Harold Baker

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Graduation Year




Interview Date


B. Schneller

Call Number

RE1 UOG A1340094


Harold Baker interview


B. Schneller (00:02):
I'm with Dr. Harold Baker, who in 1994 retired from the Extension Division at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. And Harold's with me here today for an interview for the history group of the alumni association. Harold, what influenced you to carry on with further education beyond grade 12? Or you were grade 12 in high school. What influenced you to go on further than... Eventually brought you to 12?

Harold Baker (00:40):
There were a number of things, I think, that influenced me. The primary one was my role with 4H and being involved in 4H judging teams. And the idea that my brother Arden had gone ahead of me to Kemptville Agricultural School. And then I went on to go there as well. And during that period of two years, I decided that there wasn't room on the home farm for both myself and my older brother.

Harold Baker (01:16):
And so I started looking at the options. My father on one of occasion, when I was really a teenager, had told me while walking across the plowed field, when he was discussing the possibility of selling the farm, I asked him what I would do if he sold the farm. And he said, "Well, we might send you to Guelph." And that stayed on my mind.

Harold Baker (01:48):
Then when I was in Kemptville at the agricultural school, I found that I could apply to get into Guelph in the second year with my grade 12, I was one of a number in Kemptville at the time who had only grade 12, not 13. And so we went to Guelph in 1947 as the last group that could enter OAC without a grade 13. And I think in fact there were 13 of us went up that year and approximately half of us didn't have grade 13.

Harold Baker (02:34):
So, those were a couple of the influences and probably a primary one was the fact that when I was in 4H, I always admired the role of the ag rep who came frequently to our farm. Hamish McCloud and Carmen Tenant are two names that come to mind. And so I had in mind the possibility of going into agricultural extension if I went on to OAC.

B. Schneller (03:05):
Now, what year were you in at Guelph?

Harold Baker (03:09):
I was at Guelph then from '47 to '50, graduated in 1950.

B. Schneller (03:14):
1950. How large was the class there?

Harold Baker (03:16):
As I recall, it was around 210, and I'm not sure of the number, but probably 75% of that number, maybe 80%, were veterans. And I, of course, was too young to join up in the services and was one of the relatively inexperienced people who had to be well initiated by the veterans when we went to Guelph.

B. Schneller (03:43):
What was that initiation like?

Harold Baker (03:45):
Well, it wasn't very severe at the time. I think it lasted a week. They put us through some exercises that had to do a fair bit with crawling through manure piles and getting up early in the morning and serving the seniors and so on. But it wasn't very severe as I look back.

B. Schneller (04:10):
When you went to Guelph, what was the first accommodation and where did you live at when you went there?

Harold Baker (04:18):
I always felt fortunate that I was put into Watson Hall, Watson Hall Residence. And the reason for that was that there was a small group of us and we got to know each other very well and I think ever since that time, I remember best my classmates who were, and in fact, a few from other years, our senior years, who were accommodated in Watson. We lived there together and had to walk a longer distance than some over to get to classes and so on and that was a good experience.

B. Schneller (04:59):
How about the other residences that you were in?

Harold Baker (05:01):
Well, I also lived in Mills Hall for a while, which was relatively more noisy, more fractious. A few water fights ensued before and during examinations and that sort of thing. And then in my final year together with Gordon McCloud, who was my roommate, we served as Deans of Student Residents in Johnson Hall. So, I was in the three residences in the three years on the campus.

B. Schneller (05:37):
Some of the classes that you were in. Can you tell about the professors in the classes?

Harold Baker (05:47):
Well, yes, I can remember a lot of the professors. I can't remember very many specifics of professors. I remember professor baker. I don't know whether it was because he had the same name, but I think more it was that he, having been a Naval officer, taught entomology and was very precise and always reminded me somewhat of what I perceived to be a headmaster of a British school.

Harold Baker (06:28):
But he was a good teacher, but I remember he didn't put up with any tom foolery. If somebody spoke out of turn in the class, he put them in their place pretty quickly. That's one thing I remember. Mostly I had pleasant memories, including him, of course, of my teachers at OAC. We got to know them quite well and generally they were easy to listen to and had enough experience with agriculture and farming and so on that they could make things seem important and clear to us.

B. Schneller (07:17):
What option did you take?

Harold Baker (07:19):
I took animal science, I guess animal husbandry at that time.

B. Schneller (07:24):
Animal husbandry at the time. You were involved in some of the clubs and some of the judging teams?

Harold Baker (07:31):
Yes. A real highlight for me at OAC was to have the opportunity to participate in the livestock judging team that went to Chicago and the dairy team that went to Waterloo, Iowa representing, as we put it then, representing Canada. We were the only non-US teams who went there. And so that was a real privilege. And some of the more vivid memories, learning memories I had, were the coaching trips we had in preparation for those competitions.

B. Schneller (08:07):
You went throughout Ontario then to do farming?

Harold Baker (08:09):
Yes. Went to many farms. Some of which I had been at when I was coaching for 4H teams and also during the five year period that I was in the ag rep service. I went back to the same farms to coach 4H teams myself.

Harold Baker (08:28):
But basically we went to farms and our coaches, who included several people, but among them Orville Kennedy in the livestock judging and in the dairy, professor Art Rununs put us through the exercise and I think were excellent coaches.

B. Schneller (08:56):
And did you find a difference being out with the judging team compared with being in the classroom when they were teaching?

Harold Baker (09:05):
Yes. One of the features of it, especially in the second team, the dairy team, as I recall, especially when we got away from home and got into hotel rooms with our coaches, we found the very human side of them that of course had always been there and we hadn't quite recognized it so much as we looked up to them as our professors, instructors.

Harold Baker (09:38):
But in the hotel room, they would talk about things in a way that they wouldn't, or we didn't have opportunity to do, back on campus. And so we appreciated almost a fairly deep friendship with them during that period. And of course they would tell some stories about the campus we hadn't known thereto before.

B. Schneller (10:04):
What are some of the organizations you belonged to besides being on a judging team at 12?

Harold Baker (10:12):

B. Schneller (10:14):
Were you involved in College Royal?

Harold Baker (10:16):
Oh yes, College Royal. I was active in that and worked hard at that, considered myself a good showman of livestock. But then in the final, I remember I didn't win. I was second. And also active, I think there was an animal husbandry club of some kind I participated in. We were active supporters of the football team. Although I didn't play, I knew all of the players and enjoyed that. And there was a great camaraderie around the sports at OAC.

Harold Baker (11:05):
One of my vivid memories is how, particularly with McMaster, we used to swap prisoners back and forth. A student would disappear and they'd be found down on the campus of the opposing team that was to be played the next week or something like that, usually with their head shaven. And the other thing I remember was, and I represented my year, year '50, in a ping pong tournament at Guelph and I really enjoyed that.

Harold Baker (11:40):
My roommate in Watson Hall was Fred Bennett, who later went to the West Indies. But Fred and I played ping pong a fair bit throughout Guelph. And we always said that we made our best grades when we played a ping pong game in advances of the examination.

B. Schneller (12:02):
Any of the social activities that you wish to talk about?

Harold Baker (12:07):
Social activities. Brad, I think you're leading me here. I think Brad's referring to an occasion when we had what was always referred to as the Phil Lit Banquet in Gruman Hall. It was an awards banquet. And on that particular evening, we had our day in Gruman Hall and then for dancing, we were to walk down to the gym and the gym was a little bit of a walk. And it was, as I recall, along in March in the spring, early spring.

Harold Baker (12:53):
And so I was with my classmate Bill Burns from Toronto, and I don't think they were blind dates, but they were not necessarily regular dates for us that we had to go to the dance. We went to the gym and went into the basement below the gym where the swimming pool was. And following the banquet, went to the washrooms to prepare for the dance.

Harold Baker (13:28):
When we come out of the washrooms, the lights went off. And so Bill and I stood and talked to each other for a few minutes, thinking they'd come back on. But then they didn't and we decided we should move on around the pool to find our dates. And in the process, since I was on the inside, I stepped into the deep end of the pool and found myself at the bottom. And just as I came up on the side of the pool, the lights came on just for a second or two, everybody saw me, and then the lights went off.

Harold Baker (14:13):
And by the time they're back on, I had disappeared to Watson Hall to change my clothes. But by the time I got back, everybody in the hall knew that I had fallen into the pool. At that time, I was campaigning to be president of my year and I was accused of politicking by falling into the pool, so I'd become better known.

B. Schneller (14:38):
Well, I think everyone knew because we were in the class that you were Dean of and the word got back to our residents very quickly that night.

Harold Baker (14:49):
I remember too Brad, that I wore a wool suit that night and when Greg McCloud and I went back to our room after the dance was over, all the water had drained out of the suit onto our floor and it was a flood and my suit was pretty well shrunk.

B. Schneller (15:10):
Have you any more recollections about the president of Guelph at that time or the registrar or the people that administered the college?

Harold Baker (15:25):
Well, yes, I remember particularly Dr. McLaughlin.

B. Schneller (15:29):
Because he was from Maryville, wasn't he?

Harold Baker (15:31):
He was from Beartrapper.

B. Schneller (15:32):

Harold Baker (15:32):
Near Maryville. Really, I didn't know him or his family, but because he was from there, we had a little bit of geographic connection. So, I came to know him fairly well as I think most people did in those days. Get to know the ... Let me see, what was he known as? Principal or president.

B. Schneller (15:54):

Harold Baker (15:54):
President, I guess. And of course he was noted for his reputation academically, but he also was known because he limped and I believe his limp resulted from running into a fire hydrant, I think on Halloween night, as a student at Harvard or someplace in Boston. And so he was a well known figure on campus in many ways, both physically and intellectually.

B. Schneller (16:41):
What do you wish to talk about in terms of your thoughts after graduating? You said that the extension influenced you, so that was your goal, to go into agricultural extension. Can you talk about your graduation and then your employment and how you got employed? What summer work too?

Harold Baker (17:03):
Yes. Well, I worked during the summer. My first summer, I surveyed farms for the Kemptville Agricultural School out of the Kemptville College. And then the next summer, I worked as an assistant agricultural representative in Peel and Halton counties. And I graduated in animal science. I have only vague recollections of my convocation, though I remember it well in the sense of my parents coming to it and it was of course a day of celebration.

Harold Baker (17:51):
And of course in those days, it was all held outside. And I remember we sat in the sun during all the speeches and I worried about my mother, who I thought was getting too much sunshine, but I graduated and went off to ... Actually, I went instead into agricultural extension, I had been persuaded by Bruce Beer, with whom I had worked as an ag rep, to come to work with him on a farm at Snell Grove, north of Brampton. I only stayed there the summer and then I went back into agricultural extension.

Harold Baker (18:38):
Then Jim Garner, the director of extension in Toronto, assigned me to go to Wentworth County. I went to Wentworth County therefore in the fall of 1950 and was there for three years and went on to Clinton and here in county for two years. Wentworth county was good to me in the sense that I met my wife now of 38 years while I was in Wentworth county.

B. Schneller (19:12):
Your mentor there with Mr. Marid?

Harold Baker (19:15):
My mentor there was Mr. Marid. He was an interesting kind of guy. He was both loved and hated in the county, hated by some who thought he was too abrupt and didn't serve them very well agriculturally. Loved by nearly everyone who really got to know him because he had a heart of gold and was always doing something for someone, even though it was unorthodox. After I got used to Mr. Marid's idiosyncrasies, we got a lot very well and I learned a lot from him.

Harold Baker (19:58):
Mainly I learned that there's a real people side to agricultural extension. He of course used to work a great deal with what were then called the DPs, the displaced persons, who came to Hamilton following the war and our job was to place them on farms. And he had this ability of, though he would never be able to introduce you by name to them, he would know all about them. Their background in Europe and their family here and they loved him.

Harold Baker (20:37):
They really respected and loved Mr. Marid for everything he would do for them. So, he did things in a different way. And so I had a good experience there. And then I went to Herein County, worked with Jerry Montgomery there, was the agricultural representative.

Harold Baker (20:59):
And then after five years, I determined for myself that my training in animal science at OAC was really rather inadequate for what I was facing. A lot of the problems I was facing, especially in the youth programming, was people oriented. So, that's when I decided to go away and learn something more about the social sciences and I found that there were courses one could take in extension, and that's what took me to Wisconsin and then onto Cornell.

B. Schneller (21:41):
Now, something about your postgraduate years. Both Wisconsin and Cornell. What that did that lead to? What were you taking?

Harold Baker (21:50):
I started out basically to try to learn something more academically about what the subject matter of agricultural extension really was. I remember well at the OAC as an animal science, animal husbandry option participant, the only background given in those days on agricultural extension was about a two hour seminar in which they brought in two or three Ag extension people who were experienced to just chat about their role and we listened and then asked questions and that was the end of it.

Harold Baker (22:38):
So, it was quite a revelation to me to hear that someplace you could take a degree, a master's degree in agricultural extension. It was really, I understand now, essentially an adult education degree, but with a bias towards rural and agricultural life.

Harold Baker (23:02):
So, I heard about this and I can't tell you exactly the moment I heard about it, but I recall well there was a junior farmer field day at Guelph at OAC. I came down from Huron County and a 1953 graduate Cam Clark came in from Elgin County and we found that each of us on the OAC campus were asking people what they could do to help us find a good program in the agricultural extension.

Harold Baker (23:45):
And as a result of that, Cam Clark and I got together and we made a special trip together to each of the University of Wisconsin and Cornell campuses. We met faculty, we talked to students, and ended up with Cam going to Cornell for his masters, and I went to the University of Wisconsin. Basically when I got there, it ends up and ended up that I majored in agricultural extension and then took minors in rural sociology and agricultural economics.

Harold Baker (24:31):
But in many ways, that changed my life because I ended up coming back to Canada and went into a social science institute called the Center for Community Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. And that changed my career from a focus on animal husbandry and agriculture to one on community development, seeing the community as a living organism that changes and grows and declines and that's the way I spent the rest of my career outside of 10 years in the administration.

B. Schneller (25:21):
During those years while you were involved in many organizations that also had people from Guelph attending, involved in. So, what are some of those organizations that you worked closely with and such?

Harold Baker (25:35):
Yes, I've always been active, of course, with the local agrologists institutes, and in this case, the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists. And associated with the Agricultural Institute of Canada, the Canadian Society of Extension. I was in on the first meetings in Winnipeg of the formation of the Canadian society of what was then called rural extension, later just extension.

Harold Baker (26:11):
And also I became involved in associations relating to community and rural development. Major among them was my involvement with the Canadian council and rural development, which was established by Minister Sauve, Maurice Sauve, when he was Minister of Rural Development and Forestry in Ottawa, and that went on for about 10 years. I represented the Canadian Association for Adult Education in that council.

Harold Baker (26:48):
I also was involved, still am involved over the years and gone through the offices of what's called the community development society. It's a US based organization that now is in 20 or so countries. It has local chapters and I was involved with the formation of Saskatchewan chapter of the community development society following the holding of the international conference of that society in Saskatoon. That was only the second time it had been held inside of the US. The first time was at the University of Guelph.

B. Schneller (27:36):
Now that you're retired, what are some of the highlights when you think back of your career?

Harold Baker (27:50):
Well, I think often of the good fortune I've had to have been involved in agricultural extension and the great life it is to work with rural people. I think a highlight has to be initially my involvement with livestock and judging teams. I always enjoyed the coaching of judging teams in the 4H program, in junior farmer program.

Harold Baker (28:29):
Another highlight was my work with the Center for Community Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, in which for five years, essentially as head of the consulting division of that center, I had the freedom to go out into communities and research them, try to find out what made them tick. Worked a good deal with their leaders in determining what their role was and seeing the impacts of both internal and external forces on the fate of communities and of course in the Prairie region, as in the great Plains region generally, with the expansion in farm machinery and so on over the years from 30 feet widths to now up to 120 feet in scope, going across fields, essentially pushed the people off the land and therefore out of the community and thus threatened the future of many of those small communities.

Harold Baker (29:39):
So, I've seen, in my career of essentially four decades, many Prairie communities disappear or essentially dry up. And one of the highlights of my career has not been so much to save communities as to help people in communities prepare themselves for that kind of decline, as well as of course, rapid growth in other communities that are selected to succeed and continue into the future.

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