ALUMNI- IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
Interviewed by N.R. Richards
October 5, 1993
R This is an interview with Gordon Nixon, year ’37 OAC, by Rick Richards on October 5, 1993, for the University of Guelph Alumni-in-Action Group and the Alumni Association.
Gord, it is pleasant to chat with you for several reasons, not least being that you were yourself, along with myself, a freshman way back there, but more importantly, for your immense contributions to the University of Guelph Alumni Association, and the OAC Alumni Association as well. So, let’s start with your place of origin and the circumstances that resulted, and your decision to come to OAC.
N Well, I was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, and I guess it was too cold out there, and Dad and Mother brought me east when I was just a baby. And because Dad was with the telephone company we always lived in big cities, whereas all his brothers and sisters were on the farm, and we used to go up to Vankleek Hill from Montreal every weekend. And, if I had to pick one thing I would say that I discovered early on that people in small villages, and rural people, were honest. They didn’t try and put you on, they wouldn’t kid you. And when I wanted to go to college, Dad thought I should go to Queen’s but I didn’t like mathematics and I liked the kind of people that were associated with agriculture and, frankly, Dad was disappointed. I said “No, I want to go to OAC.”
R Well, did you take any of your schooling in Vankleek hill
N No, I was a city boy who lived in Montreal, Quebec, and about 1930 moved to Toronto and took my high school in Toronto. And when I got up here to Guelph to register, Archie Porter said “Well, you haven’t had very much farm experience.” He said: “Well, we’ll take you in but you’ll have to agree to work on a farm for the next two summers to, you know, really qualify here as a student.”
R That would be in the fall of ’33?
N Fall of ‘33
R And had you been on campus before that?
N No, no. Never been on. No, I just picked it out of the air, as it were.
R Well, where did you hear about it?
N Ah, I can’t answer that question now – I don’t really know. But, I certainly knew it was there and it may have been some of the people I met on the farm. I don’t think so. I think it was more likely people I met around Bloomfield. My mother’s folks came from Bloomfield in Prince Edward County and, probably, some of those, because I knew Earl Mikey used to pitch ball for the Picton Hardball Team, he and Gord McNeil, who is now in Owen Sound. And I knew that Earl was an OAC man.
R Well, Gord McNeil was the star pitcher for the Guelph campus.
N That’s right. We used to – my grandfather couldn’t see but he drove the car and I would tell him what side of the road he was on. We used to go to Napanee, and Kingston, and Belleville, to take the ball team around - and I may have picked up somebody. I can’t just tie it down now. Although there were two lads that worked for Garnett Taylor and they were both at OAC. Horace Tovell
and the other lad’s name was Les Prince. Horace Tovell was at OAC. He worked for Garnett Taylor in the summertime; that may have been the connection.
R Garnett Taylor was Mel Taylor’s father.
N Mel Taylor, yes, he was an early breeder of white leghorns.
R And Mel was class of ’38.
N Very good friend of mine, yes. Mel was one of my very close friends.
R Well, having arrived on campus in the Fall of ’33, have you any memories about your early introduction to the campus.
N Well, I can remember the initiation because I’m not an athlete and they would get us up in the morning and jump us up and down on the front campus. And I got so stiff and sore that I eventually went downtown, and had to walk down as I had very little money. And I was so stiff and sore, I remember that I couldn’t step off the curb, and I had to find a place where the drive came down to the street, and I’d shuffle up that. I got some Sloane’s liniment. Let me tell you that was an experience. What they didn’t tell me was that you had to be very careful where you put it! I advanced quite quickly through the paddock.
R Well, I must say, you must have been very observant to what happened to you. Because you sure laid it on in ’34.
N Well, I learned quickly and I found the people, you know, in the class to be just as agreeable, and just as down-to-earth, and just as honest and straightforward as I’d expected them to be. And today, by best friends are all still people that I started out here with in Guelph.
R The initiation was rugged, wasn’t it?
N Rugged. Oh yes. We had flag fights. And they blindfolded us and, you know, marched us up gangplanks and into - I don’t know what it was we fell into but we fell into something, and they fed us peeled grapes, which they said were pigs eyes. You know there was cod liver oil mixed up with them. Oh, awful. And, it didn’t stop in a day or two, it went on for about two or three weeks.
R What do you remember about the courses, the program, and your first two years?
N It wasn’t very difficult. I remember that. I enjoyed it. Because I had to learn everything about agriculture, even though I’d been on a farm for a good part of my time, there were a lot of phrases they used. You know, even now, I know I can hardly understand but at the time it was Greek to me. And I can remember somebody saying that, it was Doc Staples, that’s potassium iodide or something you put in the drinking water of the brood mare? You know, it was the amount you put on a dime, anyway, that’s how you measured. I thought it was kind of silly. Not a very accurate sort of measurement, and when you fed them, you fed them all they could eat in 20 minutes. And that didn’t really - I thought they would measure things out, but that wasn’t the way it was done. All they could clean up in twenty minutes – that’s how much you fed them.
R But there was a great multiplicity of courses.
N Oh, yes. And that’s what I liked. We got a smattering of an awful lot of things. If I had to pick another course today for the kind of work that I eventually did, I don’t think I could have picked anything any better than OAC because it gave me an understanding of how I got here – you know, embryology, and zoology, and botany, how we eat, how plants grow, how we convert them into food – the basics.
R You mentioned Doc Staples in Animal Husbandry - he had the attention of a lot of the students. How about other areas – English ?
N Another thing that - I’ve always said the reason OAC students did as well as they did is because this college would always provide the very sound English course. I think old Doc Stevenson was one of the greatest English teachers that ever existed. He gave you a feeling for English. And then Chippy McLean was the opposite number. He showed you how the bricks went together to build the wall – he was a perfectionist really, the artisan. Stevenson was the artist, Chippy was the artisan, and between them they were a pretty powerful combination.
R That’s a nice interpretation. I never heard anyone quite say it that way.
N I liked English. It was always a favourite subject of mine. I really appreciated the English courses here. And I think that’s - you go back to Johnson - he was strong on English, and then between Johnson and Creelman, and somebody else in there, who was
also a stickler for English, OAC students had to have a grounding in good English. The use of good English. That contributed greatly to the success of our students.
R And O.J. Stevenson seemed to be able to take it beyond the textbook, into painting, and music appreciation, and what not.
N Oh yes. He used to bring records to play you know, on that phonographic they had in Massey and I think it was Roy Smees actually but I don’t know for sure, but somebody substituted one of his light opera pieces with Tiger Rag and Stevenson went through all this – you know, rolling his eyes – and told us how beautiful this was - and he started up the machine and then…..oh, was he mad!!
R And then after your two years, you opted for…
N An. Hub.
R An. Hub. Oh, I was going to say Crop Science.
N No, I went into An. Hub. because, well, I liked learning about animals more than I did about plants. And, it was just a good general, basic course, and that little bit of farm experience I’d had with Garnett Taylor, I was into chickens. And one day, I was giving the reasons in the class, and Staples said: “And what class of livestock, Nixon, did you specialize in?” And I said: “Chickens, sir!”
R Who were some of the chaps in ’37, who were in An. Hub with you?
N Oh, we had about 30% of the class. All of the judging Team. You know, like Don Paul, and Hamish McLeod - oh, I think Hamish was in Crop Science. Isn’t that awful. Stan Slinger was another one.
N Was Stan in An. Hub? I’m not sure?
R I think Stan was in An. Hub.
N If I had the class picture here, I could probably pick them out, but I just don’t know offhand.
R But the Paul’s - they were from Eastern….
N Down in eastern Ontario. I’m sure I could name 20 or 30 if I had the picture- Wes Fleury- he was a good An. Hub. man.
R But, the reason I asked the question – Stan Slinger – he came back in the Nutrition Department . Stan made a great contribution.
N He was one of the finest brains we had in our class.
R Great contribution to the life of the campus. A true researcher.
And Ivan Sparling?
N Ivan Sparling was another An. Hub. man.
R Who went over to take Veterinary Medicine.
N To take Veterinary Medicine. Got into the Feed Business. Alan Dawson - Bo Dawson - was in An. Hub. Actually, there was a lot of them in there, because they felt they could do better in that option than they could in things like Bacteriology or Ag. Science. They were a little, you know, a little more sophisticated. Chemistry was another one not everybody cottoned on to.
R A little long-haired!
N Yes. You had to have a skill to go into those.
R And then, after graduation – oh, before we get into your employment after graduation, your graduation would be on campus?
N Yes. War Memorial Hall. We had Sir William Mulock. You know, they practically had to carry him over there. He must have been about a hundred at the time?
R And Canon Cody he was the President.
N Of the University of Toronto.
R Yes. That was quite an occasion, wasn’t it?
N Oh, a big occasion. You know, you never thought you’d get there, and all of sudden, you were there.
R Well, it was while on campus you met Joan?
N Yes, Hughie Arrel, if you’d listen to her. In the barber’s shop one day.
R Who introduced you.
N Hughie Arrel. He was always very fond of Joan. We were there. He knew her. I didn’t. Well, I think I’d asked her out once, the year before, and that was the end of it. I didn’t, you know, I wasn’t much for the girls - couldn’t dance - didn’t go to that side of the campus very much. But, that started it, anyway.
R And Joan graduated in…
N MAC ’36.
R MAC ’36. And her home was in the West.
N In Edmonton, yes. She and Betty Thompson and Barbara Brander came down together in – and Betty just died here about three weeks ago. Very sudden. In her sleep, in the house. It upset Joan, but… Betty’s mother was a relative somehow of Creelman’s. And that ended up that Betty was going to come down to Guelph. Then she talked to Joan’s mother, and they decided that Joan should come too. And then, I think Joan’s mother talked to Dr. Brander at Barbara Brander’s house, and they decided they’d send Barbara down too. So, the three of them came down here together. And Barbara Brander’s mother drove them down here. I didn’t know that until just very recently.
R I guess they must have left about June!
N That’s right. And had to come through the States. Yes, Yes. We had Barbara at the cottage for a visit during the summer, and she reminded us of that. I’d never heard that before.
R And then, after graduation, you went into industry?
N Well, yes. Clark Lock Advertising Company . Clark Lock was a brother-in-law of Noah’s son-in-law – old Premier Henry’s. Anyway, they were looking for an expert in agriculture. And they phoned Prof. Knox. And, I don’t know why, but Prof. Knox recommended me. You know, I was hardly an expert! But, anyway, I think we thought that they needed somebody, you know, with a gift for writing, or whatever and I’d always been able to do that. So, anyway, they interviewed me. And they offered me a job at $16 a week, and Dad said: “If they can’t pay at least $18, don’t take it.” So, I went back and said I had to have $18 a week, and they broke down and gave me $18 a week. And, I worked in the office in Toronto, down in the Harbour Commission Building. It was on the waterfront. And, then, in the summer, they sent me over to Hagersville to work in a mill. The account they were trying to collar was the Toronto Elevators account and I was the decoy. I didn’t know that at the time. I figured that out later. They sent me over to Hagersville, and I spent the summer in Hagersville, working in this mill, learning all about the Toronto Elevator business and then went back to Toronto. And then in the fall, they found out they weren’t going to get the account anyway, and that was the end of that job. But the Vice-President of the Agency, had a friend over in Massey Ferguson, so he phoned him, and sent me over there. And I got a job, in those days it was Massey Harris, working in the Accounting Division, along with Charlie Webster. And Charlie Webster’s wife. And I met them in the Accounting Division of Massey Harris.
R This was in the Accounting Division, the business side of it.
N Yes. The business side of it. I ran the parts side of it - that was my job. They tell me it’s still out of whack. I never did get it to balance. Then, at Christmas, in November, they’d lay everybody off until the spring when business picked up again. And I can remember Gord Smith, you know Gord Smith…?
N He was working for them too, over in what’s called the Tax Department or something in another building. Well, the two of us would hitchhike up here to Guelph and went in to see Doc Christie and told him we were two unemployed graduates and, you know it was in the Fall ’38, I guess. And, so he said “Well, the short course is going to come on, so we need some lecturers in the short course.” I lectured in woodwork, about which I know nothing! Gord Smith, he lectured in tin smithing, down in the Farm mechanics Building. It was awful. You know, I just shudder when I think of that. But we got paid for it. Jack Bromley was the Dean of Men, the Assistant Dean of Men at the time. So, he scrounged a couple of mattresses for us. And we took them down to the Physics Building, up the top of the Physics Building? Those great big tables up there? And laid them on there. But the thing was, that the Bunsen burners, remember they came up through the centre of the table, with the four spouts on? You had to sleep around them.
R Gord Smith. Did he go to O.C.E.?
N I think he went into the Air Force.
R In the Air Force. Because his brother Jim…
N Yes, I know Jim. He went to…
R Teachers College.
N Yes, I know. Over there in Kitchener, and Guelph.
R Yes, he was on the staff in the old Physics Department. Former Physics Department.
N Gord was something special. Goon Smith we called him. Unfortunately, after a couple of tours, he went through the Battle of Britain and then went down – they sent him down to Egypt for the rest of his training. And I think he got in a plane one day and went out for a jog and the plane went down in the Red Sea and they never found the plane. Never found him.
R You became very involved in Alumni, OAC Alumni things, following graduation. But, it seems to me that there was more activity in the Alumni say in the mid-40’s, than when we were students on campus. Is that the way you see it?
N Yes. You know, Fred Presant was an early President of the Alumni Association. I don’t think they were doing an awful lot. But then with Moff Cockburn and Paul Couse it
seemed to come alive again, then. And, you know, we did have that OAC Alumni News, which is still published. Not nearly as good now as it used to be in those days. I don’t know how I got involved… - somebody phoned me and said they were looking for a representative for the Niagara area. They said would I, you know, stand? Of course, I was glad to do it.
R By this time you were located in the……
N It must have been in ’47, or afterwards because we moved to St. Catharines in 1947. It must have been just about ’47-’48.
R And, at that time, you were associated with the…?
N Zipper business. I had been in the seed business. I had been working for MacKenzie Seeds. After Massey Ferguson - after my stint as a Professor here - I got a job with Coca Cola Company. It was a door-to-door. They were trying to introduce coke to the house. You never drank a coca cola at home in those days. That was the Canada Dry market. So, they decided they would supply homes with coke and my job was to go out and peddle six bottles of coke for nothing. And up and down the streets. You’d take out a 100 cases, take on an area, and knock on the door. It was a tough job and I figured there was something wrong, maybe they can get something for that. But, we’d leave the coke and go back the next week and pick up the empty bottles and leave another carton. The third carton they had to take back to the store and get the refund. But coke opened the home market with that program. And, I did that for quite a while. Then I was out soliciting the places for vending machines. One of the locations I solicited was National Cash Register, and they offered me a job, in their sales program. So, I sold cash registers and that’s when I got married. I think I was up to – I think I was taking $30 a week by that time. Then we got married. Then, when the war came along, you couldn’t get the metal for cash registers, and there were no more salesmen. And Ed McLaughlin was working for McKenzie Seeds. We used to see a lot of him. His son Peter was Chief Cardiologist in the Toronto Hospital system. Ed said “We need a Credit Manager. You’d better come down and apply for it.” So, I went down, interviewed, and they hired me as Credit Manager. From there, they sent me out West, and I worked out in Brandon for about two years.
R What did you do?
N Seed Operation. Then I came back to western Ontario to London as Sales Director, Buyer, whatnot. And then, I was trying to get more money out of old MacKenzie. I think I was getting $175 or $185 a week by this time. And, Nancy was on the way. I knew we needed more money, and I got a job -,…no, I think it was $200-$225. The old man was giving me more money then. I answered an ad in a newspaper. It turned out to be the Zipper Works and I liked the kind of an operation it was. The principles were right there. It was a nice, neat little business, and I talked to them. And they hired me for $3500 year, and I thought I really had it made.
R Yes. You must have been in, really, almost in the very early development of the zipper industry.
N Well, yes. Because Gideon Sundback, who invented the zipper, was our President. He owned the business. It was one of the reasons I went there, when I found out the owner was, you know, him. And, you know, it was invented about 1906 or 1910 and it took them another seven or eight years to develop a machine that would make it automatically. About 1916, they started to produce zippers, just during the Great War, and Sundback was the pioneer and inventor of zippers in those days. A wonderful guy, I could tell you lots of stories about him. Anyway, he seemed to like me. So, anyway, never had an office in the building. He said if I had an office, I would never see anybody, you know, in the plant.
R He was of Swedish origin.
N Of Swedish origin. American by adoption, so he said. Canadian by preference.
R But, he was the inventor of the…?
N He was the inventor of the zipper. He was the first one that invented a zipper that worked. Other people had ideas of sliding hooks and eyes, and wires, and clasps, you know, and interlocking clasping devices, but they were not as effective as the hook. But he came up with the idea of completely identical metal members with two opposing pieces of tape. And that provided the strength and flexibility.
R The zipper is more of a domestic application, so to speak, than an agricultural one.
N Oh, absolutely.
R How did you maintain your association with agriculture?
N Oh, ok. Just to refute your first statement slightly. The most important thing about a zipper is the tape. And they take it from a textile product which comes from cotton.
R Oh, yes.
N And I had a better understanding of some of the basics of what was required and what we were looking for - in the way of tape, for example - and I mightn’t have had it if I hadn’t gone to Guelph. So, with all the courses I could have picked, nothing would have been any more helpful to me than what I had in OAC. But, my involvement, I mean, I used to - I never missed a June reunion. We used to come down with friends. I guess that’s what got me into the Alumni operation.
R And then that led you into other areas, related agricultural activities. Royal Winter Fair and…
N Royal Winter Fair. I was walking through Union Station one day, and I bumped into Frank Wolf and somebody else with him. Both from OAC. And, you know, we chatted
a bit. And, Frank said: “Why don’t you get involved with 4H?” And I said: “Well, why should I?” And he said: “You know, there are a lot of OAC people in it.” And that was enough for me. So, he took me to a meeting or two of the Executive - and then I discovered that there were more girls in 4H than there were boys. At that time, sewing projects were the largest single enrolment - ahead of beef, ahead of dairy. It was the biggest thing in 4H. Sewing zippers. So, then I went back to the company and said: “Here’s something we ought to get into and support.” The membership at that time was a $500 a year fee and it belonged to the Canadian Council. And they went along with it.
R You were there for many years, weren’t you?
N Oh, yes. I’m still a member. They call it private member now. $100 or $150 a year. But I still go. I went to 39 consecutive annual meetings. And Joan wasn’t able to go and we’ve missed a couple now. If we go next year, it is going to be down in New Brunswick. We could drive down to that, if we go.
R That gave you a contact with agricultural people right across the country, didn’t it?
N Definitely. You got to know the different Ministries, the various Provinces, and their staffs - the extension people. It was a wonderful experience.
R It surely must have been a highlight of that activity – the Royal Winter Fair?
N Well, in those days, that was one of the prime purposes of the trip to Toronto; it was a reward trip. Going down to Toronto. In the early days they used to have judging competitions. That turned out to be pretty disastrous. And Home Economists who were the backbone of that program.. They said: “We’ve got to get rid of the judging competitions, because the Provinces like Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island and some of the other small Provinces couldn’t compete with the boys from Alberta. British Columbia couldn’t compete. Well, it wasn’t a fair contest.
R So, then you pushed through a resolution.
N Up in Saskatchewan, there was an OAC graduate that was either Deputy Minister, or Assistant Deputy Minister - Garner, you remember Garner?
R Oh, Jim Garner.
N The girls were pushing this thing. And Jim Garner got up and spoke in favour, which was quite a thing for somebody from Ontario to do. Very quietly he said he agreed with the resolution and he thought that the Council ought to support it. He had a lot to do with getting rid of competitions in 4H. That kind of competition.
R Jim Garner, as I recall, was an Ag. Rep. and then came in as the Director of the Agricultural Representative Branch.
N He was the Ontario Government’s representative on the Council at the time, and Jim – when Jim spoke it was coming from the heart and the head. He said: “No, we ought to
support this. Bob Murray was President of the OAC Alumni. So, Bob Murray’s father-in-law was Earl Manning who was with the Meat Packer’s Council at that time.
R You know, it’s another story, but Jim Garner had his finger very much in the pie, when I came back to campus as Head of the Soil Science Department.
N Is that right? Well, I could believe it. He worked quietly but effectively.
R And a high degree of credibility, right across the Province.
N He came to an AIC meeting in Vineland. He used to like to have a little wine with Doc Thomas, Frank Thomas? Oh, and another old fellow, Head of the Station there.
R Not Ben Harris?
N No. It was Dr. Harry Upshall, yes. He was Head of the Vineland Experimental Station at the time. Really had very strong views on any kind of alcohol. And Jim Garner noticed a few glasses round the table in his address that evening and remarked how good it was to see that some of the leading agriculturists in the area were supporting the growing of grapes!
R A wise man…
N That ended the opposition. There was nothing that poor Harry could do after that.
R Coming back to the Alumni Association, the OAC Alumni Association, Gord, what do you recollect as the highlights of your Association with them?
N Oh, there are so many I can’t pick them all. Just one thing seemed to tumble in after another. You know, looking back we were at the beginning of some things. I mean, I was just a spectator but - Harold Fry came back from the West and retired and we persuaded him to edit the OAC Alumni News. And in those days, you remember, about once a month they set up a Royal Commission to investigate some aspect of agriculture, you know, way of life. And Harold had this thing. He said that - if we can get enough bright, young people to come to OAC from rural High Schools - he said they will solve agriculture’s problems, and we won’t need these city people to go out on missions looking at us. And that was really the start of the scholarship program. That and they wanted more good students in here. It kind of went together. So, the Alumni Association agreed that they would run a campaign every year to raise money. We wanted $10,000, for ten entrance scholarships, which was supposed to pay for one year of tuition and board– what not, you know, get the student here. And, we’d run this little mailing campaign; write letters out to all the Alumni asking for donations. Well, then we found out some years we got $7 or $8,000 - some years we might get $12,000. So, we decided we’d better set up the Foundation. Get a Capital Fund established that would support this thing. And we had that big campaign to try and raise $200,000 and we raised $98,000, and we got the Foundation set up. John Babcock did all the legal work, more or less.
He was the architect of the Foundation specifically. You know, the rest of us were - Johnny Moles was one of the original signing trustees and Moff Cockburn - I wasn’t. I was just starting out in the Association at the time.
R And that was really the beginning of the OAC Alumni Foundation as we know it today.
N That’s right. You know, we did all the work ourselves. The College supplied the stationery and the time to mimeograph the letters, and what not. But when they came back in, we had to set up a little work party that opened the letters, and then we’d drop the $5, and the 10 and the $20 sometimes in- one night we had this cheque for $10,000 - you couldn’t make out the signature on it. We were wondering – and it turned out to be H.R. MacMillan.
N Yes, yes.
R Isn’t that interesting because he was a graduate of the Diploma Course, wasn’t
N Exactly. About 1906. He gave us – well, I could tell you about that too. Anyway, the next year, we wrote him again, and we got his letter back. And he said: “I am not attracted to your proposition.” He assumed that we were trying to compete with other universities to get students and he didn’t like that. The way the letter was worded, it just didn’t catch him. So, I was going to B.C., so I said give me the letter and when I go out there I’ll go and see him. I had a great time getting up to the top floor where he had his office. We had a wonderful visit – just a wonderful visit. I was there two or three hours.
R That’s interesting because he did come back in the Centennial Year of the College and established a special fund.
N After I went out there and saw him, J.D. went out. Well, I guess in connection with the capital campaign. And Clay Switzer also made a couple of visits. They never – if they’d offered to do something for MAC Institute in memory of his mother, I think they could have had a pretty near blank cheque because he told me the story about how much he worshipped his mother. You know, some old Minister was a friend of his mother. His dad was dead or gone, and his mother raised him. But this old Minister said that his mother should send this boy to OAC and, you know, he was pretty appreciative of that fact. And I think we could have wiggled almost anything out of him on the strength of some sort of memorial to his mother. Well, they went out of course, understandably, to raise funds for the capital campaign and they did get that $50,000 every five years for ten years or something.
R Do you recall the year in which you became President of OAC Alumni Foundation? Because you were President for a couple of years.
N I would say, yes, it must have been in the late, probably, ‘60’s, but I’m not sure.
R Well, do you recall who was there before you?
N Sure, Art Stewart was the President, then, of the Association and Dave Adams was Chairman of the Foundation. And, I followed Dave Adams.
R Because the Foundation has now capitalized at….
N Close to half a million dollars.
R It must be, yes. And it has been instrumental in bringing a lot of good students .
N Well, that’s what it’s there for. And it would have been a whole lot larger if we hadn’t agreed to stop our fundraising efforts and put our support behind the Alma Mater Fund. I don’t know that some of these people round that Council table now really appreciate what that meant – what it meant at the time. I keep reminding them.
R Now, you are bringing us into the fall of ’62, and the university was formed in ’64, and you were very active in the OAC Alumni Association at that time.
N I guess I was President of the OAC Alumni Association about the time the university was established.
R The charter came in ’64.
N Yes, and, I know – Tom McEwen – we invited Tom up to talk to the OAC Alumni Association on Saturday morning. What we were really looking for is what was going to happen to OAC in this great, new university. You know, we were all a little nervous. Tom didn’t talk about that. He talked about OAC accepting the challenge of establishing the University of Guelph Alumni Association. So, after lunch, as we used to do, we had a meeting of the new Executive, and wrestled with this thing for a couple of hours. There was a lot of opposition to it among our own executive, to OAC taking any part in this new University. Maybe we should just stand back and wait a while and see what was going to happen to OAC and how well they were going to treat us, you know? Anyway, eventually, they said that we should probably set up some kind of committee to see if we shouldn’t do something about the new University of Guelph Alumni Association. So, myself and a couple of others, I can’t remember who they were, about 5 o’clock in the afternoon – we phoned Tom at his home and said that we wanted to see him. I can remember him saying - you can take me the way I am, I’m cutting the grass, if you want to come down and talk to me – fine. So, down we went. And, we worked out a deal too among ourselves. We needed a Secretary-Treasurer of the Associations, for the MAC Association and the OVC Association. So, the deal was more or less, unwritten, but we would take the leadership in trying to establish a new UGAA if Tom McEwen would work on the Board of Governors to supply us with a Secretary-Treasurer for our Alumni Associations. He said he’d do his part. We said, alright, we’ll do ours. So, we came
back and set up a Committee. Dave Adams and I were on for OAC, and Mell LeGard and George Bishop, for OVC, and Dorothy James, and one other girl from MAC. And, first was that blonde - you know, Barb Robinson or Robertson - she was on for a while, and MAC Association took her off and put somebody else on. I am not sure who the second person was. But we laboured for about a year getting this constitution, by-laws. John Babcock was a lot of help in that too.
R Well, John came from a banking ….
N He was the Agricultural Manager for the CIBC. He left that job to come to Guelph.
R But he had some former association with the OAC Alumni Association. Director?
N I’ve kind of forgotten. Well, he must have been because he was involved.
R But, for the circumstances of that particular point in time, John laid the guidelines pretty well, don’t you think?
N He could pick the bricks up and set ‘em down in the right order. None of the rest of us could do that. Dave Adams was pretty good at it. In Association work too. But, John was the fusspot that said: “Now, if you want, you know, you gotta apply to Ottawa to get a charitable designation sometime”. He knew how to do all of these things; get us started in the right direction.
R So, it must have been interesting years for you, because you were helping to develop a university-wide Alumni Association. But, I know from my own observations that you never lost sight of the place of the OAC Alumni Association.
N It was still first. It was still first. But my feeling was that OAC would not reach its potential if it was a stand-alone college. It needed the support of the Arts Faculty, and English particularly because I was always interested in English. It needed more Science. It needed all the other things that go to make up a real education. So, I was an advocate of the university, and I still think OAC can – will - look after itself. It’s not going to lose its leadership. Too much tradition, too much knowledge, too much accomplishment.
R I think, yes, I agree with you entirely. I think OAC had a responsibility to put forward whatever effort they could to make certain they had a strong university, but an equally strong college of agriculture, within the university. I think, by and large, that purpose has been achieved.
N Well, OAC proved it. I mean, people in OAC are held in the greatest respect. They are getting more respect today than they got 10 years ago or 15 years ago when this university was first established. The Arts people, you know, kind of - well, I don’t want to say walked around with their noses in the air but - you know, they had an attitude that wasn’t entirely complimentary to OAC.
R But then you were there, very much involved too, at the time of the centennial, 1974, and the Arboretum Centre. I think we should make reference to that on this tape.
N Oh, yes. I think they must have been stuck for a Chairman for the fundraising committee because Babcock phoned me to say they wanted somebody to head up this committee and he suggested me. I said: “Well, I’ve got almost enough to do here, and there won’t be too much work to it.” So I took it on. You know, I couldn’t turn it down. It was OAC.
R Well, it has become a very important component of the University.
N Well, I was a little bit sorry that they allowed the responsibility for the building to move to the University but I guess it had to be. You know, it was too much of an extra for OAC. But, at one time, in the beginning, they booked everything in there. They looked after the bookings for the Arboretum Centre. They owned it; they controlled it and the people were on the OAC staff. It was during Freeman McEwen’s time, they kind of moved it over to a University Building.
R Do you recall being involved with the architect for the Arboretum Centre?
N Yes, Moriyama, yes. The drawings, and we had several meetings with him.
R Isn’t he an interesting fellow?
N Yes, awfully interesting, yes. Capable. He had an idea. His idea was right. It was the beautiful way he put things.
R I remember being at one of the meetings when he was presenting his concept. He said “We’ll hide it in the side of the hill. And people will discover it, and walk through the trees”. Interesting.
N Oh, yes. He was a little salesman. And, I was also on the Committee for the first University Centre Building. The one that never got built. That was an interesting experience, too. I enjoyed that. We had a lot of meetings; you know, kind of things that should go into the building. And then, of course, it didn’t fly. The fellow who had the Dodge Agency here in town, the Chrysler Agency, an OAC graduate, and he was on that committee too. I can’t remember--
R Probably Wilson Woods.
N I guess so. And then, young Bob Kerr, he was on that committee too. I was
impressed with him.
R Well, then, before we leave the Arboretum, your co-worker there….
N George Best. He did a big job. He’d organize the meetings in Toronto, where we’d pull everybody together, you know, and pep them up, you know. He was a good worker. Very helpful.
R Weren’t we fortunate as a University to be able to take over 250 acres and designate it for an Arboretum?
N That was something I had nothing to do with. I agree that was one of the best things they ever did here.
R And I think the reason we owe a good deal to Bill Stewart and Ev Biggs in the commitment of the land that would be an area of designation.
N I had nothing to do, you know, with that process, but I think the Arboretum, someday, will be recognized almost equally as well as the University itself. You know, it’s a very basic – well, it’s a treasure, really.
R It really is.
N And the land is there now, so it will get more valuable and more valuable; nobody will be able to touch it. It’s there.
R I don’t know of any other University in Canada that could afford to commit that acreage today.
N No, it’s almost impossible. Unless they’re stuck up in the North West Territories or somewhere.
R Well, coming now to your association with the University of Guelph Alumni Association.
N Not for a while, there. Chairman of the Foundation, Chairman of the Alma Mater Fund - I don’t know how that happened but while in the Foundation – some of the things I liked there, I enjoyed. We set up that Raithby Scholarship – we raised $50,000 for that. That Lecture Series. We set up the Hilliard Fund, which raised $12-$15,000. And then, little Don Risebrough was killed in a car accident. He worked with the Holstein Fresian people on that one.
R His name is now associated with the Hockey Tournament.
N Oh, well. Maybe, could be. They used the funds for a while to sponsor the judging teams .
R And secured the Entrance Scholarships for OAC.
N Oh, yes. They had enough money eventually, yes. When I became involved with the Foundation I think it had assets of around $100,000. By the time I was shunted out of there, it was around $250-$300,000. Just kept adding this on, this on. A lot of help from a lot of people. Jim Elmslie did a good job with our investments.
R I’m certain that the Alumni Foundation Entrance Scholarships were instrumental in bringing a large number of good students to the campus.
N We’ve done a bit of survey on that. We may hear more about it at the meeting next week. Sarah Nadalin is putting together this record of what has happened with the Alumni Foundation Scholarship winners. How much support have they given to the University since? What have they done? A lot of people whose names you would recognize today who won those scholarships.
R And then, coming back again to the University Alumni Association. You were right in there in the beginning of the establishment of it. How do you assess it now? Is it functioning?
N Well, it’s coming of age. It isn’t there yet. We are in a kind of a state of flux there. The College Associations are not as strong as they should be. The OAC Alumni Association Annual Meeting, for example, doesn’t draw the attendance that it used to 25 years ago. It’s been weakened a little bit by - you know - the university connection with the University of Guelph Alumni Association. But on the other hand, the University of Guelph Alumni Association is almost a – I wouldn’t say a disaster – but you know, it hasn’t really got an image – it’s not really pushing the University ahead. It’s going to. They’ve done a lot of work on determining new objectives. You know, getting the new strategic planning? They’ve had strategic planning sessions and they’re coming up with a new set of objectives, or whatever it is they call them. And, I think over the next twenty years, it will probably become a force on campus. But it’s been a kind of tough road.
R Well, it hasn’t been made easier because of the trimester system either. People coming and going. But, they surely must be getting the numbers out there now, if they can get the interest.
N They’ve got the numbers, they’ve just gotta build an image – you know – and they’re coming, this program they have now of some kind of kits they give out at convocation. You know, it’s giving the University of Guelph Alumni Association an image. This thing that I’m attending tonight is going to help, I think.
R Now, that gets us into another area here, as you work along with the University of Guelph Alumni Association - a couple of things – the establishment of the Heritage Fund, and then the Gord Nixon Leadership Awards.
N The Alma Mater Fund Advisory Council were the proponents of it. It’s Alumni money that finances it. But they tell me that as much as anything as has happened recently it has
given students an appreciation of Alumni interest in them. That I think is tremendous. They invited applications from student organizations for funding support and Dave McEwen told me they had 28 quality applications, and lots of others they didn’t think so much of. They had 28 quality applications, he said. And they finally culled it down to four they agreed to fund. The qualities of student endeavors - organized by students, led by students, and just how many people that’s going to multiply out into when we’re all done. The Magic Bus is one of them. They got some money. There’s an Environmental Program here of some kind, operated by the students, it got some money. The Seminar Program – there’s five or six seminars that are organized by students on leadership.
R This one you’re attending tonight.
N That’s right. I’m going to one tonight on that. And there’s a fourth group.
R At what level in the University coursework are they eligible for it?
N I don’t think there’s any restriction. It’s the organization that they put together and what they’re trying to accomplish. They could be freshmen, they could be seniors. But it has the support of the CSA, the Central Students Association and two or three other key associations on campus, you know, supporting the program.
R Can’t put a dollar value on imagination and initiative, can you?
N Just amazing, the things that – they had a couple from each project at the champagne brunch on Alumni Sunday – were you at that, by any chance?
N I had a chance of chatting with some of these kids, young people, afterward - fantastic! Bright, enthusiastic, and good ideas – and they’re doing something.
R And then, your association with the Heritage Fund?
N I’m not quite sure what my qualifications are there! They asked me to stand as a Trustee and I said ok. I go to the meetings, listen to the group, I don’t think I’ve made much of a contribution there.
R But, as I understand it, the purpose of all of it is to make sure there will be some funding in perpetuity?
N They’ve taken the University’s assets that are available, and rolled them into this, as I understand it, this Heritage Fund so that they can’t be wasted away or borrowed or lost. I mean, particularly land. They’ve got, you know, a lot of land holdings. Different parcels of land, farms .
R Cruickston Farm.
N Yes. And, it’s a matter of getting value out of those, and at the same time preserving what is there, if that’s the right way to go. But primarily it’s to make sure the financing, you know, those assets are with the University and are being used for the University’s purposes.
R Isn’t it interesting that, regardless of how economic cycles go, they always come back to the basic land resource as being essential.
N Absolutely, it’s that top 10 inches that keeps alive us here and there’s only so much of it. If we don’t look after it, the way we are going – it’s like saying – most of the world’s great fortunes are based on land holdings.
R Coming now to Baldy Baldwin? Did you ever have any association with him?
N No, I was never one of his favourites. My lack of athletic skills. He really didn’t care much for me, and I have to admit that I really wasn’t a great fan of his. He was a little bit too - a good enough fellow – a great foot ball coach – but a bit of a prima donna, you know.
R I recall, you know, that he threw it wide open in the last quarter. We’re coming into the last quarter.
N Right ok. I’ve enjoyed the reminiscing as much as I have the ….
R Yes, but it’s all part of the history too, you know. I don’t know who said it, but if we don’t record history, we may not have much to talk about in the future.
N I’ve finally gathered up all my early Foundation records, put them in a box, and delivered them to the Archival Section, and also my – well, any of the committees I’ve been on – I dumped it all at the library. Someday, some of it may be of some value to somebody doing a history of some of these things.
R But, in general regard, the University has come along very well, don’t you think?
N Oh, fantastic! Of course – some it is just pure luck! Especially when the great pressure on the environment came into effect – what university in Canada was in a better position to talk about the environment and provide an education in environmental activities than OAC, and the University. Every kid you talk to now is interested in the environment.
N And they recognize Guelph as being the premier institution of learning in that area, in that specialty.
R And, in the beginning, the relationship was developed between the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture of Food and the University. You know, this was envied by every other university where there’s a College of Agriculture in Canada.
N Well, in part, because many of our Alumni became involved with the Ministry and we had friends at court, as it were. But, then, we’ve had some pretty sagacious Ministers of Agriculture in this Province. Our friend out of north of Toronto there , you know. He was the Minister of Agriculture in Ontario.
R Oh yes. You’re not thinking of north of Toronto but Tom Kennedy?
N Yes, Tom Kennedy – west of Toronto. Tremendous. And then, Leslie Frost who wasn’t exactly in Agriculture but he came from a small town and he never shortchanged agriculture or OAC. And, of course Bill Stewart did a towering job over the years as a supporter of agriculture on this campus. But, I think the campus earned a lot of that.
R Then, there was another alumni at a time when – Tommy Thomas!
N Tommy Thomas!
R A graduate in the postwar years, when the buildings were coming – we’d waited so long – he put his support behind the campus. You’re so right, we’ve been very fortunate in the kinds of people we’ve had in the Ministry.
N Well, we’ve had the support of the rural community.
N And, you know, that was really the backbone of Ontario for years. Not quite so true today but - boy oh boy - they were supporters of OAC.
R And we’ve been fortunate in the Presidents, don’t you think?
N Yes. Well, you mean in the University or OAC?
R Yes. Presidents of the University.
N Well, I’m a great fan of J.D. MacLachlan. You know, he got the job done. And, Bill Winegard, I think was the greatest. Don Forster. He made the contribution we needed at the time. He was, you know, should I say the other side of the fence, but we needed strength from there, in those areas – the Arts, the Sciences, and he made his contribution there.
R Burt Matthews brought sensitivity to….
N Well, he knew what we needed here. You’re right. And then, of course, Brian Segal. I think he’ll get more respect 10 years from now than he has over the last few years because he had some pretty tough apples that he had to peddle. But, the Heritage Fund was, you know, his creation.
R I think we’re fortunate in having Dr. Rozanski.
N I don’t know him real well yet, but he’s certainly a communicator, and he wants to see everybody on side. And that’s what the place needs right now.
R Well, this has been very enjoyable, Gord. Thank you very much.
N We’ve used up all the tape, have we?
R Well, it’s coming close. But, I am sure people will enjoy listening to it.
N I hope somebody takes a hold of it and puts the scissors to most of it.
R Thank you very much.
N Thank YOU very much.