HomeMy Account

Gordon Bennett

Today's Building Hours

8am - 10pm

All service hours

Graduation Year

1943

College

OAC

Interview Date

Interviewer

J. Gallin

Call Number

RE1 UOG A1340052

Audio

Gordon Bennett interview

Transcript

J. Gallin (00:07):
This is an interview with Gordon Bennett, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food for Ontario, retired, conducted by Jack Gallin on behalf of the Alumni and Action Committee of the Alumni Association of the University of Guelph. The recording was done at Mr. Bennett's house at 6 Winesap Drive, Islington, Ontario, on December 11th, 1991.

J. Gallin (00:44):
Gordon, tell me a bit about the early days, I know you were born and raised in the East Flamborough area of Southern Ontario. What are some of your earliest memories about being raised there and your impressions of life in those days on the farm?

Gordon Bennett (01:10):
Jack, the best way to describe it, I think, that as I found out in later years, I was born on a typical Ontario family farm. My parents settled there, my father was brought up on the property just to the west of there, which was referred to as a home place. My mother came from over around Strabane, but during my early years, in fact, until I left to go to college, I spent most of my life in and around the Carlisle/Kilbride. And after starting high school, around Waterdown. And that pretty well took up most of my time. We were a bit unique, we always felt, in that our farm was a lot one, concession eight, which that was on the ninth line. And the road to the east of us was the town line between Halton and Wentworth.

Gordon Bennett (02:16):
We had property on both sides of the line. So, we were dual citizens, you might say. I went to public school in Halton County at SS Number 11 in Kilbride. I went to church on Sunday at... It was then Methodist church, later United church at Carlisle. And then when it came time to go to high school, I went to Waterdown and East Flamborough, and we used to like to emphasize that, as you did yourself. The high school and Waterdown. So, we had to kind of had dual citizenship and this worked out as part of your early life, because agriculturally, I think other than hauling potatoes and scuffling corn, my first real shot at the agriculture program was in the old school fairs. Of course, I went to the school fairs in Halton County. Actually, they were in Nelson Township, which has disappeared now and schools like Lowville, Mount Nemo and Bell School and Dakota School and Kilbride School.

Gordon Bennett (03:29):
The reason I mentioned this, one of the things there was a public speaking competition. And the very first speech I ever made was at a school fair in Nelson Township. It was right at the corner of the Guelph Line and Number Five Highway, now it's a big housing development, but-

J. Gallin (03:50):
Nelson Village?

Gordon Bennett (03:51):
At Nelson village at Emerson's farm. And they had an old Model T Ford truck backed up to a building, and that was the stage. And I spoke on noxious weeds. What a menace noxious weeds were. Of course south of us was one of the big scourges of farming in those days. And then the next year, I don't know what I spoke about.

Gordon Bennett (04:15):
I won the thing three times, but all the time, you'd get your picture taken and you're going be somebody. And I'd have to say that this is when I got my first interest in continuing on in the agricultural game. And other than taking great pride in having a love for the rural farm community, and I would say with my brothers and my sister, we participated in what the community had to offer to the fullest. But...

J. Gallin (04:56):
Your earliest impressions would've been being raised on the farm during the Depression in the 30s.

Gordon Bennett (05:04):
That would be about the second phase. I remember what they referred to as the Roaring Twenties. And you know, it isn't unlike what we're going through now, everything for a long period of time was up after World War I, and then in 1930, the crash came and I was just leaving public school to go to high school. I started high school at Waterdown in 1929, our father died the next year and this placed an extra burden on the family and the depression set in, accordingly in the 30s.

Gordon Bennett (05:40):
And I look back to the 30s as something rather grim. Although in a lot of ways, some of the things we did, it drew people closer together. There was more interdependence and everybody was in the same boat. Money wasn't a big object, survival was. But since we're all trying to survive, we did everything we could to enjoy it. And as you know, our family were designated as being a bit musical. And we used this facility for trying to cheer people up and also make a spare buck on the side. And I say a spare buck, I mean exactly that. It was a good night when you made a dollar, sometimes you just got the silver collection, but you had a good time and a free lunch, and everybody went home happy.

J. Gallin (06:36):
You went around, not only in local halls, but even in local houses, house parties, with this small orchestra.

Gordon Bennett (06:45):
I can think of, particularly in the eighth concession in East Flamborough, Lloyd Zimmerman's and Roy Robertson's and Ed Robinson's and all these people. And then over in West Flamborough and gradually we expanded our boundaries and eventually, when the money got a little more plentiful and people could afford to rent a hall, we would have regular engagements. And quite frankly, it was an asset to us. I still got the old banjo. I hate to give it up, but it saw through us some rough edges.

J. Gallin (07:33):
What sort of farming were you in, actually? General?

Gordon Bennett (07:38):
Well, we were in a general mix farm. We had a number of beef cattle, which were finished off every year. We shipped cream to the creamery. Usually, you took it down to Flamborough Station, it was picked up and went in on the train. And you took your empty can back. And I think summer time, we delivered cream twice a week. In the wintertime, just once a week.

Gordon Bennett (08:05):
We looked on it as our main cash crop, since our farm was a sandy loam, our main cash crop was potatoes. And my dad always had a flair and I guess this maybe, unconsciously, put up my interest in furthering my studies in agriculture, too, that he liked to prepare seed and potatoes and this thing for the local fairs. And at that time, the ag/rec we had well known to you, Jack, and all of us, Bill Mayer, conducted a seed show in Hamilton, it was part of the old Arcade Store, which later became Eaton's.

Gordon Bennett (08:45):
And I can remember getting a picture of this one exhibit of potatoes we had in the paper. And I want to tell you about how we... I guess everybody did the same, but we had a number of sandy loam or sandy knolls in the various fields on our farm. And in the fall of the year, when we'd be digging potatoes over the... And going over one of these sandy knolls, the potatoes that come out of there, weren't really at the top yield.

Gordon Bennett (09:16):
But boy, did they look nice. Did they ever look nice. And when dad taught us what a good potato, good seed potato should look like. It's confirmation or shape and so on. So when we saw one that fitted the bill, we would rush over to the wagon and we had a woolen blanket in there, and we lay these potatoes on this woolen blanket and just treat them like eggs almost and take them in at night.

Gordon Bennett (09:42):
And then these were placed in a separate storage. And then later on in the year, when it got colder about this time of year, we would go through them and select and select and select. When I see the distribution of trophies and prizes at the Royal Winter Fair now...

Gordon Bennett (09:59):
And we may have had some potatoes go down to the Royal Winter Fair once. I'm not too sure, but certainly we had them at these local fairs. And I know dad also showed seed green at the provincial show, which was held at Guelph. It was a predecessor of the Royal where it was held at Guelph and I think it's a lot of these things. That on the school fair and getting the chance to make these public speeches come together, that you say, "Well, I like this type of environment."

Gordon Bennett (10:33):
I like the people. I meet with them at one of these various activities in agriculture. I guess one of the crowning ones was in 1935 and '36. Mr. Merrick and then the Department of Agriculture sponsored a three month short course at Mill Grove. I'd finished high school in 1934. I couldn't afford to go on to college. My mother wanted me to go to normal school, but I didn't feel that I wanted to be a teacher. So there was only one other choice left, to stay home and work the farm.

Gordon Bennett (11:15):
So while I was there, even though I had my 813 or if we had four and five, we called it at that time. I went to the three month short course and I felt this was a big boost. You got some ideas on how to do things and keeping in mind that by this time, we're struggling pretty good after our father's death in 1930. And you needed to pick up all the information you could. And we did just that. And I finally got around and got, got enroll in Guelph in 1939. And I went through them, graduated in 1943.

J. Gallin (12:01):
Just to backtrack a little bit. And you were running the Bennett Orchestra full blast. That was in the 30s mainly, I guess?

Gordon Bennett (12:11):
Yeah. From the middle of about from 1932 until I left. I didn't do much playing after, except the odd weekend after I started to Guelph. But used to play some in the summer.

J. Gallin (12:24):
Tell us a bit more about that orchestra. You didn't just play around in East Flamborough and houses. I've heard stories of you. You had a famous car that used travel in that orchestra.

Gordon Bennett (12:38):
That's the one that we... Not so much the orchestra, but you'd be referring to the one that we used to put the horse on the back. That's when we were putting on garden party programs.

J. Gallin (12:51):
Oh, I see.

Gordon Bennett (12:53):
And we had this little [inaudible] and Jack would climb into this shape and it looked like he was riding a horse. And we had some songs and some patter and so on, went along with us. And we were coming, went down to York and which is down in Hallermann County, south at Caledonia, down in the Grand River.

Gordon Bennett (13:13):
Put on a garden party program one night. And we come back up into... Going through Caledonia. And we get stopped by the police. We neglected to turn our lights on in the car and he come over and he saw this thing strapped in the back of the car and this horse. He says, "What do you got there?" And Jack says, "It's a horse." He said, "You fellows can go on." And he didn't finish us in. He thought we were loony enough as it was.

J. Gallin (13:44):
You had some trouble coming down the Hamilton Mountain one day in that car, didn't you?

Gordon Bennett (13:48):
Yeah. That down and the icy mountain.

J. Gallin (13:51):
I think so I've heard a story about this. Do you remember?

Gordon Bennett (13:53):
Yeah. Big, big trouble is we had a flat tire on ice. I don't know, on the jolly cut. And it was bad enough coming down that with the cars in those days with everything working right. But when you have a flat tire on ice and try to get the car to stay on one of those little pump jacks, it was something. And we finally got...

Gordon Bennett (14:20):
Another time I remember coming, we were coming home from playing for a dance and I guess it was down around Mount Hope. We used to play down around Mount Hope quite a bit, and Lancaster and Carluke and places like this. But we quite a heavy thunderstorm just as we were coming to Mill Grove. And so we pulled off to the side until the storm passed. And we noticed it been kind of a rattle while we were sitting in the car. And when they turned the lights on and the storm had passed, turned the lights on we found that there was a maple tree across the hood of the car. And so we had to hack the limbs away to get the car out so we could continue the journey home. Well, it was lots of experiences.

J. Gallin (15:10):
So through the 30s you were farming and playing in the orchestra mainly. And you didn't go to OAC straight out of high school.

Gordon Bennett (15:21):
No. I had five years in between. Yeah.

J. Gallin (15:23):
So you started in '39?

Gordon Bennett (15:24):
'39. Yeah.

J. Gallin (15:25):
OAC?

Gordon Bennett (15:27):
I started just about same time as the Second World War broke out and immediately it was decision time. Do you try to finish your education or do you sign up and join the forces? I opted for finishing because I delayed myself by five years as it was, and I felt if I didn't go this time, I'd never go. So as it turned out, I think it was the right decision.

J. Gallin (15:59):
Tell us some of your experiences while a student at OAC and some of your impressions of old classmates, professors, any other experiences you had there.

Gordon Bennett (16:12):
One thing I guess you could say this, but I will say that you got two educations when you went to OAC. You got the regular academic course that is given to everybody and that was one half your education. And then the interesting people, including your professors that you met and great individuals that they were, hearing some of their experiences and being exposed to them for four years was another education.

Gordon Bennett (16:47):
You know, had to make a few speeches from time to time. There's one illustration I've always used that came out of our physics class. And of course, Professor Blackwood was our teacher in the physics class. And I'll always remember, he was giving us this lesson that you can't get something for nothing. Now, you know what I'm referring to. If you were out making a speech that different people think you can get something for nothing, but eventually you have to pay for it and you got to work for it.

Gordon Bennett (17:24):
And his way of expressing this, we were working with these pulleys as we did in the physics class. And you put a string on the weight and pass it through a pulley. And then you pull on the string and it takes so much force to lift that weight through the pulley. It's a stationary pulley. But then you insert a movable pulley into the system in addition to the stationary pulley and you can lift that weight with half the force.

Gordon Bennett (17:57):
But the catch is you got to pull it twice as far. You got to pull it twice as far. So in the long run, it takes just as much energy to pull it. In this final analysis, you don't get something for nothing. You can't get something for nothing. But there are many things that... I imagine John, if you did a number of these interviews, remember your student days. Like insect collections, like to come up on how they were put together.

Gordon Bennett (18:29):
And I was no different than anybody else. And it was always this tendency to buy your insect collection rather than make them and catch them and so on. But our professors weren't all that stupid that they didn't know what we were doing. And I remember getting a slip in our mailbox to wait on Harold Goble, who was in charge of that part of the course in entomology. And we get over there, there's a whole line of us explaining how we got our insect collection and when we were going to rectify it and so on. Well, I was getting up to about two or three from Harold's desk. You know, I'd have to say my little piece and his telephone rang and it was his wife on the phone.

Gordon Bennett (19:19):
And she was phoning that there was... This was in April. Early April. And it was a tendency to burn grass and this grass fire and it was heading toward his house. And would you come home Harold as quick as you can? And he got excited and he said on the way out, "Would you fellows come and give us a hand?"

Gordon Bennett (19:38):
We said, "Sure, certainly we'll come and give you a hand, sir. We'd love to give you a hand to put the grass fire out." And so we all get over there and we stomped and we had shovels and so on. And we got the fire out. And Harold looked at us and, the kind person that he is, he said, "I just can't penalize you fellows any further, you probably saved my house for me." So that's how I got through with my insect collection.

J. Gallin (20:05):
One fellow in our class had a little trouble that week too. And he had an insect collection and Harold asked him where he found this particular insect, and he sat down by the river in Wallaceburg. And Harold said, that was very interesting. It's the first one that's been known this side of South America.

Gordon Bennett (20:26):
Yeah. There's some interesting stories come out of there, but the thing is though that you think you not only your classmates, but the professors, you had. People like Professor Blackwood that I mentioned. George Raithby was honorary president of our years and people that you just... And matter of fact on my starting to Guelph this is another...

Gordon Bennett (20:55):
We had the orchestra over to Milton. This would be in the fall of '38. And because it was plow and match time and Earl Whitelock, who was I grew up in Alton county at that time, the Halton Commons Association they had after the contest, they had a banquet. And then after the banquet they'd have a guest speaker at the banquet and some entertainment and then they'd have a dance after. And we were engaged to look after some of the entertainment, but this particular night, Doc Christie, Dr. George Christie, who was the president of the OAC, he was the guest speaker.

Gordon Bennett (21:39):
And he brought the main part of the entertainment with him who was George Raithby, who you recall had the tremendous bass voice or baritone and famous for singing the song "Shortening Bread". And he was there. Well, during the lull, while they cleared the tables away to play for the dance, I got an opportunity to talk to George Raithby and also Dr. Christie, because he gave a very optimistic view of the future for any person continuing his education and working in the agricultural industry.

Gordon Bennett (22:16):
And I said, "Well, that sounds like it's for me." So I went and had an interview with him and George Raithby said that you come up and see us. And I'll show you some of the ropes and what ways you put your application in. This I did, then I enrolled the next fall and went on from there. Took a job with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. And that was my career. I've only interviewed once for a job.

J. Gallin (22:44):
Just before we get into your career. There's been over the years a fair amount of criticism from previous graduates and others as to the academic content during those days of the OAC program. What was your impression of it then? And perhaps what's your impressions of it now, looking back on it? Was it as bad as JK Galbraith says it was, or...

Gordon Bennett (23:18):
Well, I've heard a lot of this criticism, what those making and all used to say, well, it got them where they are. And I think they were better for it. One of the chief ones we used to hear was that people would come there with specialized ideas in their mind. They wanted to be an entomologist. They wanted to be a botanist. They wanted to be an animal scientist, whatever.

Gordon Bennett (23:44):
And they objected to having take these three or these two years general course to begin with before they specialized. I found my experience after I got out and the work I was doing. Every solitary subject that I was taught at Guelph has been of abuse to me at some time or other. While everything may not be as I expected, there's certainly fallibility, including improving your public speaking, always remembered Shepherd McLean, who was our English teacher for public speaking.

Gordon Bennett (24:24):
He gave us the method on how to put a speech together. And the first thing was, you start a fire. You start a fire. That is, in other words, you make a statement that gets people's attention. Then you build a bridge. You communicate with the audience you're dealing with. And then so what? You go on from there and say whatever you like, but that's a good speech. I've always found that was a great assistance. As a matter of fact, my kids have used the same phraseology when they were working through their high school days. You always get criticism, but I think it's its served those who went very well.

J. Gallin (25:09):
You were involved in some extracurricular extramural activities, I suppose. You were in OAC in those days, of course.

Gordon Bennett (25:19):
Well, it was restricted. That's-

J. Gallin (25:20):
The war was on...

Gordon Bennett (25:20):
There were no... It's livestock judging classes to Chicago or anything while I was there.

J. Gallin (25:28):
Because of the war?

Gordon Bennett (25:29):
Because of the war.

J. Gallin (25:29):
And the campus was half divided too.

Gordon Bennett (25:33):
We were in residence for two years and we wrote a residence for two years. And when you wrote a residence, it's hard to carry on the extracurricular, extramural activities. The one thing that was unique that we did though, Jack was in the first semester of our final year in the fall of 1942. Western Canada had finally been able to get a good grain crop, but most of the young farmers out west that joined the service and it was difficulty getting it off.

Gordon Bennett (26:10):
And the federal government for good or bad put together a version of the old harvesters' excursion out west to harvest the... Which it would've been the best crop they had in 13 years and we went out west for five or six weeks. This was quite an experience. Doc Staples, and Jim Lockman, two of our professors, went with us and knowing Doc and his love for horses, he had a great time asking the farmer questions.

Gordon Bennett (26:50):
How he looked after his horses and how he fed them and so on. And Doc says, "I got a real lesson." But it was a great experience apart from him. We wouldn't make all that much money but I had an opportunity. I felt I made a contribution and the farm I was on. And then we were provided with a good training opportunity at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Manitoba on our way home. I remember the first time I met the Honorable Grant McEwan later became Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

J. Gallin (27:26):
Who were some of your best friends among your classmates and other students in other years in those days? Did you develop friendships then that have lasted right through the years?

Gordon Bennett (27:42):
One of the most peculiar ones that has lasted through that sounded like peculiar, how it happens. It's not a peculiar friendship, but peculiar how it happened is Paul Couse, who was active in alumni affairs today and so on. When Paul came in as a freshman in 19...

J. Gallin (28:05):
'42.

Gordon Bennett (28:08):
The fall of 1942, I was a senior and there were 10 of us had a what they call one of the horticulture houses where the new biology building is now on Dundas Street and-

J. Gallin (28:22):
South Coast.

Gordon Bennett (28:24):
Well, not that far down. Up near... There was some animal husbandry houses on one side of Dundas Street and 78 Dundas Road was a duplex and there were 10 of us had this house route. And during the hazing period, which was restricted because of the war, they assigned certain of the freshmen to come over and help us. Wake us up in the morning and to lay our clothes out for us.

Gordon Bennett (28:55):
And generally look after, keep our shoes shined and this type of thing. And keep in mind, we were in COTC at that time. And when I say keep our shoes shined, that meant army boots and the regular army issue and I was assigned Paul Couse and we got acquainted and kept acquainted. And after I graduated, I kept interested in where Paul was going. And very pretty soon I was Ag Rep in Clinton and Huron County and he was salesman for Maple Leaf Mills in Seaforth and our friendship just grew and exists still today. This is one of the ones that we like that, but there are a number of others.

J. Gallin (29:39):
I can tell you that you trained Paul Koswell because I was a freshman when he was a sophomore and the hazing had got a little more active by the time I got there. And he was well versed in how to initiate freshman. I can tell you that.

Gordon Bennett (29:55):
I hope he was kind.

J. Gallin (29:58):
Well, yes. Kind but firm, you might say.

Gordon Bennett (30:03):
Yeah.

J. Gallin (30:05):
So you graduated in '43 and went immediately into the government service.

Gordon Bennett (30:13):
Yeah.

J. Gallin (30:14):
How did that come about?

Gordon Bennett (30:16):
After, within a month prior to graduation, none of us had any thought of what we may... We were headed straight into the active service of the military, because the war was still on. However, just about a while before the final exams, there was an initiative came through from the government, that's the federal government, then they'd set up what they called the War Time Bureau of Technical Personnel.

Gordon Bennett (30:41):
And basically what this was that they... Since they had enough officer material on the military side, at that time they thought they'd better start to emphasize the productive side of essential industries and agriculture being deemed a special industry and as far as food for the war effort was concerned.

Gordon Bennett (31:07):
If you were trained and work went into a job and in that in agriculture, then you would be subject to 48 hour call. You wouldn't be in the military service. So that left the Ontario Department of Agriculture open then to interview us. And I was lucky enough be one of the ones they selected three or four. I forget.

Gordon Bennett (31:33):
I know Don Graham who later became Agriculture Representative in Brant County and myself and Don McLean. I think there were just the three of us select to that year. And I was sent to Middlesex County, which was a great boon to me because not only for the number of farms and good farmers and name farmers, that there were such as Alec M. Stewart and people of that caliber who had made a name for themselves already, but the agricultural program developed by the ag rep, Keith Riddle, who was the father of Jack Riddle later.

Gordon Bennett (32:16):
But later was Minister of Agriculture in Ontario. Keith had a very active program going in Boys and Girls Club work and junior farmer work. And in crops work, they, Middlesex was just then becoming famous for it's annual seed fair. And it later became the annual farm show. And so I was sent to Middlesex county and spent a delightful 17 months there until November 1944.

Gordon Bennett (32:50):
And we were asked to assume the job of agriculture representative in Glengarry County. I should point out I got married in 1944 and we spent the first five months after marriage in London and then we moved to Glengarry. And the reason I mentioned that is that up until the time we were married, I'd never been as far as Oshawa. As far as traveling east is concerned.

Gordon Bennett (33:29):
Pearl and I went to Ottawa on our honeymoon. So we saw what Oshawa looked like. We saw what Easter Ontario looked like. And of course Ottawa was and it's still in its war time garb in that and the war time prices and trade board and selective service and all those are in these oceans of temporary buildings that were sprung up all over the place.

Gordon Bennett (33:57):
But this was quite an experience, but not realizing that five months later and we would be posted down there and we would be living down in that general area only about 80 miles east of there. It was a great experience and much different than Middlesex County. But again, the aims and objectives of the people are the same. And going back to what we said right at the start that the strength of the family farm was with you all the time. And when you went to these places that...a good little things that you talked about around the supper table at home when you were growing up were still applicable when you were out working with farmers in the field and wherever they might be.

J. Gallin (34:50):
So you were ag rep in Glengarry. Was that your last posting as an ag rep?

Gordon Bennett (34:55):
No. I was there four years and they transferred me to Huron County in on August 1, 1948. And we spent three very productive years in Huron County being a... I say productive, but it works more than one way. Huron County, as you know, Jack, is a very productive county and the job was different there. In Glengarry, you lived quite a bit.

Gordon Bennett (35:34):
In Huron County, you directed. But a lot of the leadership came from the farmers themselves because they had ideas and were up on the various phases of agriculture. And it was a great experience to work there among those people. But as happens, I recall very well in June 1948, we were having our county livestock judging competition in Huron County and I was just pulling up to the arena in Seaforth, which was going to be our headquarters for the judging competition.

Gordon Bennett (36:12):
And I heard over my car radio that the Mac McPhail, who was the principal of our school at Kemptville had died quite suddenly. Not thinking that this might ever change the direction I might be going, but as it later turned out Mac's job as principal at Kemptville was filled by the associate director of extension at the time Ab Barr was in Toronto and then it became speculation who would succeed Ab Barr.

Gordon Bennett (36:45):
And I was very surprised one day that Jim Garner called me aside and said that I was being considered. And eventually I was given the opportunity of becoming associate director of extension at headquarters in Queens Park. And we moved there in August 1, 1951 and I've been a Toronto resident ever since. And I often say to people they say you live in Toronto.

Gordon Bennett (37:17):
I said, "After being here all those years, I don't know any better." But everything opens up new avenues. My prime responsibility when I came to Toronto was in Boys and Girls Club work and very early in the stages of that, we made the decision to change the name from Boys and Girls Club work to 4-H club work. And it's gone on from there. And I'm very proud of my association with the 4-H club movement. I was president of the Canadian council on 4-H clubs in 1955 and made some more progress in development of the national program.

Gordon Bennett (38:11):
And I strongly believe, Jack, that programs like 4-H, if they're developed to the help, when we talk about our national unity program... We used to be talking about it back in those days. And if you leave it with some of the young people to express their ideas, things could work out better maybe when we think. I was made an honorary life member of the 4-H Council in 1961. And so I'm still able to keep a hand in on what they're doing and watch the development of these young people as they come together for the various programs.

J. Gallin (38:59):
So where did you go from associate director of the extension branch to director? Were you director there?

Gordon Bennett (39:04):
No. Again, Jim Garner, who was the director of extension, when I came to Toronto, they moved him around as... He would call the job an assistant deputy minister now.

J. Gallin (39:20):
Who was deputy minister in those days?

Gordon Bennett (39:22):
Cliff Graham. CD Graham.

J. Gallin (39:24):
Yep.

Gordon Bennett (39:25):
And Jim Garner was moved around to assist Cliff as Chief Agricultural Officer. That was in 1957. Unfortunately, Jim came down with cancer and died in the winter of 1958. Prior to this, since he was invalided, I was seconded from this being associate director of extension around the main office as chief agricultural officer,

Gordon Bennett (40:00):
I held that until 19... Until Bill Stewart came in and F Biggs was made deputy minister in 1961. And I was made a chief of marketing. Later when Dick Hilliard, left the ministry to go to Public Works, I assumed Dick's job then as assistant deputy minister of administration. And that was in 1962. In 1967, I was assistant deputy minister of marketing. And that was a real challenging job. I was an assistant there from '67 until 1975 when I was made deputy and then to my retirement in 1978.

J. Gallin (40:55):
Gordon, over the years in your career, you've had a good deal to do with ag reps in Ontario. Unfortunately we didn't start this interview program until some of the old time original ag reps were gone. You're probably the best man that could comment on a few of them. Two or three that I particularly had quite a bit to do with. And maybe you could give us a little information on this tape as to some of the things they accomplished.

J. Gallin (41:26):
Bill Merritt, first of all.

Gordon Bennett (41:27):
The one that comes to mind what to you and I Jack, is Bill Merritt. Then there are many ways you can describe Bill Merritt. He was a character, but he was a dedicated agriculturalist. And probably ahead of his time in a lot of ways. Organization wise. Organizational ability, he had a unique style, but it was effective.

Gordon Bennett (41:54):
And as you must do living where you are now and I do when I meet people from Wentworth County, Bill Merritt was at the center of a lot of lives. For many, and for every kind of an oddball situation that you could think of, that you may characterize Bill, you can think of 10 things that he'd done with his real solid and worth thing that was worth keeping. When you look back, I think of it at the time of... We have an initiation process when you're in the ag rep service.

Gordon Bennett (42:45):
And I can remember in '44, when I got my initiation at Hart House, one of the things that were proudest and my luck was that the men who had really built the foundation of the ag rep service... And I think of people like Moff Coburn and Newmar. Gordy Skinner in Haldimand County. Earl Whitelock in Halton County. Stew Page in North Central. Perhaps the daddy of them all, [inaudible] Dockery in Waterloo County and later and the head office. These were just fantastic men and fantastic leaders. And this is just a sampling. I can go on and name many, many others that-

J. Gallin (43:35):
I was going to ask you. I worked rather closely for two years in the sixties with Stuart Page. And just give me your impressions of Stuart Page.

Gordon Bennett (43:47):
Well, Stuart Page was a rather serious minded sort of person. He was a dedicated worker and a leader. He was an innovator. I can call Stu, make certain suggestions to you and keep in mind, when I was associate director of extension, these men in the years of service were many years my senior.

Gordon Bennett (44:20):
Accept it. And a lot of times I had to send out directors on what they were supposed to do. But they were most considerate and Stu Page especially. He was ahead of his time in a lot of things. Land reforestation and not and a real innovator that while he was probably serious minded. Not so... He had real good sense of humor. But he always had a vision of what things would be. And I think the agriculture in Simcoe County still shows this.

J. Gallin (45:02):
I only knew Stuart Page during the last stages of his career. And I think he was nearly 70 before he retired. And he was well over 65 when I knew him, I think. And they said he was behind the times, but I don't... For that part of the country, he wasn't behind the times. So he did a tremendous amount of work of crops in North Simcoe. And the-

Gordon Bennett (45:24):
You see, you look at north Simcoe, there's a lot of what might be considered marginal land. Around Midhurst and get on up through it-

J. Gallin (45:34):
Coldwater.

Gordon Bennett (45:35):
Penetang and up there. I can appreciate this coming from potato farm. What we call a potato farm myself. You had to farm it differently than you did on some of the clay loam because your main job was to keep the soil there, not have it blow away and Stewart could see this. And I think the productivity of those areas in Simcoe County showed it in later years.

J. Gallin (46:05):
George Gere.

Gordon Bennett (46:07):
Well, George and I had a very close relationship, of course, and he was ag rep in Bruce and I was in Huron. George was the number one innovator. He didn't believe in a lot of show. And thing is what George, you got right to the root of the problem, as quick as you could. Solve it and then go on to something else and don't beat it to death.

Gordon Bennett (46:38):
And George, you could almost tell the values of some program. If George was reasonably excited about it, well, it had some merit. If George treated it rather nonchalantly, well, you maybe better take a second look at it yourself.

J. Gallin (47:02):
In addition to your actual career in agriculture, I imagine... Well, I know you've been involved in a good many community endeavors. More or less outside of the agricultural field, fill us in a little bit on over the years, you've belong to many service clubs and that sort of thing, I think. And helped with others.

Gordon Bennett (47:25):
Yeah, when I was in Huron County, I was a member of the Clinton Lions Club. I used to play the piano and act as a tail twister for a while. And they finally accepted me. And then I got to be vice president, but that was at the end of my three year stint that I had in Huron County and I got moved away to Toronto. But they sent along a number of pieces of paper that I could have joined up here, but I felt that it was a little harder to do in the city at that time.

Gordon Bennett (48:10):
I had invitation to join Rotary and declined for a while. And the same with Kiwanis. Finally, when they built the subway out to put it at the old mill, I joined the Tapaco Rotary Club because it was a part of the community that I lived in.

Gordon Bennett (48:36):
And I liked what they did as a service club. So I was accepted as a Rotarian in... I guess it was 1970. 1970, or 1969. And I've enjoyed that ever since. Particularly since I've retired and it's a volunteer organization and it's a mixture. They have a number of retired people. You can't join as a retired person, but you can retire and still maintain your rotary membership.

Gordon Bennett (49:16):
And I've enjoyed this very much. Again at parallels, you get a chance to work with people. I was fortunate enough to be chairman of the scholarship committee for the rotary foundation for district 707. They took in 65 rotary clubs in the central area of Ontario. And it was tremendous to the people that you meet. Students, both those coming from other lands and ones that we send out.

Gordon Bennett (49:50):
There's lots of opportunity. One of the things that people have asked me, I guess they ask you too Jack, when you're retired, "Well, what do you do now that you retired?" And it's kind of hard to answer, except that I like to say that well, there's plenty of opportunities. If you've grasp... I've been lucky enough for whatever reason, I don't know, to been retained as a member of the executive of the Royal Winter Fair.

Gordon Bennett (50:21):
This is not an onerous job, but just as you said, my experience with the ag reps, I have a fair background with the Royal Agriculture Winter Fair, having been the first junior activities chairman of the thing back in '51 and held some office in it ever since.

Gordon Bennett (50:43):
So there, there are lots of opportunities. The Institute of Agrologists and all these things pertaining to agriculture. Plus the fact that Pearl and I have been fortunate enough to, after our move to Toronto in 1951, we've lived in the Islington community and gone to the same church all during that period. That's over 40 years now. And we've watched this community grow and really it's got us the same things to offer as the rural farm community that we started out was a rural farm community at one time. Fortunately it hasn't lost it. So there's lots of opportunities right here at home.

J. Gallin (51:33):
Well, I think that covers it pretty well, Gordon. Is there anything else you'd like to have recorded on tape? Any thoughts or words that you'd like to say?

Gordon Bennett (51:43):
Well, no. Not exactly Jack. Except that I think this project, when I first heard it mentioned, I think I said that Jim Baker, who was former director of the dairy branch and the Ministry of Agriculture mentioned that they were doing this from time to time. I think that information like this should be kept and I'm glad to see that the alumni are taking this interest in it.

Gordon Bennett (52:16):
Mentioning things that you do when you retire. The fact that I... When I went through the various categories and exec became president makes me eligible now to be a member of the OEC Alumni Foundation. And so, no. It's not a big thing, but it's a contact and the contact that you appreciate. And all I can say is that if you're an Aggie, you've had a special opportunity. If you're an Aggie, there's still lots of opportunities ahead and take advantage of all that you can of these opportunities.

J. Gallin (52:53):
Well, thanks very much, Gordon. This has been a pleasure to do. This has been an interview with Gordon Bennett, retired, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food for Ontario conducted by Jack Gallin December 11, 1991 on behalf of the oral history committee of the alumni in action group of the alumni association of the University of Guelph.

The library is committed to ensuring that members of our user community with disabilities have equal access to our services and resources and that their dignity and independence is always respected. If you encounter a barrier and/or need an alternate format, please fill out our Library Print and Multimedia Alternate-Format Request Form. Contact us if you’d like to provide feedback: lib.a11y@uoguelph.ca