at 9 o’clock, registered, got cap and tie to wear for the next 8 weeks. I think maybe I’ll comment as I go along. Perhaps there are people nowadays who don’t know about the cap and tie. Every single freshman at the Ontario Agricultural College had to have this kind of a round skullcap with a brim that was turned up all the way around. You had to put your name and your year on the front of this. You also had this green tie that was kind of a big, long, stringy thing. It had, in yellow, the word ‘F R O S H’ appliquéd on the front of it. The letters were made out of felt, and you had to wear this no matter what. If you were ever caught not wearing this Frosh cap and tie well I don’t know, the penalties would be very severe, I don’t know what they’d be but they put the fear of God into us that we had to wear these.
Then it says, “assigned a single room in the front of the building and the building was the Administration Building,” so called in those days. I did talk a little about this in the last tape. Then “I drove to town with mother, had lunch and then walked around the campus with three of the kids.” That would be fellow freshman I guess. Then, “sat in the main dining hall and after supper went to Massey Hall to hear a talk by Professor Jones and Dean Sands. Went to bed about 10 o’clock”. Now that was my first day at college.2

A week later, I wrote, “Tuesday, October 1st, fine day. After dinner” (dinner was the noon meal, all farmers called the noon meal dinner in those days)“put on old clothes, went to the Animal Husbandry Pavilion and got painted with molasses and oil in grain sacks over our bodies. Went out on the campus, did everything there, including chasing a greased pig, got back to clean up the pavilion, took an hour to wash, had a banquet with the sophomores and speeches by Dr. Christie,”(he was the president) “and by Baldwin” (that was Baldy Baldwin, he was the Director of Athletics) “and others and went to bed around 11.” That was our big initiation day. They actually had grain sacks with a circle cut out of the bottom and two circles cut out of the bottom corners of the sack so that then you put this down over your clothes, like upside down, to make a sort of a tunic so that your clothes underneath wouldn’t get too much wrecked. We had to put our hands into a kind of a tarry solution, it was tar and old oil I think and rub it all up and down our arms. Then a fellow came along with some of it in a big old tea kettle, poured it in our hair and we had to rub it into our hair and then they actually had butter and they put butter just above our eyebrows, so it would sort of drip down into our eyebrows and it wasn’t very pleasant. Then we had to all line up with one person in front of the other and then you had to put your hands up on the person ahead of you, and rub all this tar and molasses and stuff in into his hair so that you were really quite a sticky mess and then we paraded out around the campus and did a lot of crazy things. It was all, as they say, good, clean fun. Then, we left the Judging Pavilion pretty messed up, so we cleaned it all up. When we went back, the sophomores had turned off the hot water out in the heating plant so that the showers were just cold water and you can imagine us all trying to get cleaned up with cold water and, well it was just something else to be ready for this banquet. We continued wearing the frosh hat and tie until November the 15th, so that was just under 6 weeks. That was our initiation and entrance to the Ontario Agricultural College.
One of the things I was worried about, one of the things for admission, I actually found the old Ontario Agricultural College Calendar for 1935-36.Looking through it, the candidates for admission must do a lot of things. There were a lot of specific things mentioned here and it says, “must have practical knowledge of ordinary farm operations”. Now, I was from a farm and I knew pretty well the farm operations because I’d grown up on a farm, but it says here, “farm operations such as harnessing and driving horses”. Well, I had no problem with that. I had done that. But then it says “plowing, harrowing, disking, drilling, milking etc.”. Now I had no trouble with milking, drilling and harrowing. We had a tractor in those days and I didn’t know how to plow with horses. I had heard that I needed this knowledge but I’d never learned to plow with a team of horses. And so I was just scared to death because then it said, “When it is thought necessary, this knowledge will be tested by an examination at entrance or at any subsequent date”. Well, it didn’t take place at the entrance time. I was just so afraid that they would test us out for plowing and I’d get kicked out of college because I didn’t know how to drive a plow with one furrow and two horses. Fortunately for me, they never did have that test.
I thought perhaps I might tell you about some of the professors that we had. The very first lecture that we had was with a Dr. Stone, a botany professor. We just called him Doc. Stone. He was one of only seven, out of the 80 people on the staff at the Ontario Agricultural College at the time, who had Doctor’s Degrees. He was a PhD. There were Doctor’s of Science and one Doctor of Pedagogy. In those days they took attendance at the lectures and I guess if you didn’t turn up at a lecture, you might get a lower mark. Certainly Doc. Stone put the fear of God into us about that. He was the first one we had and he had the class list and he would read it very fast. He told us, “You have to speak up right away.” Our list was Adams, Armand, Archibald, Ashton, Atkins, Bagg.” If you didn’t get in, right smack dab after he read your name out, he would mark 3
you absent. He prefaced every name, instead of Mr., he’d say Der, Der Adams, Der Armand, Der Archibald, Der Ashton, Der Atkins, Der Bagg. I guess that was just to pad it up a little bit to give you the time to say here or yes or something else like that. Other professors, who were taking attendance, had the seats in the classrooms numbered. They would, during the lecture, look at the seats and whatever number was vacant, if that was your number, you’d get marked absent from that class. That took a bit less time than going through the whole 110 in our class, to read them all off.
But Doc. Stone was a wonderful teacher. Mind you he was a disciplinarian. He made sure that you did what you were supposed to do. In that first lecture he told us, “You’ve got to do an essay”. I can’t remember the topic that we were to write on, but it had to be in three weeks from that day and it had to be a 500-word essay. I’ll never forget the way he told us and we were just scared to death. Imagine having to do a 500 essay. I don’t think I’d ever done one in my life before. It had to be ready in three weeks and it was still about chromosomes. We all, who took his class, will remember, and I remember 60 years later now, his definition of a chromosome. He said, “Chromosomes are the visible ve-hic-les of character transmission”. Now none of us had ever heard of vehicle pronounced that way but just because he said ve-hic-les and he just yelled it out, ve-hic-les of character transmission. I’m sure there isn’t a single person who doesn’t still remember it 50 or 60 years later. Well, anyway, he also did a lot of wonderful things. He was a rugby coach and really for students older than we were, in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th years, people would have him for botany. Then, the people who specialize in those disciplines in their senior years, they felt that he was really one of their favourite professors.
While I’m speaking about the Department of Botany, there was one person there, called a lecturer, his name was Evans, W.G. Evans. He actually had one eye that sort of looked way off to one side, sort of the opposite to being cross-eyed, and he would take us out on field trips. We’d be identifying grasses and weeds and things out in the field and you know we’d be standing sort of in a circle around him and he would pick up a weed or a grass or something and we were supposed to know it. Maybe this was a little later on when we’d studied these things. He’d hold it up in front of, perhaps between two people, and because of this one eye sort of shot over to the to the left or right, you’d think that he was looking at you but he was really asking the person next to you what the name of the weed was, so usually the wrong person would answer, just because of the way he looked at you but that was just the way he did it. Everybody always laughed about that. Any idiosyncrasy that a professor had when it was your first time learning from that person, you would notice and we all did.
There was one professor we had in Horticulture, whose name was Tom Jones. He began every single sentence with “um” and “uh”. Actually, it’s an expression that I think is starting to be used now in the late 1990’s. That is how he would begin every sentence. He used to tell us about planting vegetable seeds. For instance, if you were going to be planting peas, he’d say, “Well now, some people plant peas 6 inches apart, others plant them 8 inches apart. Personally, I plant them 7 inches apart but you can do whatever you like.” You’d be writing all this down in your notes and after a couple of lectures like this you sort of tried to figure out well what would be an average and it saved writing all of that stuff down.
Now he was actually in horticulture, but to get back to the Botany Department, the head of the Botany Department was J. Eaton Howitt, Professor Howitt. He was called Gander Howitt. I never really did know why unless, perhaps, he had kind of a long neck. He had a little habit. In 4
those days, of course we all wore suits, the students, teachers and professors. He had a handkerchief in his breast pocket and about every couple of sentences, while lecturing, he would take this handkerchief out of his pocket and wipe his nose with it. His nose was always red because it was always being wiped. He didn’t have a cold or anything, the handkerchief maybe had a bit of starch in it or something but anyway he would wipe his nose or rub it all the way through. I remember the second lecture that we had, before we went into it, we were talking, so we started counting to see how many times he did it. I don’t know how many but it would be something like a 100 or a couple of hundred times in a lecture of 45 minutes.
There was another professor in the English Department, whose name was Professor Lowell. He was a lecturer, I don’t know, maybe he wasn’t a full professor. We always noticed he was quite a dandy. He would wear a bow tie quite a bit of the time, the kind that you tie yourself. He was able to do that, but we noticed, sometimes, that he would have a breast pocket handkerchief that would exactly match his tie. Now, we thought that was really something. Polka dots were his thing too. He’d wear a blue tie with white polka dots and we always wondered how it was that he happened to have them that matched! One time, it was a hot day, and his vest happened to be open. We noticed that the way he got this breast pocket handkerchief it was just he’d cut the very end off of his tie and sort of turn it around and upside down and stuck it into his breast pocket. That gave him what looked like a handkerchief that was really the same material. We always got a kick out of that.
In the English Department there was Professor McLean and we used to call him Chippy McLean. He was E.C. McLean, I don’t know, Chippy, I guess he was just kind of short and sort of quick and he was a really good Prof. We liked him and we learned Shakespeare and stuff like that from him. His wife, Mrs. McLean, was the drama instructor. I guess she probably got a bit of a stipend out of the college for doing that. We didn’t have drama taught, but it was just in War Memorial Hall the Philharmonic Society, they we would put on plays and she directed them. And this one time she got ill, quite ill. I don’t remember what was her trouble but she was really quite sick. The students, especially the ones who were in plays, they would get a bit concerned. So Professor McLean one day put this notice on the Notice Board. As we would come into the Administration Building, on the way back from a meal and here was this notice that said something about, “for those students who are interested, Mrs. McLean is out of hospital but she is holding her own,” and somebody put on the bottom of the notice, “What?” Ah well, these are some of the funny things that I recall.
I’d like to say something now about the Head of the Department. He was Dr. O.J. Stevenson, another one of the seven people who had a Doctor’s Degree. Here was a man who really made his impression on the campus. He had come there because he liked rural people. He was a most cultured gentleman, and he had a Doctor of Pedagogy, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. There were no flies on Dr. Stevenson. In fact, Dr. McConkey, who was in the Field Husbandry Department, wrote something in the OAC Review and I happened to tear out the pages because I have a little book here of poems by Dr. Stevenson. The book is called, The Unconquerable North and Other Poems by O.J. Stevenson. Dr. McConkey said, I’m just going to read you two sentences out of his little article, after Dr. Stevenson died.
He said, “The students have profited by the treasures garnered together by Dr. Stevenson. The pictures of historic sites, the Canadian landscapes, the fine collection of Canadiana in our library and all the bronzes which grace our halls.” Actually, he was associated with the Group of Seven 5
and there are several wonderful Group of Seven pictures that the college purchased in his day. One other sentence here, “Our students have been the richer for his coming to this college and the college community would have been quite different without Dr. Stevenson.” I just wanted to mention this and I absolutely felt that way too.
Anybody who went to high school in Ontario, if you studied Shakespeare, which you had to do, the books that were used, the Shakespeare plays, had the Stevenson name on it. Every single one of them had on the front, Shakespeare, or Hamlet or another play. It said, “Shakespeare Hamlet Stevenson “. The word Stevenson was as big as the word Shakespeare and then Hamlet, a little bit bigger. Dr. Stevenson had annotated all of the Shakespeare plays that were studied in the schools in Ontario.
The other thing was he was your typical absentminded professor and I’m going to tell you just two or three of the things that happened. And I don’t know whether anybody has ever written this down or not. You read these nice things that have been written by Dr. McConkey. They didn’t write some of these other things that I’m going to tell you. I’ll never forget the time I saw him walking along. You know, he’d be in a fog, he’d be thinking about something else. He was walking along the main roadway in front of what is now called Johnston Hall, the Administration Building in those days. There’s a little curb and then the lawn, on the main campus out front and he didn’t bother going over on the sidewalk. He was just walking along the edge of the roadway. There weren’t any cars parked there like there are nowadays. He was walking along thinking, obviously, about something else. He had one foot on the pavement and the other foot was up on the curb. But he didn’t even notice the difference that he was sort of going up and down because every time the right foot would go down onto the pavement and the left foot would go up. He walked, oh, he must have walked for a least a couple of hundred feet that way. Then all of a sudden I guess he discovered, oh my goodness, I should be walking either up on the grass or down on the pavement.
Then another thing, he used to have a great big Hudson car. It was the penultimate of the Essex Hudson, a car that was built in the late ‘20’s and early ‘30’s. He had what you’d almost call it a limousine now, a big four door sedan. The funny thing about the Hudson cars, they had suicide doors, doors that opened from the front. The hinges were to the back of the door. If you ever opened it when you were driving, the wind would catch it and blow it right back. This one day, it was parked out in front of the Massey Hall. His office, incidentally, was right on the main floor of Massey Library. He had a door from his office right onto the stage of Massey Hall and that was his classroom. He’d come out this particular day and his car was parked on the roadway in front of Massey Hall. There is no roadway there now. It’s a walkway. It used to be like a horseshoe, down to Gordon Street and then up in front of the Administration Building, back down by Mills Hall, by War Memorial Hall and out to the highway. Anyway, he came out of the library, in a fog as usual. He was going to drive home, and he happened to open the back door instead of the front door on the driver’s side and he got in and sat down in the back seat. He kind of looked all around and he was wondering where the steering wheel was, and then he realized, and he got out and closed the back door and opened the front door and got in and away he drove. One day I was on Gordon Street walking to go downtown and I hadn’t quite got to the hill and he still had the car in second gear. I guess he drove all the way downtown in second gear. That car, by the way, had a really fancy gearshift on it. It had an electric shift. It was just a little kind of a lever you pushed with your fingers to shift it from first gear into second and so I guess he forgot. 6
I’ve got two more stories about Doc Stevie, as we called him. This first one is a classic. Whether anybody has ever written it I don’t know but I have actually verified it with a couple of people. I was involved but I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t thinking up something. He used to teach us music appreciation. I’m sure that all of us had real wonderful thoughts about what we learned about good music from Doc Stevie. So this particular day he had, I can’t remember the piece, but it was like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. He had this record player in Massey Library. So he got this big disc, it was like a 16” disc, LP we used to call them. He put it on the turntable and he was telling us all about it. Now you know this is what Beethoven was thinking about when he wrote this and what it’s supposed to sound like and mean. Then he put it on and it just got nicely started, it was just beautiful. He had gone into a trance, just sort of leaning up against the post and listening. Then the bell went and that was the end of the period. So he said, “Well, I’m sorry.” He took the needle off the record and he said, “Well, I’m going to leave this right here and tomorrow when you come back and we have our next lecture, we’ll start in and we’ll play it.” So that was fine and we all left. The record stayed on the turntable.
Afterwards one of our classmates got the record, swiped it and took it over to the residence. There was a terrible song, like the kind of modern jazz we had in those days. It was called Tiger Rag. So the fellow steamed the label off of Dr. Stevie’s record of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and glued it onto this Tiger Rag record. He then took it over and put it on the turntable. So the next day, when we went back, Dr. Stevenson said, “Now, we will recall that yesterday we were talking about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and I told you this and that, now I want you to hear this beautiful music!” Well, he put the needle down and he just went over to lean against the post and kind of get into this trance, and this terrible rock music came forth from the loud speaker. Well, my goodness, it took a moment to sink in and he sort of jumped and he went and took the needle off the record and took the record up and sure enough it said Beethoven’s Fifth and he put the record back on the turntable and then put it on again it played the same thing again. Well then, at that point he realized that somebody was playing a trick on him and he took the record off and he smashed it on the floor and he told us to get lost. He wasn’t going to teach us anymore if that was the kind of people we were. So we all left and, oh it was terrible, he just felt so awful. But anyway, he got over it and we did too. But you can imagine what fun it was.
The other story is one where we all arrived as usual for our class, but he wasn’t there. He didn’t come into the classroom and, as I say his office doorway opened onto the platform in Massey Hall. We were just about ready to leave, in fact some had already left, and after about 5 minutes, he came into the classroom. This was before the days when you had a zipper on your fly. You button them up and his fly was unbuttoned, which was very obvious. He says, “Oh, gentleman, I’m so sorry that I’m late but I was in my office and I was looking for something and I couldn’t find it, but Miss Cameron laid her hands right on it.” Oh dear! We all just burst into laughter, maybe we got over it and maybe we didn’t. I don’t know but that was Doc Stevie, still a most wonderful person. And I did read you what Dr. McConkey said about him and which was very true. But life at Guelph would not have been the same without Doc Stevie on the campus.
We had a wonderful professor in Chemistry, Professor Ruhnke and we all liked him very much. Once in a while, since he was head of the department, he had to be away. He would get other people in the department to give us our lecture for that day. One day we had a Charlie Rivaz. He was a lecturer and he was a very bright man, probably one of the brightest chemists that ever graced the campus at Guelph. But he couldn’t teach worth a darn. You could not understand anything that he said because he was so bright. He understood it, but he couldn’t teach. He had to 7
take the lecture that day and actually I do think that there were some people who actually walked out of the lecture because they couldn’t understand what he was saying. Then two or three days later we had chemistry again and Professor Ruhnke was still away. One or two people got there a bit early, on the second floor of the old chemistry building, and Charlie Rivaz came in to take the lecture. One of these guys, who were in the classroom and it wasn’t quite time to begin yet, came down to the bottom of the stairs as people were arriving and said, “It’s Charlie today and so let’s not go up.” I happened to be one of the people who was up there in the classroom early. I don’t know why, maybe I had gotten out from some other lecture earlier than I might have. The rest of the people, they got stopped at the bottom of the stairs. There were only about half a dozen got there and the rest just didn’t turn up. Poor Charlie, he just couldn’t understand what had happened. “Oh, I’m supposed to be here, this is Professor Ruhnke’s class.” I think he just decided he wouldn’t give the class but he felt pretty terrible about it, but the students certainly told him what they thought.
I thought I might mention one of the parts of learning that I liked very much. That was farm mechanics because machinery and mechanical things are something that’s pretty dear to my heart. I happened to be bent that way a bit. But I thought you might be interested to know that we had classes like you wouldn’t believe. We had blacksmithing and I think it was Professor Kendall, Head of the Department, who actually taught us. We were down in the basement of what is now called Blackwood Hall. There were all these forges, maybe15 or 20 forges, and everybody had to light their own fire. Each had an anvil, hammers and everything. I still have a sample of some of my work that I did. You had to mount it on a board, display it and get it marked. I got maybe 6 or 8 or 7 out of 10 or something for it.
A piece of iron, about 8” long, had originally been a round piece of rod. I had made it into a square rod rather than round, by heating it properly and hammering it. On this thing that I made, there’s a link like a link of a chain. It had to be welded at the top and that was done on the anvil by using some kind of special compound, when it was really hot. Then two staples, big staples, they’d be about 3 inches long and sharp on each point. Big staples that you’d use for, I don’t know, a gate hook or something like that. Then a cold chisel, for cutting iron, and it was made out of hexagonal rod. It had to be flattened down to be a chisel shape and curved on the end and the big thing about this was that it had to be properly tempered so that it would cut iron or steel and that was quite a trick. You had to know how to heat it and how to make it so that it was just a certain straw color.
Professor Webb taught us rope splicing. You had to take a piece of rope and make a halter. We made splices, a long splice and a short splice, all the kind of stuff that you learn in Boy Scouts. I knew some of them ahead of time, but that was, for practical farm stuff, very useful. It was from Professor Webb the only time that I ever got 100 in an exam. I got it for something that I wrote for him. We used to have a summer project every year, and I did it, believe it or not, on pneumatic tires for farm tractors. That was in the days when, in ’36, ’37, we were first starting to use rubber tires on tractors, I had all the data about horsepower and how much advantage you had by having rubber tires instead of steel wheels.
I am going to talk about a couple of other professors and the first one is going to be Dr. McConkey. By the way, while I still have a second or two here, I’m going to tell you it was Dr. Oswald McConkey, BSA, MS, PhD, and we used to say that that stood for ‘bull shit and more shit piled higher and deeper.’ But he was a very personable person, good looking and a bachelor, 8
the most eligible bachelor on the campus. He finally did marry a lady who was the dietician in the cafeteria. Her name was Miss Hannah. After he retired, he bought a farm, near the village of Ennotville, just south of Fergus where he raised sheep and I used to go and visit them. We had a cottage at Sauble Beach and when we would go by I often would stop in. And, finally, Dr. McConkey died and his wife Louise continued living there at the farm for quite some time.
Dr. Oswald McConkey, BSA, MS, PhD, was a Professor of Field Husbandry and his specialty was grasses, grassland, ecology and genetics. So those were all subjects that he taught. I would say that he was responsible in the early stages for my great interest in ecology and soil and water conservation, and later, became an important part of my life, as I was a member of the Conservation Authority in Halton County. Actually, as Chairman of the Public Relations Advisory Council for many years in the Authority. I guess I was the first to do contour cultivation in this county. So conservation and ecology were very much a part of my life. Then, interestingly enough, after finishing Guelph, I took my year of Graduate Studies at the University of Wisconsin. I studied under Aldo Leopold who was called the century’s most influential spokesman for conservation and environmental quality in North America, well mainly in the United States.
That was in 1939-40 and later, when I was doing my world climate study tour, I met his daughter, Dr. Estella Leopold, who was the Director of the Quaternary Research Centre at the University of Washington. So that was all a part of my life and really started by Dr. McConkey. An interesting thing about him, he used to assign us term papers every few weeks. Many of us really took it quite seriously and did the paper. But there was one member of our class, Lorne Sonly, probably one of the brightest of our group, and he didn’t really believe that Dr. McConkey read these term papers. Many of them went into maybe 15, 20 pages and so he decided he was going to test Dr. McConkey on this and so, on one occasion we were assigned the topic of, let me see, the Gene Ecological Adaptation of the Species to the Environment. Now there’s a bit of ecology. Well, Lorne had other things to do and he said I’m not going to waste my time doing that particular study so he took an old one that he’d used for Animal Husbandry about shoeing horses. It was about an 18 page essay on shoeing horses, so he just took that whole thing, put a new cover on it, put on the cover, term assignment for Dr. O. McConkey on the Gene Ecological Adaptation of the Species to the Environment, submitted by Lorne Sonley. After the papers had gone in and they’d come back and all were marked, well I guess Dr. McConkey had just looked at the cover of it and noticed the thickness of it and he got an A- on it.
So that proved to us that the good Doctor didn’t read all of the stuff that was handed in to him. Just to prove this point, I happened to be working on my thesis and I had to use a kind of adding machine, a sophisticated adding machine for doing the results of some of the tests for my thesis. It happened to be just outside his office and it was a beautiful May day. The golf course was open and he was a great golfer. I heard him in his office answer the telephone. And, incidentally, on that note, to save costs, in adjoining offices, there was an opening in the wall and the telephone for two offices sat in that cubbyhole. If it rang, then who ever was in would pick it up and answer and if it was for the other person they would just hand the phone on through to the other side and the other person would pick it up. But anyway, he answered the phone this day. It was a friend asking him to come and play golf and he had a whole stack, I could see them from where I was, of final examination papers from MacDonald Institute. I guess the stack was at least 4 or 5, 6 inches high, and he had been sort of going through them. He was a kind of a talkative 9
fellow and I’d hear him just kind of talking to himself and he’d read off the name and then he’d look in his book of attendance records and other term marks that the person had and he just kind of quickly perused the exam book and then he’d just write a mark on the outside of it. He was throwing them down on the floor, as he would finish them. So this person had phoned to ask if he could come and play golf and he said, “Well how soon?” and he said “Oh, well I can be done here in another 20 minutes or so.” He had this whole stack of final exams, and so he just went a little faster doing his final marking that way. So, Doc McConkey wasn’t one for spending a lot of time. Certainly, Lorne Sonley was right, when he realized this. I think that’s enough on Doc McConkey. We used to call him Oz sometimes.
I could mention some interesting things about two or three other people on the staff. One was Archie Porter. He was active in coaching and athletics and different things. He was left-handed and he always wore Harris Tweed jackets. One thing we always noticed about him was that whereas, most people would have the breast pocket on the left side of their coat, he always had them made to measure and he had the breast pocket on the right side. So then with his left hand he could just put his pen up more conveniently into the breast pocket. It was on the right side. Kind of an interesting little side light.
Now I’d like to mention another professor that was very popular. We all liked him. I particularly got along well with him. I had dairy cattle at home and he was the Professor of Animal Husbandry and specialized in dairy cattle. He had a beautiful, deep, low bass voice. He used to sing Old Man River, Momma’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread and all these lovely bass songs. Whenever there were concerts, he was always a part of that. After we graduated, I was farming full time for 15 years, I would always be in touch with him when the time came for me to get another young bull as my herd sire. He would always say, “Well, OK George, you keep in touch and let me know a few months ahead of time” Then he would kind of look over the herd there at the College, the Holstein cattle and pick out what might be a young bull calf that could be a herd sire for me. He’d look at the cows that were pregnant and he’d say, OK, if this one has a bull calf, that would mesh well with George’s breeding program. Although I had purebred Holstein cattle, I was able to upgrade the herd on our farm quite a little bit because of the calves that later became my herd sires. Here was one of the ways the OAC was able to be an influence on my life later on. (By the way that was Professor George Raithby).
There’s another person I should have mentioned, when we were talking about conservation. Mr. A.H. Richardson was a Provincial Forester. He was the Father of Conservation in Ontario really. As Provincial Forester, he came to the college once every week and he took a class with us on tree identification. He would talk about good use of woodlots and that sort of thing and really had a great influence on my life that way. I remember later on when I was on the Public Relations Advisory Council of the Halton Region Conservation Authority, we were having a special opening of the Kelso Conservation Area. As you drive along 401 highway, you see it on the south side, just near Milton. It was just after the dam had been erected and the pond, lovely Kelso Lake it’s called, was filling up, we had this special ceremony. I said, “Well look, lets get A.H. Richardson to be our speaker, because he was the father of this sort of thing in Ontario, and then we’ll have him plant a ceremonial tree”.
He gave his little speech at the Official Opening of the Kelso Conservation Area and the dam and the lake and everything, and then when he planted the tree, after he finished he said, “ I now declare this tree well and truly planted!” Afterwards, I made a comment to him about that and he 10
said, “Well, what else do you say when you’re planting a tree?” He said, “You have to say something. That’s what I always say when I plant a tree”. But its kind of a fun thing, here is a person who was so important in conservation in Ontario, who had his association with the Ontario Agricultural College because he gave the Forestry lectures to the students in first year of which I was one and I always enjoyed working in that area.
When we were at college, one of the things we had to do for his class was to have a leaf collection. For botany we had a weed collection and a weed seed collection and for entomology we had an insect collection. I remember it was Professor McNally who, when he looked at my collection, saw one insect in there and said, “I’ve never seen one like this before!” It was a damsel fly. Damsel flies are quite common but this happened to be one with a little red, almost like a little flag, crimson red, right close to the base of the wing. So he was very much interested to know exactly where I’d found that. It was here, on our farm along Bronte Creek, used to be called the Twelve Mile Creek, where I got a lot of my insects that I collected. So that’s kind of interesting.
Then, there was the President, Dr. George Christie, G.I.Christie. He got his Doctor’s Degree from Purdue University. Before I speak of him, I’ll just mention the person that he followed, Dr. Reynolds. This is an interesting sidelight on Dr. Reynolds tenure as President. He had a son, Walter, who graduated from the Horticultural option. During the time that he was a student, you had to have practical experience. Walter came down and worked in our orchards through the summer. We had a fairly modern orchard operation for those days. He had to go out to a farm and I was pretty young then and I don’t know how it was that there was a connection between the Reynolds family and my dad. Walter worked on our place and then later established a fruit farm down east of Toronto.
To get back to Dr. Christie, he was a very interesting and a very active person. He took a very active part around the college. Every day he went out for a walk and he walked throughout the whole campus, over to the dairy barn, the beef barn and the horses and he saw everything that there was to see. I remember he used to go out in the country and he’d be invited to speak at various rural gatherings. In those days some farmers looked on the OAC with a bit of a jaded eye and they said ‘well you know that was book learnin’ and really if you wanted to be farmer you had to get the practical experience and have dirt under your fingernails. Those guys that went to college well they were kind of a privileged lot and they really weren’t very practical. So that was one of Dr. Christie’s things, to get out and speak to farm groups and sort of do a bit of public relations.
He’d travel quite a distance from Guelph and so he got in a habit of having a student go with him on these speeches that he’d make out in the country. Somehow or other he picked on me to accompany him on a number of these junkets. I guess it was maybe I used to do a little singing at stunt nights at the College Royal and one thing or another. I did some magic tricks one time. So he’d get me to go along with him as a kind of a sidekick, a bit of an entertainer or something. This one time we went to a church, 80 miles or so west of Guelph up to Exeter. We arrived on this cold winters night in this church. There were a couple of people just at the entrance to the church waiting and then when we arrived, these reception fellows took us upstairs in the church and said the banquet was not quite ready downstairs yet so if you don’t mind just waiting up here, we’ll call you when the time comes. So Dr. Christie and I sat upstairs in this cold church waiting for maybe, 20 minutes or half an hour. 11
Then they said, “Ok, you can come down now,” So we went and here were all the tables lined up, a typical church supper and no head table. They had Dr. Christie sitting at the end of one of the tables and then two or three people beside him and across from him. I was quite a little way down the table, maybe about the fifth or sixth person down the table from the doctor. And then the person next to me was really interested and he says, “Oh, I’ve got something I’ve got to ask Dr. Christie!” And I said, “Well, he’s very happy to talk with anyone.” So this fellow called up the length of the table, as I say, I was about the 5th down and he was the 6th, and he called down, “Dr. Christie, tell me, I understand that you walk around the campus every day and you know what’s going on.” Dr. Christie said “Oh, yes” he did that. He says “Well tell me, how’s that rooster at the college? He had a broken leg and I gave him to the college and I just wonder how he is, did he get over his broken leg?” Dr. Christie was a bit non-plussed and he says, “well, bda da ba ya yah oh I think he got over it OK!” That kind of satisfied him and I said to the fellow, “Well, you know, Dr. Christie has a lot of things to do. I don’t think probably he would be able to tell you about that rooster.”
But it just showed that the person hadn’t really very much of an idea about the scope of the Ontario Agricultural College and what the president’s job was. But, as I mentioned, the farmers did have a bit of a jaded idea of the college. One of the stories that went around in those days, was just after the new heating plant had been built and the administration building had been completed four or five years before. They had put the tunnel under the sidewalks and all the steam pipes, connecting all the buildings, went under the sidewalks. So the sidewalks didn’t freeze in the wintertime. As anybody there in the winter knows, usually there’s not too much ice and snow. It melts off of the sidewalks fairly quickly, at least the main one down in front of Johnston Hall. But the farmers used to say, “Well, you know, up there the students are so pampered, they even have steam heated sidewalks.” That was one of the things that Dr. Christie had to kind of dispel and one of the questions he always was prepared to answer when he went out to speak to farmers.
Another person who was a most impressive person on the campus was Dr. W.R. Graham, head of the Poultry Department in our day and the Honorary President of our class. As you may know, back in those days, each class had one person from the faculty who was chosen as Honorary President and Dr. and Mrs. Graham filled that role very well with us. He was the person who was responsible for developing the breed of chickens known as the Barred Plymouth Rock. I think that became the breed of chicken that was sort of dual purpose, good egg layers and yet good meat birds, and it was Dr. Graham who was responsible for that. But one of the things I always remember about Dr. Graham, he was quite a philosophical person, and one thing he used to say was, “Well, you know, one of the things that everybody should do, you should always go over and find out how the other fellow plants his potatoes!” It was kind of an old farmer saying and in that little saying, it embodied a lot of good philosophy for any farmer. I know that I found it useful in my career to go and find out how the other fellow plants his potatoes.
If I were going to pick out THE most popular professor on the campus in our day, it had to be Bill Blackwood, Professor W.C., William C. Blackwood. I have mentioned earlier on the other tape, it was his daughter Janet who became my bride and we’ve now been married for over 56 years so we’ve had a long and happy life together. But back to Professor Blackwood, he, as I mentioned, was so popular and he was Honorary President of, I guess, more classes than any other one, at least at that time. I do know, because in the cottage that was built by him on Lake Huron at Sauble Beach are the pennants of each of the classes that he was Honorary President of. 12
The first one was 1923 and the last one was 1942 and that was when the war was on, so that kind of ended that series. He was active in a lot of things on campus and a lot of things off campus. He was a great singer, had a beautiful baritone voice. He was a paid singer in the choir of Chalmers Church in downtown Guelph. He went out public speaking to farmers, like Dr. Christie did. Also, he was a curler and a bowler and he used to win all kinds of prizes for those things, anything that required precision, he was good at.
I remember one funny story, back in my community here. There were some bowlers on the local team from down in my neck of the woods. They must have been bowling against the team from Guelph one time and this fellow said, “Oh, I met your father-in-law, he’s a professor up there at the college at Guelph!” I said “Oh, yeah, that’s right, his name is Blackwood.” “Yeah” he says, “ he’s a professor, he has something to do with the medical department!” I said, “Well, no, that would be the veterinary college, no, that’s not his area, he’s a professor of physics.” And the fellow said, “Yeah, I knew he had something to do with medicine.” His word for a laxative was a physic.
Anyway, he also was a crack rifle shooter. They used to have a faculty rifle club. There was one for the students as well, and he was the honorary president of it. They had this little group among the faculty. Professor Morwick and he were both just about as good, one as good as the other. They had this button, just an ordinary button, from a suit that they’d fixed up with a little shank on it and you could put this in your buttonhole on the lapel of your suit coat. I think once a week, they would have a little shoot off, these faculty members and whoever did the best that night then they’d get to wear the button for the next week. So Prof. Blackwood used to wear that quite often. He was also a soccer coach. In fact, he coached one of the OAC teams, they were in the intermediate intercollegiate league in those days, and one of his teams won the national championship for all of Canada in soccer.
He was also just a great teacher. There were so many things that anybody whoever sat at his feet would remember. For instance, in electricity that he taught, whoever took his course would remember he said ‘C=E/R.’ That was, I don’t know, the formula for Current in amperes = E, that was electromotive force or the voltage, over R, the resistance in ohms, and you just couldn’t forget it because he taught it so well. Another area of physics is kinetic energy and dissipation of energy. If an object falls from a height, it gathers energy from the gravity as it falls, and when it hits the ground, that energy all has to be dissipated. He would demonstrate this by actually leaping up onto the big, long, very solid demonstration table that was all across the front of the lecture hall, about four feet high. He would leap up onto the top of that and stand there and say ‘now look, I weigh 165 lbs’ or whatever he did, and he says ‘I’m gonna jump from here down onto the floor and I’m gonna do this twice, and I want you to notice!’ So, he jumped down and he landed stiff legged and it made a big quite a thud on the floor. By this time the class was just laughing it’s head off. Then he’d leap up again and he’d say ‘Now, you see, all that energy of my 165 lbs, when I hit the floor it was dissipated and it made that big thud. But next time now I’m gonna jump down and I’m going to bend my legs this time and I’m going to absorb some of that energy in the muscles of my leg at the knee and you’ll notice it won’t make nearly as big of a thud.’ So this time he jumped down and it wasn’t nearly as loud. This was his way of demonstrating and here I’m remembering 60 years later and anybody who was in any of his courses would remember that kind of thing. 13
I remember one of the stories he used to tell, back in those days. Teachers, if they had something written on the blackboard and they wanted it left there, so that whoever used the classroom next would not erase it, they would put the letters PLO on the blackboard and that meant ‘Please Leave On’. He tells about this student who wasn’t all that bright, he really had difficulty. He would write everything down that was ever written on the board in his notes and he’d write it down whether or not he understood it. This fellow didn’t know what PLO meant. He was preparing for his final exam and he got some of the fellows in his class back in the residence to help him go over his notes, so that at least he could get a pass mark. He had PLO on every two or three pages and he says ‘well, what’s this PLO?’ His fellow student, who was helping him, had a bit of sense of humor and he says ‘Oh, don’t you know, well that means Plate Load Osculations!’ ‘What’s that mean?’ This fellow made up some great line about what Plate Load Osculations and told this fellow. Well, during the exam, there was a free question where you could talk about anything you really were interested in, in physics, an open-ended question. So this kid, he did a whole treatise on Plate Load Osculations and the Prof. said he kept the examination book because he thought that was something that he got a big kick out of.
Back in those days farmers were still getting their land in better shape and there was a drainage act that allowed farmers some grants for helping them drain wetlands or wet fields, Now, you are not supposed to drain wetlands anymore, but back in those days you did. If you needed to put a ditch across, a drainage ditch that would drain several farms, they didn’t have bulldozers in those days, they just had slush scrappers and things like that and horses. They discovered that you could make a ditch, by putting a stick of dynamite in the ground every so many feet and hook them all together with electric wire and then just push your plunger and you’d have a ditch, just like that.
So a prof got pretty expert with the dynamite and he’d go out and give these demonstrations around the countryside using dynamite. Also, people were still clearing some stumps away and he got proficient at putting dynamite under stumps and blowing them out of the ground. If there were big boulders in your field, he’d put a couple of sticks of dynamite on top and then put a mud cap on that and bust the big rock apart so that it was manageable and you could get it off your field. This was all sort of Agricultural Extension and he used to go and do this. He got pretty expert with dynamite. It was one of the things that he would talk about in the classes, it really wasn’t in the curriculum, but however he liked it. He’d actually bring sticks of dynamite and caps and fuses right into the classroom, the old lecture hall was almost like a theatre, very steep bank of seats and he would demonstrate right in this lecture hall with the dynamite.
He’d say ‘now you know,’ and he’d take a stick of dynamite. If you have ever seen one, a stick of dynamite is like a stick about, say 8, 10 inches long and maybe an inch in diameter and its wrapped in wax paper. You can actually take a stick of dynamite and unless you have a cap to detonate it, it’s perfectly safe to handle. And he would come into the room and say, ‘Now I have a stick of dynamite. Now this is perfectly safe to handle. You can even throw it on the floor.’ He’d throw a stick right on the floor, a stick of dynamite, and it wouldn’t explode ‘cause he knew it was perfectly safe but people who didn’t know, they got a bit scared, especially when he’d be doing it right on the floor of the classroom in front of the front row of students.
Then he’d take a cap, about the size of a ballpoint pen maybe. It had a special explosive right inside it. Then you had a fuse that would fit just inside the end of it. The cap was maybe three inches long, and then you’d push the fuse in maybe about ¾ of an inch and then crimp the edge 14
of the cap, which was made of metal so as to hold the fuse in place. You’d just push that with your thumbnail. He would show you how to put it in and then he’d crimp it and then he’d say ‘now you see I’ve got the fuse.’ Then he’d cut a little space with his jackknife, on the edge of the dynamite stick and then tie some string around it. ‘Now’ he says ‘all you have to do, if you’re going to split up a great big boulder out in the field, you just put that stick of dynamite with the fuse and the cap and pack mud on top of it and then you light the fuse and get out of harms way and ‘bang’ and the rock would be shattered in pieces.
In the classroom, he’d take this fuse back out of the dynamite stick because it would be dangerous there. He’d stand in front of the class and get a match and he’d light the fuse. So here was the fuse leading into the cap and he’d walk along the front row in the class and show and, everybody was scared to death, and then he’d just kind of go across toward the north wall of the of the classroom and he had the window open already and he knew about when the thing was going to explode and he’d just toss it out the window. Luckily there’d be nobody behind it, he was on the second floor of the building and it would explode outside the building. But, that’s the kind of thing he did.
We never, ever forgot what Prof. Blackwood told us. He had to have a place to store this dynamite that it would be safe and where people couldn’t get into it. He had a secret cache under a stump way back in the dairy bush, over on the west side of Gordon Street, back of the dairy buildings. Somehow, I guess some students must have followed him one time or found out where this was. I’ll never forget the Halloween of the first year I was there at OAC and I lived in on the 4th floor of the Administration building, that’s Johnston Hall. Halloween night, there was a terrible bang out in the quadrangle at the back of that building and it actually was a stick of dynamite that some student had been able to go and get from Blackwood’s cache of dynamite and exploded on Halloween night. Well I’ll tell you, he caught hell from the President for that. Later I heard about it because in getting to know the family well because of Janet and my association, I heard that he just about got fired over that. The President called him into his office. But anyway, that was Professor William C. Blackwood.
He was head of the Physics Department and later, when the physics and farm mechanics were joined, he became head of what they called the Department of Agricultural Engineering. There is quite a nice write up about Professor Blackwood in the history of the Physics Department and it was written by one of the professors in the early ‘90’s.We have a copy of that book but I just don’t remember who it was who wrote it. If you were interested to hear more about Holy Willie Blackwood, it’s there for the record.
One other thing, there was Professor Ferguson, who worked with drainage and this was putting down tile drains. We, as students, had to go and lay out fields for tile drainage as a project. I think that was in 3rd year in the Field Husbandry option or Agronomy, as it was later called. We had to go out and use the Theodolite or what we called a dumpy level. It was on a tripod and it had a telescope on the top. They used these levels in 4th year and so they’d bring them back into the residence. I remember people who lived on the north side of Mills Hall, they would set up the tripod in their rooms and look over into MacDonald Hall and be able to see what was going on over there in the girl’s rooms. Another little sidelight of campus life.
One thing in campus life that I remember, in the Philharmonic Society back in ’38 or ’39, the secretary was a man called Brown and the treasurer was a man called Black. Then there were a couple of other fellows in year ’40. One was High, his surname was High, it was Norm High, 15
and then another one was Low and, they’d meet on the campus and one would say High Low and the other would say Low High. What fun we used to have.
I’ll just say one or two things about College Royal. I used to be a member of the Agronomy Club and I remember one year I assisted in preparing an exhibit. Each club on the campus, the Agronomy, the An. Hub, the Poultry and the Economics Club, would put an exhibit in College Royal. So I remember the year that I had a lot to do with it we won first prize for the Club Exhibits and another year we won second. I used to take apples from our farm and I would exhibit them and I usually collected a couple of red ribbons. Only once have I ever shown an animal in a fair. At College Royal this one year I decided I’d try a Holstein heifer. I got one and believe it or not, it was the only time I have ever shown one and I got first place. I didn’t do much when it came to the Championships. But anyway, with that class, I did OK.
I used to sing at stunt nights and entertainment in Memorial Hall and I actually did a magic show in Memorial Hall one time. I remember the illusion that probably went over the biggest was the one where I had a big old trunk. We set it up on 2X4’s and then had a small curtain to go in front of it. One of the other students helped me with the show. I handcuffed him with the hands behind his back and he got into the trunk. We closed the lid and had a member of the audience tie it up with a rope, and tied really good knots so it couldn’t possibly open. We put down this curtain in front and I went behind the curtain. Then my accomplice came out from behind the curtain and they lifted the curtain. The guys who had tied up the trunk came to untie the knots but the knots were so tight. Well, we had a knife there so that they could cut the rope and they opened the trunk and there I was inside handcuffed. Oh, that was quite fun. That was in War Memorial Hall on the stage. The concert that we used to put on is now supplanted by the College Royal Review, a musical show and much more professional things are done there now. But College Royal was a wonderful week and still is and I could talk a lot more about it.
Now I should mention the hops we used to have every Tuesday and Thursday nights in MacDonald Hall, so that you had an opportunity to meet girls. The band that played was a student orchestra led by Kenny Spence, otherwise known as Gangster Spence.
End of tape.
And, once again, here is George Atkins in front of the microphone with a third tape for the record, of some things that I’m thinking about and have dredged up in my mind. Some things go back 50, 60 years ago at the OAC, my own student days.
And I’m going to tell you, to begin with, just a story that is several generations older than I am. It’s one that I do not know whether anybody has written it down or recorded it. I kind of doubt it. It is about the person known as Doc. Staples. This was a professor of Animal Husbandry and he was the horse specialist. I think in my first tape I did mention him and how, whenever anybody was away in the Animal Husbandry Department and there had to be some person to fill in a lecture, Doc. Staples would always fill in by telling his lecture on the Care and Management of the Brood Mare. I think during my time at Guelph, I probably heard that lecture at least half a dozen times. In fact, I remember one of our classmates, Ollie Wilcox who came from Southwestern Ontario, he and I were the two youngest in our class, I think he was about 3 days younger than I was.
We got into the classroom and it wasn’t Doc. Staples this time but a fellow called Frank Wolff, who was a lecturer. The professor, supposed to be giving us the lecture wasn’t there, and Frank Wolff said, 16
‘OK, here I am and I’m going to tell you about the Care and Management of the Brood Mare.’ Ollie Wilcox just got up and walked out of the classroom. That was the old classroom in the old Animal Husbandry Building on the ground floor on the north side of the building. Poor Frank Wolff was so crestfallen that one of the class would walk out on him, he went down the aisle to the door and called him back. He said, “Come one back here you gotta listen to this!” Wilcox argued, “Look, I’ve heard that so many times, we really don’t need to learn anything more about it and I’m sure that this is just a lecture from the notes that you took from Doc. Staples that he gave you when you were a student!”
This is a story about Doc. Staples when he was a student and lived in the old Administration Building, the one that preceded the present Johnston Hall. He had a room in that building and had decided to go away for the weekend. Actually, in those days people didn’t leave the college so much on weekends. Anyway, he was away for the weekend and horses were his thing. The students (his neighbors) somehow got into his room. They climbed along the roof and somehow got into the room through the window and opened the door. They actually took a full sized horse and got it into his room. In order to close the door they had to take the pins out of the hinges and they got the horse in there and then put the door back on. From the corridor, you could push the door open just enough, but you couldn’t have gotten the horse in because the horse took up all the room. When Doc. Staples came back from the weekend he went to his room and the horse had been there quite a while so you can imagine what was on the floor at the rear end of the horse. But that’s a story of an event that actually took place long before my time.
I wanted to tell you something that happened at the end of our first year. I don’t know whether it ever happened to any other class. There happened to be a bit of an epidemic of measles and it was getting close to the end of the first year around exam time. But the college decided that, for anyone who had measles, they didn’t have to study because they felt there was something about you might damage your eyes. So anybody who had the measles didn’t have to try the final exams in the first year. I remember one of our classmates, Jack Nixon. He was a brother of Bob Nixon, who later became Premier of Ontario, a Liberal family from Brant County. Jack decided that he didn’t want to try his final exams that year. He didn’t have the measles, but it was kind of getting close to exam time. He went into the shower on the third floor in the Administration Building. He got in the hottest shower he could stand for a least half an hour, stood in that shower, so he was red as a beet, and then quickly, he got dried off. He went running down one floor to the infirmary and went into the nurse and he said, “Look, I’ve got the measles!” He pulled his shirt apart. He was so red and the nurse was sure that he had the measles. So she put him in bed right next to somebody with the measles.
Well after another day or so, all the color went out of him and he didn’t have the measles at all. But he got them within a short time. He kept his clothes on so the nurse wouldn’t see him. I think maybe he even took another shower or two. However, he got the measles so he didn’t have to try his final exams. And then in the fall when everybody was getting back to college, people were saying ‘Well so you’re back. Did you pass your exams or did you have the measles?’ Actually, I think there was some reference to that in our yearbook. But, I’ll never forget that.
I remember there was great rivalry between the college and McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario, but especially McMaster when it came to rugby games. Our team, the Guelph team, was called The Redman because our team had red sweaters. On the Saturday of the game between McMaster and OAC, I looked out my window. My room was on the front of the building right at the top. This was my first year. I looked out and there on the front campus, somebody had brought in a couple of wheelbarrow loads of soil. Obviously it was a McMaster group. They made it look like a 17
grave. It was just this soil piled up like a new grave that had just been filled in. They had a cross on the top of it, ‘poor old OAC’.
Well, I’m not sure whether that was the same time but on another occasion the OAC students, and I wasn’t in on this, but I knew some of the people who went down to McMaster and painted the goal posts in the field where McMaster and OAC played, that same stadium is still in use today. I’m trying to think what the name of that stadium is. Yeah it’s the Ivor Wynne stadium. Anyway, they painted the goal posts OAC colors, red and blue and that was not quite kosher to do a thing like that. Another time, our people went down with red and blue paint and were ready to paint some of the residence buildings at McMaster. But one of the McMaster students got hold of one of these cans of paint, that the OAC lads had brought down and actually turned the thing upside down, over the guys head. There was a bit of a scuffle but that was quite a classic case. That would have been in my second or third year.
After we graduated in 1939, my parents loaned me our family car. I drove the car down to Ottawa right after college because, I don’t know, it was just kind of something special to do. It happened that King George and Queen Elizabeth, that’s George the VI, were on a Royal tour to Canada so I thought I’d like to see them. I had mentioned to one or two of my buddies at college that I was going to be driving to Ottawa so I took them home. One was Lloyd Ogilvie. We just got outside Toronto driving on old #2 highway, there was a hitchhiker standing there. So we stopped and picked him up and he turned out to be a McMaster student. He was sitting in the back seat along with one of my other OAC buddies and the conversation got around to the rivalry between OAC and McMaster. This guy from McMaster said, “I’ll never forget the time you guys came down and were going to paint the place up and I got a hold of the can of red paint that some guy was going to paint up our residence and I dumped it over this OAC fella’s head.” It just happened that the person, sitting in the back seat with him, was the OAC fellow that I was taking to Ottawa, was the very person over whose head he had dumped that can of paint. That was quite a coincidence and we had a lot of fun laughing about it as we drove to Ottawa.
Then there was another time, I guess the first year I was at college, some of the lads went to Hamilton. There was a fur store on Main Street, somewhere near the square. Out in front of this fur store on the sidewalk was this stuffed bear. A full sized stuffed bear leaning against a post. This advertised the fur store, where you could by fur coats and collars and things. It’s very politically incorrect in the present day, what we’re talking about now. A couple of the lads, who had the room right opposite mine up on the fourth floor of the Ad Building, stole this bear and brought it back to Guelph. We always had a parade every time there was a football game, and the idea was that they would have this bear in the parade on a wagon pulled around or something like this, just to show the McMaster team how bold and brave we were to go down to Hamilton and steal this bear.
But the trouble was, the word got out on the radio that the police were looking for whoever had stolen this bear. They thought discretion was the better part of valour, so the bear was not used in the parade. But it happened that this bear had been stolen two or three days before the game so the guys decided they better take it back down to Hamilton. They took it back down, early in the morning I guess, and put it in the McMaster residence, in rugby alley, where, I guess, the rugby players were living. But anyway, our guys put it in there and then they telephoned the Hamilton police in the middle of the night and told them, ‘If you want to know where your bear is, it’s in the McMaster men’s residence in rugby alley’.
But there was another thing about that bear, when it was in the room upstairs, opposite my room. I guess this would be on a Friday morning, there used to be a Chinese laundry person, his name was 18
Sam Sing, and he would come to the college every day. If you had laundry to go, shirts washed or whatever, there weren’t any Laundromats or laundry machines in the residence back in those days, he would stand at the bottom of the stairs when you were on your way home from breakfast back to the Administration Building. He’d be there and if you had laundry you’d say, ‘You come up to room 434 or whatever and pick it up’. Sam was a flat-footed fellow and you’d hear him padding along the corridor. The people in the room right opposite mine, they told him to come and pick up some laundry and when he knocked on the door and they said, “Come in.” They had this bear just inside the door and he was confronted with this thing, standing on its back legs and he just let out a yelp like you never heard and the poor guy he turned around and ran as fast as he could, down the corridor and down stairs. But that was a dirty trick to play on Sam.
I remember another time, Sam always used to park out in front of the northwest door of the Ad. Building, on the front driveway. This particular day, a couple of guys, more than that, maybe four or five, had some blocks of wood that were for the fireplace in Mills Hall. This would have been in our senior year when we were living in Mills. They lifted the whole back end of his little pickup truck and put it up on the blocks just enough that you wouldn’t notice that the back end was up off the ground. When Sam got in to drive his car away, it wouldn’t go. Oh, the poor guy, they used to give him tough times, but he was a happy fellow, he used to sing and that was kind. I don’t know whether that was his real name, Sam Sing, but he was a happy fellow and he seemed to be able to take the jokes that the students played on him in the spirit in which they were given.
I’m just going to tell you another thing about the football games. There was one time RMC, Royal Military College in Kingston, sent their team up to Guelph to play us. We had such a good team that year and theirs was so bad that our team just slaughtered them. I don’t know, the score was a way up at least 50 or 60, and it was just a rout, just awful. None of us felt sorry for RMC at all. But here is one of the things that our team used to do, in a situation like that. Say, we had the ball and it was our ball to go down the field, one first down after another. But there was a play that they had, they’d get in the huddle and the quarterback would stand up in the middle of the huddle and he’d say, “Who will carry the midnight mail?” Everybody in the team would yell back, “We’ll carry the midnight mail.” Then out of the huddle they all ran and spread completely across the field. Then the ball would be snapped to somebody and passed along and they’d all run down the field, just like an army charging down the field. The other team, when they were all spread out like that, didn’t know what to do and that was another touchdown without any trouble at all. Anyway, I always remember that.
We had the band then, I remember, on occasion, the band paraded all around the campus and everybody following and singing OAC songs. I remember us actually getting into Mac Hall and marching up the main stairs and along the wing and then up another staircase. Then we’d go over to Watson Hall and do the same thing. You can imagine the racket, with a band walking down the corridors in those buildings and everybody singing. But it was lots of fun.
Back in the ‘30’s there was kind of a rule that nobody except the senior students in the fourth year could wear a beard or a mustache. People didn’t wear beards much in those days, but mustaches certainly, that was pretty sharp for a young man to have a mustache. But you weren’t allowed to, until you got to fourth year. Then another thing, you couldn’t wear a bowler hat, that’s like a derby hat, a black hat that had sort a round crown. Once you got to fourth year, if you were going to be dressed up, you could have a hat like that. And I remember I did actually buy one, so that I could have it for going to parties with and it wasn’t like a top hat. I think probably I still have that hat up here in our attic of 19
this big old house that we live in, in the old farmhouse built in 1864.You could wear a fedora, and most people did when they were dressed up.
There was another thing you were not allowed to wear and that was spats. Now for anyone nowadays who doesn’t know what spats are, they were kind of a covering that you would wear, if you were wearing oxford shoes. They were a really nice, gray, felt covering that was just made to fit over the top of the shoe and over your ankles and up underneath your pant leg. It had either buttons or a snap, like dome fasteners. It looked really sharp to wear these, but you were not allowed to wear them on the campus unless you were into fourth year. I remember somebody in our class decided we were gonna test this thing out. I don’t know where they got them but I remember this huge, big box full of old old-fashioned spats. They were real old, they had shoe buttons on the side instead of dome fasteners and somebody got them at a second-hand store, maybe just for a couple of bucks or something like that. This one day, we were in third year, and we decided we were going to put these spats on. Everybody had a pair and we put them on and went to breakfast. We were daring fourth year to do anything about it. We had quite a massive altercation there in front of the dining hall. Fourth year always figured that they won it. In fact, I did notice in their yearbook that they said they had won, but we always figured that we’d won it. Anyway, that was one of the funny things that happened.
Creelman Hall, we had great fun there because pretty well everybody went there for meals. It was part of the room and board. We had round tables and maid service. We used to fuss about the food but it was really good, when you think of it. There was a big jug of milk for every table and they’d always get filled up. We never were short of food and we always used to say that just before any of the big dances that the powers that be would put saltpeter in the milk. We always figured it tasted kind of funny but we figured that was to cut down on our libido before we had a party to go to. They kept people on the straight and narrow that way. I don’t know whether they do that nowadays or not, but we figured that’s what it was all about.
I have to tell you about one thing that happened in the dining hall. We used to raise merry hell with our songs and yells. Each year had their yells and songs and during a meal, each year, like freshman or sophomores or juniors or seniors, would start up with one of their yells. After they were finished then another class would start up and then we’d sing our college songs. There was one, the last line of it, I forget what the words were now, but you’d bang on the table and, oh my gosh, the knives and forks would go flying. Then we used to have bun fights. We had buns that were cooked in the kitchen and they were pretty hard, heavy things. You could have a fight across the dining room as they’d come showering down upon you or you’d be firing them at somebody else.
One of the things that happened once a year, the Agriculture Committee of the Ontario Legislature would come to the campus. They’d tour around and check up and see that the facilities were being run properly. I guess they then had to recommend to the Legislature that everything was the way it should be on the OAC campus. They came over for the noon meal. We always called it dinner. They would have it with us in the dining hall. The way the thing was set up, because many students wouldn’t be particularly interested to sit and listen to the speeches, they had the head table all along the west side of the dining hall. A dozen or more, on the committee, were sitting facing in toward the hall and we were in the round tables and couldn’t get out. They kept the back doors locked so that you couldn’t get out there either.
So we had to sit and listen to the speeches. However, it wasn’t all that terrible, but to give the Legislator’s a sort of a sample of college life, we would sing our college songs and give our yells and they would listen and the band would come in and the band would sit up in a little balcony room that 20
was just over the main doorway. The west side had this little balcony that stuck out over the doorway and a kind of a curved railing and the band would be in there. When they’d strike up and they had that drum and all the loud music, it was deafening to hear them.
I remember the time the person with the trombone had it sticking out over the balcony. There’s a spit valve on the end of a trombone slide and between every song, the fellow who had the trombone, he would put his hand over the spit valve and blow and the water would drop down right on the Minister of Agriculture’s head. On this occasion the minister happened to be the Honorable Duncan Marshall. He tended to be balding and when this water would come down from the balcony and land on him he’d put his hand up. Then he’d look at it and it would be wet. This happened after the end of every piece. I will never forget that and nobody knew about it. Dr. Christie, the President, was sitting next to him and I don’t know whether there were any words exchanged but it was quite funny to see Duncan Marshall looking up to see where this water was coming from.
Actually, he was the Minister with the Liberal Government and this was the Government of Mitch Hepburn. He got in after an election in which they were talking about how the conservatives had been wasting so much money and they said ‘Well, we are going to get rid of all these cars the government has for hauling ministers around.’ The first thing they did when they got into power was to sell all these cars. But sooner or later they decided they needed them so they bought them all back again rather quietly.
One of the things that happened after they got in power was that they fired people who had any conservative leanings and had government jobs. The Head of the Animal Husbandry Department at the college was known to have conservative leanings and so he was just fired. That’s how it was that, when we arrived, Professor Knox was acting head of the Department because they’d fired the other head just before. Professor Blackwood, he actually did have liberal leanings, but he was always very, very careful never to let anybody know which way he leaned. Most of the staff were very quiet in their political views so they managed to keep their jobs. But there were Ag. Reps. fired. I remember the Ag. Rep. in our county at that time, he had conservative leanings. He was in Head Office in the Department of Agriculture in the Ag. Rep. Branch and he got posted back out into the country. That’s how he became our Ag. Rep. He got demoted. That’s the way they used to do things in those days, its unbelievable. Maybe it happens still, I don’t know.
You know, in those days the Minister of Agriculture was a powerful fellow. The Minister at that time, Duncan Marshall, he decided that he was going to go over to Scotland and buy a really good sire for the college Clydesdale horses. He bought a stallion, called Craigie Realization, quite a young horse at the time. When he became mature this horse, I don’t know how many thousands of dollars, and it was an astronomical figure at that time, it turned out that he was sterile. That was really a great disappointment to Duncan Marshall and there were a lot of red faces over that.
Just one other thing about a Minister, a couple of years later, in our 4th year, at this Legislator’s Day on the campus, and it was a different minister then. The Conservatives had gotten back into power and it was Mike Dewan, P.M. Dewan. In his speech at this luncheon, he talked about how, this was late in the Depression, he felt that it was time that farmers got back to basics, that they should have some sheep, grow their own wool and then the woman could start weaving and making their own clothes. They could do other things, like make their own butter and so on. We had moved from those days a little bit, even through the depression. But anyway, the Minister was advocating this. 21
One of our classmates, a very bright person, and actually one of my good friends, was Lorne Sonley. He used to write a little bit for the OAC Review. This was the magazine that came out every month or two. Lorne wrote this story castigating the minister for talking this way. He said ‘Look, we’ve come a long way and our farm people shouldn’t be going back to what they used to do back in the 1880’s’ and so on. It was a really good critique on Mike Dewan’s speech. Well, when that came out, and that journal reached the Minister’s office that very day, I will never forget. We were in a Botany or Zoology lab, I can’t remember which, down in the old Biology Building. In the middle of the afternoon, during our lab, the secretary came to the door and called one of the lecturers over and asked him to give this note to Lorne Sonley.
When Lorne read the note it said ‘you must come immediately to the President’s office, this very minute.’ So Lorne left the lab and went to the President’s office and here the President said, ‘Well look, the Minister of Agriculture is on the phone and he wants to talk to you’. So Lorne went to the phone and oh, did he get a dressing down from the Minister and the Minister demanded that he do a retraction of this article of what he’d said. Lorne thanked him for phoning and Lorne, after that, thought a lot about it. He actually never did retract, but he did write a little article saying ‘Well, if I offended the Minister, I am sorry,’ But he didn’t say ‘I retract what I said’.
It had been made very clear to Lorne that if he didn’t apologize or do something that he would not graduate. That’s how powerful the Minister was and because we were in our 4th year, I remember so well our graduation exercises. We were sitting across the front and as each person’s name was called, they would go up to kneel down in front of the Chancellor. The Minister of Agriculture, in this case Mr. Mike Dewan, was sitting right beside the Chancellor and he heard the name Sonley and I was watching him. He just watched Lorne. You could see his eyes going across as Lorne went over and up the stairs and across and kneeled down in front of the Chancellor and received his degree. Mike Dewan’s eyes just followed him all the way over and back until he sat down. I can just imagine what was going through the Minister’s mind, when Sir William Mulock was actually conferring the Degree of Bachelor of Science in Agriculture on Lorne Sonley.
This is the same person I told you earlier, who handed in the essay about shoeing horses and called it the Gene Ecological Adaption of the Species to the Environment for Dr. McConkey. Lorne ended up being one of the first in our class to get his Master’s Degree on scholarships. Then he went to one of the eastern colleges in the States and ended up in Iowa State getting his Doctor’s degree. He then was drafted, because he was in the States, into the Marine Corps. Then he ended up on the other side of the Pacific and after the war joined the World Bank and spent his whole career as an Agricultural Economist in the World Bank. As I speak to you now, he is still living on a little farm outside Washington, D.C. in Warrenton and we keep in touch more or less from time to time. One further note on Lorne, he was the son of a thrasher man in Victoria County. His father thrashed grain with a steam engine so he used to be called Steamer Sonley. A very bright young man and, actually, during those days in college, he didn’t have very much of this world’s goods and he used to work in student labour. He worked in the library at twenty cents an hour. In those days that is what one was paid. But that helped him go through college.
I think I have enough left on this tape to be able to tell you a couple of other things that actually happened during the last month of our college time. In those days the girls from MacDonald, they continued on longer than the OAC students but the junior years, 1st 2nd and 3rd year, they finished in OAC and then we were left for about a month to prepare for our final exams. We were studying in Mills Hall each night around 9, 9:30 or 10, and we’d get a bit hungry. Well there wasn’t anywhere on 22
campus in those days you could go and buy a hamburger and unless you went off campus you just wouldn’t be able to get something to eat. So there was a fellow who used to come up from downtown and he would, if you phoned him by 10 o’clock or something like that, he would come up and bring to your room a hamburger or whatever you wanted if you needed coffee or something but hamburgers were his thing mainly. And so you’d phone and he’d bring up a whole bunch of stuff, whatever had been ordered. He was kind of a grumpy fellow and sometimes we didn’t treat him that well, but he was glad of the business. So we decided that we were going to fix him and I think I told you on one of the earlier tapes, that my room in Mills Hall was over the doorway. So it was decided that we would fill up a garbage can full of water and take it out my window onto the top of this little kind of portico and then have it all ready, when he came in with his with his hamburgers. After he had delivered them, we had a system set up so that the guys out on the portico, would be able to pour this whole can of water on him as he came out. There were a couple of guys outside, ready so that they could grab him if he got away, or tried to get away. The water was poured out and it actually happened, boy, he got a real soaking. Somebody told him who we were, but he was such a grumpy fellow, this was just paying him back for the way he treated us. Anyway, the hamburgers were good and we used to enjoy them.
There was another thing that happened. After the students in earlier years had gone, the residences were empty except for Mills Hall. So they had a system where there would be a girls conference and these were for rural girls from all over Ontario. They would come to the campus, would live in the Administration Building and have special lectures on Home Ec. stuff and things like that. On a certain afternoon, let’s say a Tuesday afternoon, they were to go into the main entrance of the Administration Building and register. There was a little sign right out in front of the Ad. Building that said “Register Here”. Then they would go in, get their room keys and pay their fee. I guess they maybe paid $5 or something like that. Their parents would be driving them in. We were a bit antsy, getting ready for our exams and so we decided, in Mills Hall, that we were going to do something special.
We went and grabbed this sign, moved it from in front of the Administration Building to in front of Mills Hall, and it said, “Register Here”. So the parents would drop the girls off and they would come right into the entrance of Mills Hall and we had a card table set up there and one of the floor plans showing all the different rooms in Mills Hall. Then we would say to them, “ Well, OK, now this is where you register and which room would you like?” Then we would say, “Do you want one on the east side where you wake up early or do you want to sleep in?” This is a great old line. Then we’d say, “All right, the fee is five bucks.” So we collected the fee. There were a couple of official looking members of our class doing this. Then they’d say, “OK, now you go on out the door and down to that other building and you go in there and you get your key for the room.”
And so they’d leave and go down there. Well, they’d get down there and they’d go all through this business of registering. Then they’d tell the Dean, “Look, we’ve already paid our fee, picked out our room and we want the key.” The Dean, very concerned, sent one of his henchmen up and found that we had this sign up in front of Mills Hall. So the sign was removed and taken back down to the Ad. Building. Then we moved it back up to Mills Hall and continued doing this. Finally, the Dean sent somebody to find out what all this was about. This person came and he got grabbed and locked into somebody’s cupboard, away in the bowels of Mills of Hall. Then the Dean would come there to check things out. Sure enough, Dean Sands came out to see what was going on, but because the sentinels were ready, they got the word in, ‘Hey, the Dean’s coming,’ so the card table got quickly put away. When the Dean came in to Mills Halls, everybody was studying. He looked in different rooms and no! we don’t know what’s going on. 23
Then things sort of returned to normal. But I guess we had collected quite a pile of pile of money and so that night a barrel of beer was bought and brought into the into Mills Hall and we had a great old party that night in the common room. There was hell to pay over that, I’ll tell you.
But the one last thing I want to tell you is that this happened the night before our first final exam. The first final exam was the one that everybody in our class took - English. After that exams were according to different options but the one subject that everybody took was English. That night, the girls from MacDonald Hall and MacDonald Institute were having a banquet over in the old cafeteria, which was in the basement of the Administration Building, in the south wing there. Later it was called Der Keller and now it’s offices. The juniors were giving the seniors a farewell banquet and so all of the girls from MacDonald Hall were proceeding down the sidewalk from Mac Hall and Watson Hall down to the Ad. Building for this banquet. So we realized this was going to be an opportunity and the whole gang of us vacated Mills Hall, trouped over to MacDonald Hall and started going through that place, up and down and turned over every single bed in the building. It just so happened there was one girl, I guess maybe she wasn’t feeling that well that night and she didn’t go to the banquet and she got turned upside down in her bed. Then we all went back to our studying and nothing was said and the next morning there was nothing said whatever at breakfast and that was that. So we thought! Well, I guess we got away with it and we did our exam. Well, while we were doing our English exam, the girls of MacDonald Hall came into our building, into Mills Hall and they just raised hell in that building. They turned every bed upside down. They not only did that but they took them apart; they took all of the mattresses and piled them in one room, down on the first floor. They dragged them down and stacked them. Then they got suits and clothes from different people’s cupboards, put them in between the mattresses, mixed them all up and sprinkled talcum powder on them.
Here was this great stack of mattresses with people’s clothes and that place was turned right upside down like you wouldn’t believe. This happened while we were having our exam, so when we got back we realized that they’d got their own back on us. Anyway, Dean Sands heard about this and he went over and gave Miss Barber, who was the Dean of Women, he just gave her heck for what these girls had done to our place and, you know, that wasn’t anything for young ladies to be doing. Then he found out what we had done over in Mac Hall. Well, I’ll tell ya, there was hell to pay over that. To get Mills Hall back into shape and everybody’s things back in their own room and cleaned up it was something else, I’ll tell you. The ends of the bed were all in a stack down at the bottom of the main stairway, all dropped down the stairwell. What a mess.
So then it was decided that our contingency fee, that the OAC students had put in at the beginning of the year, that was $10, and it hadn’t been spent yet. That fee, they were going to fine us for what we had done. However, this was right at the end of our four years and we had pledged that we would give our contingency fee to a fund that had been set up to pay for an organ for War Memorial Hall. So the executive of our class said, “Well look, if you’re going to use that contingency fee as a fine, then you don’t get the money for the organ.” So the money went into the organ fund and whenever we’ve been back to the college and we heard the organ play, we always thought about that.
But I must say that I’m really really proud of my classmates at the OAC. They’ve all done so well, I could go over a whole list of them and tell you some of the things that they’ve accomplished but I’m sure it’s no different than any other class. Our graduates have gone on to be important people in various agricultural pursuits, in the private sector, in government, in the public sector, as Members of Parliament, overseas work in the Third World and all sorts of pursuits. So for me, those four years at Guelph were something I’ll just never, ever forget. And I hope that the few little reminiscences I’ve 24
given you on these two or three tapes will add to the Archives of the Alumni Association from the founding colleges, OAC, MacDonald Institute and the Ontario Veterinary College.
It has been pleasure relating them to you and I appreciate this opportunity. As I finish this third tape, I’ll do it as I did the first one of this series of three. The way I finished all of my broadcasts in the whole 25 years I was at the CBC. “Serving agriculture, the basic industry, this is George Atkins.”

TRANSCRIPT 3

 ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
GEORGE STUART ATKINS, OAC ‘39
Ontario Agricultural College, 1939
February 5, 1998
Edited Transcript
And, once again, here is George Atkins in front of the microphone with a third tape for the record, of some things that I’m thinking about and have dredged up in my mind. Some things go back 50, 60 years ago at the OAC, my own student days.
And I’m going to tell you, to begin with, just a story that is several generations older than I am. It’s one that I do not know whether anybody has written it down or recorded it. I kind of doubt it. It is about the person known as Doc. Staples. This was a professor of Animal Husbandry and he was the horse specialist. I think in my first tape I did mention him and how, whenever anybody was away in the Animal Husbandry Department and there had to be some person to fill in a lecture, Doc. Staples would always fill in by telling his lecture on the Care and Management of the Brood Mare. I think during my time at Guelph, I probably heard that lecture at least half a dozen times. In fact, I remember one of our classmates, Ollie Wilcox who came from Southwestern Ontario, he and I were the two youngest in our class, I think he was about 3 days younger than I was.
We got into the classroom and it wasn’t Doc. Staples this time but a fellow called Frank Wolff, who was a lecturer. The professor, supposed to be giving us the lecture wasn’t there, and Frank Wolff said, ‘OK, here I am and I’m going to tell you about the Care and Management of the Brood Mare.’ Ollie Wilcox just got up and walked out of the classroom. That was the old classroom in the old Animal Husbandry Building on the ground floor on the north side of the building. Poor Frank Wolff was so crestfallen that one of the class would walk out on him, he went down the aisle to the door and called him back. He said, “Come one back here you gotta listen to this!” Wilcox argued, “Look, I’ve heard that so many times, we really don’t need to learn anything more about it and I’m sure that this is just a lecture from the notes that you took from Doc. Staples that he gave you when you were a student!”
This is a story about Doc. Staples when he was a student and lived in the old Administration Building, the one that preceded the present Johnston Hall. He had a room in that building and had decided to go away for the weekend. Actually, in those days people didn’t leave the college so much on weekends. Anyway, he was away for the weekend and horses were his thing. The students (his neighbors) somehow got into his room. They climbed along the roof and somehow got into the room through the window and opened the door. They actually took a full sized horse and got it into his room. In order to close the door they had to take the pins out of the hinges and they got the horse in there and then put the door back on. From the corridor, you could push the door open just enough, but you couldn’t have gotten the horse in because the horse took up all the room. When Doc. Staples came back from the weekend he went to his room and the horse had been there quite a while so you can imagine what was on the floor at the rear end of the horse. But that’s a story of an event that actually took place long before my time.2

I wanted to tell you something that happened at the end of our first year. I don’t know whether it ever happened to any other class. There happened to be a bit of an epidemic of measles and it was getting close to the end of the first year around exam time. But the college decided that, for anyone who had measles, they didn’t have to study because they felt there was something about you might damage your eyes. So anybody who had the measles didn’t have to try the final exams in the first year. I remember one of our classmates, Jack Nixon. He was a brother of Bob Nixon, who later became Premier of Ontario, a Liberal family from Brant County. Jack decided that he didn’t want to try his final exams that year. He didn’t have the measles, but it was kind of getting close to exam time. He went into the shower on the third floor in the Administration Building. He got in the hottest shower he could stand for a least half an hour, stood in that shower, so he was red as a beet, and then quickly, he got dried off. He went running down one floor to the infirmary and went into the nurse and he said, “Look, I’ve got the measles!” He pulled his shirt apart. He was so red and the nurse was sure that he had the measles. So she put him in bed right next to somebody with the measles.
Well after another day or so, all the color went out of him and he didn’t have the measles at all. But he got them within a short time. He kept his clothes on so the nurse wouldn’t see him. I think maybe he even took another shower or two. However, he got the measles so he didn’t have to try his final exams. And then in the fall when everybody was getting back to college, people were saying ‘Well so you’re back. Did you pass your exams or did you have the measles?’ Actually, I think there was some reference to that in our yearbook. But, I’ll never forget that.
I remember there was great rivalry between the college and McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario, but especially McMaster when it came to rugby games. Our team, the Guelph team, was called The Redman because our team had red sweaters. On the Saturday of the game between McMaster and OAC, I looked out my window. My room was on the front of the building right at the top. This was my first year. I looked out and there on the front campus, somebody had brought in a couple of wheelbarrow loads of soil. Obviously it was a McMaster group. They made it look like a grave. It was just this soil piled up like a new grave that had just been filled in. They had a cross on the top of it, ‘poor old OAC’.
Well, I’m not sure whether that was the same time but on another occasion the OAC students, and I wasn’t in on this, but I knew some of the people who went down to McMaster and painted the goal posts in the field where McMaster and OAC played, that same stadium is still in use today. I’m trying to think what the name of that stadium is. Yeah it’s the Ivor Wynne stadium. Anyway, they painted the goal posts OAC colors, red and blue and that was not quite kosher to do a thing like that. Another time, our people went down with red and blue paint and were ready to paint some of the residence buildings at McMaster. But one of the McMaster students got hold of one of these cans of paint, that the OAC lads had brought down and actually turned the thing upside down, over the guys head. There was a bit of a scuffle but that was quite a classic case. That would have been in my second or third year.
After we graduated in 1939, my parents loaned me our family car. I drove the car down to Ottawa right after college because, I don’t know, it was just kind of something special to do. It happened that King George and Queen Elizabeth, that’s George the VI, were on a Royal tour to Canada so I thought I’d like to see them. I had mentioned to one or two of my buddies at college that I was going to be driving to Ottawa so I took them home. One was Lloyd Ogilvie. We just got outside Toronto driving on old #2 highway, there was a hitchhiker standing there. So we stopped and picked him up and he turned out to be a McMaster student. He was sitting in the back seat along with one of my other OAC buddies and 3
the conversation got around to the rivalry between OAC and McMaster. This guy from McMaster said, “I’ll never forget the time you guys came down and were going to paint the place up and I got a hold of the can of red paint that some guy was going to paint up our residence and I dumped it over this OAC fella’s head.” It just happened that the person, sitting in the back seat with him, was the OAC fellow that I was taking to Ottawa, was the very person over whose head he had dumped that can of paint. That was quite a coincidence and we had a lot of fun laughing about it as we drove to Ottawa.
Then there was another time, I guess the first year I was at college, some of the lads went to Hamilton. There was a fur store on Main Street, somewhere near the square. Out in front of this fur store on the sidewalk was this stuffed bear. A full sized stuffed bear leaning against a post. This advertised the fur store, where you could by fur coats and collars and things. It’s very politically incorrect in the present day, what we’re talking about now. A couple of the lads, who had the room right opposite mine up on the fourth floor of the Ad Building, stole this bear and brought it back to Guelph. We always had a parade every time there was a football game, and the idea was that they would have this bear in the parade on a wagon pulled around or something like this, just to show the McMaster team how bold and brave we were to go down to Hamilton and steal this bear.
But the trouble was, the word got out on the radio that the police were looking for whoever had stolen this bear. They thought discretion was the better part of valour, so the bear was not used in the parade. But it happened that this bear had been stolen two or three days before the game so the guys decided they better take it back down to Hamilton. They took it back down, early in the morning I guess, and put it in the McMaster residence, in rugby alley, where, I guess, the rugby players were living. But anyway, our guys put it in there and then they telephoned the Hamilton police in the middle of the night and told them, ‘If you want to know where your bear is, it’s in the McMaster men’s residence in rugby alley’.
But there was another thing about that bear, when it was in the room upstairs, opposite my room. I guess this would be on a Friday morning, there used to be a Chinese laundry person, his name was Sam Sing, and he would come to the college every day. If you had laundry to go, shirts washed or whatever, there weren’t any Laundromats or laundry machines in the residence back in those days, he would stand at the bottom of the stairs when you were on your way home from breakfast back to the Administration Building. He’d be there and if you had laundry you’d say, ‘You come up to room 434 or whatever and pick it up’. Sam was a flat-footed fellow and you’d hear him padding along the corridor. The people in the room right opposite mine, they told him to come and pick up some laundry and when he knocked on the door and they said, “Come in.” They had this bear just inside the door and he was confronted with this thing, standing on its back legs and he just let out a yelp like you never heard and the poor guy he turned around and ran as fast as he could, down the corridor and down stairs. But that was a dirty trick to play on Sam.
I remember another time, Sam always used to park out in front of the northwest door of the Ad. Building, on the front driveway. This particular day, a couple of guys, more than that, maybe four or five, had some blocks of wood that were for the fireplace in Mills Hall. This would have been in our senior year when we were living in Mills. They lifted the whole back end of his little pickup truck and put it up on the blocks just enough that you wouldn’t notice that the back end was up off the ground. When Sam got in to drive his car away, it wouldn’t go. Oh, the poor guy, they used to give him tough times, but he was a happy fellow, he used to sing and that was kind. I don’t know whether that was his real name, Sam Sing, but he was a happy fellow and he seemed to be able to take the jokes that the students played on him in the spirit in which they were given.4
I’m just going to tell you another thing about the football games. There was one time RMC, Royal Military College in Kingston, sent their team up to Guelph to play us. We had such a good team that year and theirs was so bad that our team just slaughtered them. I don’t know, the score was a way up at least 50 or 60, and it was just a rout, just awful. None of us felt sorry for RMC at all. But here is one of the things that our team used to do, in a situation like that. Say, we had the ball and it was our ball to go down the field, one first down after another. But there was a play that they had, they’d get in the huddle and the quarterback would stand up in the middle of the huddle and he’d say, “Who will carry the midnight mail?” Everybody in the team would yell back, “We’ll carry the midnight mail.” Then out of the huddle they all ran and spread completely across the field. Then the ball would be snapped to somebody and passed along and they’d all run down the field, just like an army charging down the field. The other team, when they were all spread out like that, didn’t know what to do and that was another touchdown without any trouble at all. Anyway, I always remember that.
We had the band then, I remember, on occasion, the band paraded all around the campus and everybody following and singing OAC songs. I remember us actually getting into Mac Hall and marching up the main stairs and along the wing and then up another staircase. Then we’d go over to Watson Hall and do the same thing. You can imagine the racket, with a band walking down the corridors in those buildings and everybody singing. But it was lots of fun.
Back in the ‘30’s there was kind of a rule that nobody except the senior students in the fourth year could wear a beard or a mustache. People didn’t wear beards much in those days, but mustaches certainly, that was pretty sharp for a young man to have a mustache. But you weren’t allowed to, until you got to fourth year. Then another thing, you couldn’t wear a bowler hat, that’s like a derby hat, a black hat that had sort a round crown. Once you got to fourth year, if you were going to be dressed up, you could have a hat like that. And I remember I did actually buy one, so that I could have it for going to parties with and it wasn’t like a top hat. I think probably I still have that hat up here in our attic of this big old house that we live in, in the old farmhouse built in 1864.You could wear a fedora, and most people did when they were dressed up.
There was another thing you were not allowed to wear and that was spats. Now for anyone nowadays who doesn’t know what spats are, they were kind of a covering that you would wear, if you were wearing oxford shoes. They were a really nice, gray, felt covering that was just made to fit over the top of the shoe and over your ankles and up underneath your pant leg. It had either buttons or a snap, like dome fasteners. It looked really sharp to wear these, but you were not allowed to wear them on the campus unless you were into fourth year. I remember somebody in our class decided we were gonna test this thing out. I don’t know where they got them but I remember this huge, big box full of old old-fashioned spats. They were real old, they had shoe buttons on the side instead of dome fasteners and somebody got them at a second-hand store, maybe just for a couple of bucks or something like that. This one day, we were in third year, and we decided we were going to put these spats on. Everybody had a pair and we put them on and went to breakfast. We were daring fourth year to do anything about it. We had quite a massive altercation there in front of the dining hall. Fourth year always figured that they won it. In fact, I did notice in their yearbook that they said they had won, but we always figured that we’d won it. Anyway, that was one of the funny things that happened.
Creelman Hall, we had great fun there because pretty well everybody went there for meals. It was part of the room and board. We had round tables and maid service. We used to fuss about the food but it was really good, when you think of it. There was a big jug of milk for every table and they’d always get filled up. We never were short of food and we always used to say that just before any of the big 5
dances that the powers that be would put saltpeter in the milk. We always figured it tasted kind of funny but we figured that was to cut down on our libido before we had a party to go to. They kept people on the straight and narrow that way. I don’t know whether they do that nowadays or not, but we figured that’s what it was all about.
I have to tell you about one thing that happened in the dining hall. We used to raise merry hell with our songs and yells. Each year had their yells and songs and during a meal, each year, like freshman or sophomores or juniors or seniors, would start up with one of their yells. After they were finished then another class would start up and then we’d sing our college songs. There was one, the last line of it, I forget what the words were now, but you’d bang on the table and, oh my gosh, the knives and forks would go flying. Then we used to have bun fights. We had buns that were cooked in the kitchen and they were pretty hard, heavy things. You could have a fight across the dining room as they’d come showering down upon you or you’d be firing them at somebody else.
One of the things that happened once a year, the Agriculture Committee of the Ontario Legislature would come to the campus. They’d tour around and check up and see that the facilities were being run properly. I guess they then had to recommend to the Legislature that everything was the way it should be on the OAC campus. They came over for the noon meal. We always called it dinner. They would have it with us in the dining hall. The way the thing was set up, because many students wouldn’t be particularly interested to sit and listen to the speeches, they had the head table all along the west side of the dining hall. A dozen or more, on the committee, were sitting facing in toward the hall and we were in the round tables and couldn’t get out. They kept the back doors locked so that you couldn’t get out there either.
So we had to sit and listen to the speeches. However, it wasn’t all that terrible, but to give the Legislator’s a sort of a sample of college life, we would sing our college songs and give our yells and they would listen and the band would come in and the band would sit up in a little balcony room that was just over the main doorway. The west side had this little balcony that stuck out over the doorway and a kind of a curved railing and the band would be in there. When they’d strike up and they had that drum and all the loud music, it was deafening to hear them.
I remember the time the person with the trombone had it sticking out over the balcony. There’s a spit valve on the end of a trombone slide and between every song, the fellow who had the trombone, he would put his hand over the spit valve and blow and the water would drop down right on the Minister of Agriculture’s head. On this occasion the minister happened to be the Honorable Duncan Marshall. He tended to be balding and when this water would come down from the balcony and land on him he’d put his hand up. Then he’d look at it and it would be wet. This happened after the end of every piece. I will never forget that and nobody knew about it. Dr. Christie, the President, was sitting next to him and I don’t know whether there were any words exchanged but it was quite funny to see Duncan Marshall looking up to see where this water was coming from.
Actually, he was the Minister with the Liberal Government and this was the Government of Mitch Hepburn. He got in after an election in which they were talking about how the conservatives had been wasting so much money and they said ‘Well, we are going to get rid of all these cars the government has for hauling ministers around.’ The first thing they did when they got into power was to sell all these cars. But sooner or later they decided they needed them so they bought them all back again rather quietly. 6
One of the things that happened after they got in power was that they fired people who had any conservative leanings and had government jobs. The Head of the Animal Husbandry Department at the college was known to have conservative leanings and so he was just fired. That’s how it was that, when we arrived, Professor Knox was acting head of the Department because they’d fired the other head just before. Professor Blackwood, he actually did have liberal leanings, but he was always very, very careful never to let anybody know which way he leaned. Most of the staff were very quiet in their political views so they managed to keep their jobs. But there were Ag. Reps. fired. I remember the Ag. Rep. in our county at that time, he had conservative leanings. He was in Head Office in the Department of Agriculture in the Ag. Rep. Branch and he got posted back out into the country. That’s how he became our Ag. Rep. He got demoted. That’s the way they used to do things in those days, its unbelievable. Maybe it happens still, I don’t know.
You know, in those days the Minister of Agriculture was a powerful fellow. The Minister at that time, Duncan Marshall, he decided that he was going to go over to Scotland and buy a really good sire for the college Clydesdale horses. He bought a stallion, called Craigie Realization, quite a young horse at the time. When he became mature this horse, I don’t know how many thousands of dollars, and it was an astronomical figure at that time, it turned out that he was sterile. That was really a great disappointment to Duncan Marshall and there were a lot of red faces over that.
Just one other thing about a Minister, a couple of years later, in our 4th year, at this Legislator’s Day on the campus, and it was a different minister then. The Conservatives had gotten back into power and it was Mike Dewan, P.M. Dewan. In his speech at this luncheon, he talked about how, this was late in the Depression, he felt that it was time that farmers got back to basics, that they should have some sheep, grow their own wool and then the woman could start weaving and making their own clothes. They could do other things, like make their own butter and so on. We had moved from those days a little bit, even through the depression. But anyway, the Minister was advocating this.
One of our classmates, a very bright person, and actually one of my good friends, was Lorne Sonley. He used to write a little bit for the OAC Review. This was the magazine that came out every month or two. Lorne wrote this story castigating the minister for talking this way. He said ‘Look, we’ve come a long way and our farm people shouldn’t be going back to what they used to do back in the 1880’s’ and so on. It was a really good critique on Mike Dewan’s speech. Well, when that came out, and that journal reached the Minister’s office that very day, I will never forget. We were in a Botany or Zoology lab, I can’t remember which, down in the old Biology Building. In the middle of the afternoon, during our lab, the secretary came to the door and called one of the lecturers over and asked him to give this note to Lorne Sonley.
When Lorne read the note it said ‘you must come immediately to the President’s office, this very minute.’ So Lorne left the lab and went to the President’s office and here the President said, ‘Well look, the Minister of Agriculture is on the phone and he wants to talk to you’. So Lorne went to the phone and oh, did he get a dressing down from the Minister and the Minister demanded that he do a retraction of this article of what he’d said. Lorne thanked him for phoning and Lorne, after that, thought a lot about it. He actually never did retract, but he did write a little article saying ‘Well, if I offended the Minister, I am sorry,’ But he didn’t say ‘I retract what I said’.
It had been made very clear to Lorne that if he didn’t apologize or do something that he would not graduate. That’s how powerful the Minister was and because we were in our 4th year, I remember so well our graduation exercises. We were sitting across the front and as each person’s name was called, they would go up to kneel down in front of the Chancellor. The Minister of Agriculture, in this case 7
Mr. Mike Dewan, was sitting right beside the Chancellor and he heard the name Sonley and I was watching him. He just watched Lorne. You could see his eyes going across as Lorne went over and up the stairs and across and kneeled down in front of the Chancellor and received his degree. Mike Dewan’s eyes just followed him all the way over and back until he sat down. I can just imagine what was going through the Minister’s mind, when Sir William Mulock was actually conferring the Degree of Bachelor of Science in Agriculture on Lorne Sonley.
This is the same person I told you earlier, who handed in the essay about shoeing horses and called it the Gene Ecological Adaption of the Species to the Environment for Dr. McConkey. Lorne ended up being one of the first in our class to get his Master’s Degree on scholarships. Then he went to one of the eastern colleges in the States and ended up in Iowa State getting his Doctor’s degree. He then was drafted, because he was in the States, into the Marine Corps. Then he ended up on the other side of the Pacific and after the war joined the World Bank and spent his whole career as an Agricultural Economist in the World Bank. As I speak to you now, he is still living on a little farm outside Washington, D.C. in Warrenton and we keep in touch more or less from time to time. One further note on Lorne, he was the son of a thrasher man in Victoria County. His father thrashed grain with a steam engine so he used to be called Steamer Sonley. A very bright young man and, actually, during those days in college, he didn’t have very much of this world’s goods and he used to work in student labour. He worked in the library at twenty cents an hour. In those days that is what one was paid. But that helped him go through college.
I think I have enough left on this tape to be able to tell you a couple of other things that actually happened during the last month of our college time. In those days the girls from MacDonald, they continued on longer than the OAC students but the junior years, 1st 2nd and 3rd year, they finished in OAC and then we were left for about a month to prepare for our final exams. We were studying in Mills Hall each night around 9, 9:30 or 10, and we’d get a bit hungry. Well there wasn’t anywhere on campus in those days you could go and buy a hamburger and unless you went off campus you just wouldn’t be able to get something to eat. So there was a fellow who used to come up from downtown and he would, if you phoned him by 10 o’clock or something like that, he would come up and bring to your room a hamburger or whatever you wanted if you needed coffee or something but hamburgers were his thing mainly. And so you’d phone and he’d bring up a whole bunch of stuff, whatever had been ordered. He was kind of a grumpy fellow and sometimes we didn’t treat him that well, but he was glad of the business. So we decided that we were going to fix him and I think I told you on one of the earlier tapes, that my room in Mills Hall was over the doorway. So it was decided that we would fill up a garbage can full of water and take it out my window onto the top of this little kind of portico and then have it all ready, when he came in with his with his hamburgers. After he had delivered them, we had a system set up so that the guys out on the portico, would be able to pour this whole can of water on him as he came out. There were a couple of guys outside, ready so that they could grab him if he got away, or tried to get away. The water was poured out and it actually happened, boy, he got a real soaking. Somebody told him who we were, but he was such a grumpy fellow, this was just paying him back for the way he treated us. Anyway, the hamburgers were good and we used to enjoy them.
There was another thing that happened. After the students in earlier years had gone, the residences were empty except for Mills Hall. So they had a system where there would be a girls conference and these were for rural girls from all over Ontario. They would come to the campus, would live in the Administration Building and have special lectures on Home Ec. stuff and things like that. On a certain afternoon, let’s say a Tuesday afternoon, they were to go into the main entrance of the Administration Building and register. There was a little sign right out in front of the Ad. Building that said “Register 8
Here”. Then they would go in, get their room keys and pay their fee. I guess they maybe paid $5 or something like that. Their parents would be driving them in. We were a bit antsy, getting ready for our exams and so we decided, in Mills Hall, that we were going to do something special.
We went and grabbed this sign, moved it from in front of the Administration Building to in front of Mills Hall, and it said, “Register Here”. So the parents would drop the girls off and they would come right into the entrance of Mills Hall and we had a card table set up there and one of the floor plans showing all the different rooms in Mills Hall. Then we would say to them, “ Well, OK, now this is where you register and which room would you like?” Then we would say, “Do you want one on the east side where you wake up early or do you want to sleep in?” This is a great old line. Then we’d say, “All right, the fee is five bucks.” So we collected the fee. There were a couple of official looking members of our class doing this. Then they’d say, “OK, now you go on out the door and down to that other building and you go in there and you get your key for the room.”
And so they’d leave and go down there. Well, they’d get down there and they’d go all through this business of registering. Then they’d tell the Dean, “Look, we’ve already paid our fee, picked out our room and we want the key.” The Dean, very concerned, sent one of his henchmen up and found that we had this sign up in front of Mills Hall. So the sign was removed and taken back down to the Ad. Building. Then we moved it back up to Mills Hall and continued doing this. Finally, the Dean sent somebody to find out what all this was about. This person came and he got grabbed and locked into somebody’s cupboard, away in the bowels of Mills of Hall. Then the Dean would come there to check things out. Sure enough, Dean Sands came out to see what was going on, but because the sentinels were ready, they got the word in, ‘Hey, the Dean’s coming,’ so the card table got quickly put away. When the Dean came in to Mills Halls, everybody was studying. He looked in different rooms and no! we don’t know what’s going on.
Then things sort of returned to normal. But I guess we had collected quite a pile of pile of money and so that night a barrel of beer was bought and brought into the into Mills Hall and we had a great old party that night in the common room. There was hell to pay over that, I’ll tell you.
But the one last thing I want to tell you is that this happened the night before our first final exam. The first final exam was the one that everybody in our class took - English. After that exams were according to different options but the one subject that everybody took was English. That night, the girls from MacDonald Hall and MacDonald Institute were having a banquet over in the old cafeteria, which was in the basement of the Administration Building, in the south wing there. Later it was called Der Keller and now it’s offices. The juniors were giving the seniors a farewell banquet and so all of the girls from MacDonald Hall were proceeding down the sidewalk from Mac Hall and Watson Hall down to the Ad. Building for this banquet. So we realized this was going to be an opportunity and the whole gang of us vacated Mills Hall, trouped over to MacDonald Hall and started going through that place, up and down and turned over every single bed in the building. It just so happened there was one girl, I guess maybe she wasn’t feeling that well that night and she didn’t go to the banquet and she got turned upside down in her bed. Then we all went back to our studying and nothing was said and the next morning there was nothing said whatever at breakfast and that was that. So we thought! Well, I guess we got away with it and we did our exam. Well, while we were doing our English exam, the girls of MacDonald Hall came into our building, into Mills Hall and they just raised hell in that building. They turned every bed upside down. They not only did that but they took them apart; they took all of the mattresses and piled them in one room, down on the first floor. They dragged them down and stacked 9
them. Then they got suits and clothes from different people’s cupboards, put them in between the mattresses, mixed them all up and sprinkled talcum powder on them.
Here was this great stack of mattresses with people’s clothes and that place was turned right upside down like you wouldn’t believe. This happened while we were having our exam, so when we got back we realized that they’d got their own back on us. Anyway, Dean Sands heard about this and he went over and gave Miss Barber, who was the Dean of Women, he just gave her heck for what these girls had done to our place and, you know, that wasn’t anything for young ladies to be doing. Then he found out what we had done over in Mac Hall. Well, I’ll tell ya, there was hell to pay over that. To get Mills Hall back into shape and everybody’s things back in their own room and cleaned up it was something else, I’ll tell you. The ends of the bed were all in a stack down at the bottom of the main stairway, all dropped down the stairwell. What a mess.
So then it was decided that our contingency fee, that the OAC students had put in at the beginning of the year, that was $10, and it hadn’t been spent yet. That fee, they were going to fine us for what we had done. However, this was right at the end of our four years and we had pledged that we would give our contingency fee to a fund that had been set up to pay for an organ for War Memorial Hall. So the executive of our class said, “Well look, if you’re going to use that contingency fee as a fine, then you don’t get the money for the organ.” So the money went into the organ fund and whenever we’ve been back to the college and we heard the organ play, we always thought about that.
But I must say that I’m really really proud of my classmates at the OAC. They’ve all done so well, I could go over a whole list of them and tell you some of the things that they’ve accomplished but I’m sure it’s no different than any other class. Our graduates have gone on to be important people in various agricultural pursuits, in the private sector, in government, in the public sector, as Members of Parliament, overseas work in the Third World and all sorts of pursuits. So for me, those four years at Guelph were something I’ll just never, ever forget. And I hope that the few little reminiscences I’ve given you on these two or three tapes will add to the Archives of the Alumni Association from the founding colleges, OAC, MacDonald Institute and the Ontario Veterinary College.
It has been pleasure relating them to you and I appreciate this opportunity. As I finish this third tape, I’ll do it as I did the first one of this series of three. The way I finished all of my broadcasts in the whole 25 years I was at the CBC. “Serving agriculture, the basic industry, this is George Atkins.”
 

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