Jean Steckle

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Dr. Jean Steckle was a graduate of the University of Guelph (Mac 1952), Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, and the University of Reading, UK. Following graduation from Mac, she worked in home economics education in Ontario and adult education in Newfoundland. After completing doctoral studies in the UK, she had a long career in nutrition - serving the United Nations in Africa and Rome, the Canadian International Development Research Centre in Africa, and Ottawa and Health Canada working with native populations in many parts of the country. All of her work was predicated on developing meaningful community based nutrition programs.

Her retirement years were devoted to establishing the J. Steckle Heritage Homestead, a non-profit educational facility in the Kitchener, Ontario area. Here she developed programs relating to agriculture, food, and nutrition for youth, families, and various community groups. Among many honours, Jean has received the Canadian Home Economics Association Award of Honour for her leadership in developing international programs. In 1993, she received the University of Guelph Alumnus of Honour award.

Jean Steckle died peacefully at the Homestead, on Friday January 17, 2003, after a long struggle with cancer.

Graduation Year




Interview Date


F. Partridge

Call Number

RE1 UOG A1340058


Jean Steckle interview





Macdonald Institute, 1952

Interviewed by Florence Partridge

December 03, 1991




P          This interview with Dr. Jean Steckle, Mac ’52, is being recorded by Florence Partridge, on December the 3rd, 1991, for the Alumni-in-Action Group of the University of Guelph Alumni Association.  Now Jean, first of all, let’s have a little bit of your personal history, before you came to Guelph.  Let’s start at the beginning.  Where were you born?


S          I was born on the farm of my father and mother and – in Kitchener.


P          Yes.


S          It was a cold winter January day and the - our local doctor came out to the farm house, and it was – it had been heated full well by my father, that the candles were drooping over.


P          (Laughter)


S          So, that was the uh, my January birth day on the farm.


P          That was quite an auspicious arrival.  Do you have brothers and sisters, Jean?


S          I’ve one brother Bob, and he’s eighteen months younger.


P          Yes.


S          We had gone – we went to the same public school – which was a one room school house.


P          Hmhm


S          And we both went to High School at the same time in Kitchener.


P          And then later, both came to Guelph.


S          And then both came to Guelph…


P          Hmhm.


S          …and graduated in the same year, 1952.


P          Well.


S          In fact our teacher in Primary School,  Helena Theevby, felt that I shouldn’t set off to High School by myself, and that my brother should come with me…


P          I see (chuckle) …


S          …so, we both set off together…


P          …so you went together to High School to Kitchener High School?


S          Yes.  Umhm.


P          And – you didn’t have to board in town though, did you?


S          No.  That – it – although it was before the days of the school buses…


P          Hmhm.


S          …and my father was very active on the School Board, promoting opportunities for rural children to get to high school…


P          Hmhm.


S          …uh, in a more public fashion, but in those days, my brother and I drove a horse.  And um, we took the milk to town, and took it to Silverwoods Dairy, left our horse in the stable…


P          The dairy stable.?


S          The dairy stable. Hmhm.  And then went on to the school.  And when we – when I got to be fifteen, we could take the little red truck.   And that was an advance…


P          Did you have a driver’s license at that stage?



S          Well, during the War, it was possible to drive – to get a driver’s license at fifteen.


P          I see.


S          Actually though, my brother could drive much better.  I couldn’t get near enough to the steps to unload the milk, so I would hop out and let Bob maneuver, but I had the license.  (Laughter)


P          So, it was all legal. (Laughter)  Now tell me something about your parents.


S          Well both my parents came to OAC - here in Guelph, and Mother had taken her first two years in Agriculture at Truro…


P          In Nova Scotia.


S          …in Nova Scotia.  And then had applied to Guelph, because her father had taken Agriculture at the University of Guelph – at OAC, and it was some time before she was admitted, because she was the first woman to take Agriculture at the University of Guelph – at OAC.


P          Yes.  Her maiden name was Chase, wasn’t…


S          Chase – Sue Chase.  Hmhm.  She was also very active in Agriculture in Nova Scotia.  She was the President of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association.  And took a very active interest.


P          So she had quite an agricultural career before she even came to Guelph. 


S          Yes. And when she came to Kitchener, she planted a seven acre orchard.  And it was the first commercial orchard in our neighbourhood. 


P          What varieties of apple would you have?  Do you know?


S          Most of the apples were “Macintosh”, and we still have a row of “Spies”.  That’s the only row that’s left on the homestead.   But there are a few varieties that came specially from Nova Scotia – specially the “Greevenstein”, and that was a special apple in our orchard - also the “Pommey Grey”.


P          What was that one?


S          Pommey Gray.  A sort of “Russet-type” apple.  But I think it came from the Acadian orchards.  Hmhm.


P          Did your Mother then, specialize in Horticulture at OAC?


S          Yes.  She specialized in Horticulture…


P          And your Father?


S          …was in Animal Husbandry.  Hmhm.


P          So that was a very good combination, then for farming.


S          Oh, yes – yes.  I enjoyed – we all enjoyed the farm.  Hmhm.


P          Tell me something about your growing up on the farm.


S          Well, I think there was always animals.  And the first animal that I really fell in love with was “Fritz” our dog.


P          What breed?


S          He would be a nice big German Shepherd.  And then I remember, on different occasions, - one occasion, I woke up one morning – my Father was standing in the room, holding a baby pony that had just been born.  And…


P          What a thrill!!


S          …and this was to be my pony.  And - so we did – we had ponies, and I remember too, another morning waking up, and seeing a baby calf  - in his arms.  And that was my birthday.  So the fact that it had been born on my birthday, became my calf.


P          Hmhm.


S          And this was a very special calf, because they had just started artificial insemination in our county, and this was a very prestigious calf, and – noted in the area


P          What breed would that be?


S          Holstein. Hmhm


P          So – your farming then was mixed farming was it?


S          Mixed – but basically it was a dairy herd…


P          Hmhm.


S          …and uh, some pigs, and Mother’s orchard.  Hmhm.  We did have a few chickens, cause I remember feeding the chickens…


P          Yes.


S          …and uh, of course we had the famous Kitchener Market in our midst.  And this is where we sold most of the apples or anything else that we had that could be marketed directly to the consumer.


P          How far would it be from your farm to the town of Kitchener? – the city of Kitchener?


S          Well, it seemed quite a distance in those days – it was four miles – but it was handy to get to the Kitchener  Market.


P          Hmhm.


S          And of course, nowadays its –the homestead is right in the middle of the city, surrounded by the Huron Industrial Park.  But in those days it was um,…


P          The city has grown a bit


S          …since then.  Hmhm.


P          Yes.  Now you did mention going to Elementary School, and you drove in.  Can you remember, did you enjoy school?


S          Oh, yes.  Hmhm. And I had some marvelous teachers.  it was very - well history and learning about everything – mathematics and getting ready for the school inspector to come – and the Christmas Concert…


P          Hmhm


S          …and very – the special occasions.  This – in the one room school.


P          Did you find that because you drove in – did you find that you missed out on some of the social activities that the town children participated in?


S          Yes.  That was the  - though both Bob and I participated in quite a few athletic events, and we would wait for each other after school.  But that’s what I enjoyed so much about Guelph – to live in residence, and have a room-mate – not having a sister.  I had a brother, but not sisters - so coming to Guelph was a wonderful opportunity to actually live on campus and participate in all the activities that one might have, if one had lived in town and had more time.  Hmhm.


P          Yes.


S          We also helped with a lot of the farming too, I mean, well, seasonal things.  In fall we picked apples, and – in the summer it was the haying.  And of course in the fall, was the silo filling too.  And in those days, people would gather for farm bees.


P          Hmhm.


S          And that was a busy time in the kitchen, because you baked lots of pies and roasts and fruit and everything had to be on the table – for these big farm bees.


P          Did they still have threshing bees?


S          Threshing as well as the silo fillings…


P          Hmhm.


S          Those two big things – and so one had to be active in the (chuckle) kitchen.


P          Yes.  I can see that.


S          But when I was little, we had - as well as living with my parents and brother, we always had help – both inside help and outside help.  And course that wasn’t true during the War, but, then, before the War, that was the way farms operated. 


P          Did you have living accommodation for the help? – or did they come in by the day?


S          We had living accommodation.  We had two houses for hired help.  And also, space in the house for people who - when they lived in the house.  Hmhm.


P          When you were going to Secondary School, you probably missed out on some of the social events in town, but did you belong to things like 4-H and have activities of that sort at home?...


S          Oh, yes.   This…


P          …in – in the whole community


S          … the 4-H clubs were active in our community.  And the Women’s Institute…


P          Hmhm


S          …that sponsored the 4-H clubs.  And the Jr. Farmers – the Jr. Farmers were not active, but we did have activities that were um, …


P          Related to Jr. Farmer work?


S          Hmhm.  Hmhm.


P          Are there any other things that you would like to comment on – on life on a farm, before you came into Guelph?


S          We had a wonderful woodlot.


P          Yes.


S          And every spring it was filled with trilliums.  And not only did we enjoy it ourselves, but mother would often have a Trillium Tea, in which all of our church would participate…


P          Hmhm.


S          …and it was a beautiful time of year – in fact – the woodlot was a very important aspect of our farm…


P          And the woodlot still exists, doesn’t it?


S          Yes.  It does.  Hmhm. And it’s become a part of the city of Kitchener…


P          Hmhm


S          …and I guess the other things - that my parents were very outgoing people, and we often had guests.  And the University of Guelph would know that we were interested in people who farmed in other parts of the world…


P          Hmhm.


S          …and if they came for a tour, often they would come to our farm.  Perhaps a couple would stay over for a week or so.  


P          You became the sort of extension hospitality route for the University?  (Chuckle)


S          Well, not – not …


P          …at least for the College, I should say at that time.


S          … – it wasn’t very often, but on occasion.  And I remember those occasions.  My parents’ friends, too.  We often exchanged holidays – with my parents’ college friends…


P          Hmhm.


S          …and their children’d be the same age and – it was one year we’d go to their house for two weeks and then they’d come to our house for two weeks or a week, or whatever – and that was our - besides the Sunday afternoons, we had lots of relatives in Kitchener area, and Sunday was always a day of going out to dinner or be entertained…


P          Hmhm


S          … and my Father’s sisters had gone to Chicago to take nursing, so we always looked forward to their visit back to the farm too – when they came home from Chicago.


P          Your Father’s home had been in Kitchener, before he married – before he set up farming for himself?


S          Yes.  Hmhm.   And he had - it was the family farm.


P          Hmhm.


S          Been handed down from previous generations.


P          Can you remember, any particular one of those visitors to the farm? – someone from a foreign country?  Did they make any great impression on you at the time?


S          Oh, yes.  The - I remember the bus-load of German farmers. And I guess it was such a surprise that we had been so hospitable, then suddenly within six months we were at war.  And I think that sort of made quite an impression.  But after the War, we also had quite few people from Germany, because my Father spoke German.


P          Hmhm.


S          And, it was a pleasure to have students who planned to finish their agriculture at OAC and required a farm experience in Canada.  So we enjoyed those students as well.  Hmhm.


P          So you had quite a feeling for other countries.  You didn’t feel that being on a farm, you were isolated at all – you had perhaps a broader outlook than some other people.


S          Thanks to my parents.  I think my parents were very aware of their community in the larger sense…


P          Hmhm.


S          …and passed it on to us.  Hmhm.


P          Had it always been sort of taken for granted that you would go on to college or university?


S          Oh, I think so.  Hmhm.  And the fact that - I had hoped to take “Nutrition”.  And , at that time, Guelph had not …


P          They hadn’t established a degree course…


S          …established it after the – after the War.  In fact our year – Mac ’52 – was the first year to launch into a degree programme.


P          Hmhm.           


S          And, so, it was quite a relief to have that programme established at Guelph.  Hmhm.


P          Yes. So, there was no question, then of your selecting any other college.  You had always thought of coming here?


S          Oh, yes.  Because we’d always come back with our parents to Alumni Day.


P          Yes.


S          And um, …


P          The Campus was quite familiar to you?


S          Not only familiar, but very welcoming. 


P          (Chuckle)  You said that you had wanted to take “Nutrition”.  Had you studied Home Economics in school?  Did you have courses there?  Or what – what gave you the idea, of going into “Nutrition”?


S          I think the idea came from the 4-H clubs.  And, I didn’t take Home Ec at high school.  But the fact that I wanted to do it, the principal arranged that I could take a course in high school, so I’d have a better understanding of what the actual study of Home Economics might be.  Hmhm.


P          So, this was really, then, something that you had been building up to for some time?


S          Oh, yes.  Hmhm. Hmhm.


P          Can you remember how you felt when you received word that you had been accepted at Mac Institute?


S          Oh, delighted, of course.  (Chuckle)  And I guess living in residence was one of the great attractions.  To be able to live in – right at the University, and become acquainted with my classmates, and to do things with them as a group and individually and I think then, getting acquainted with the professors.  I think because the – it was the first year, and we were rather a trial group.  And knowing our professors, who were going to also try out new ways of presenting material that would qualify for the Senate approval of this programme.


P          Were there others from your school, or other friends who came over to Mac at the same time as you?


S          No.  No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there was any …


P          So, it was a matter of making new friends throughout?


S          Yes. Hmhm. Hmhm.


P          How was your roommate chosen?


S          I think it was by chance.  And it certainly– it couldn’t have been a nicer chance. 


P          (Chuckle)


S          I enjoyed my roommates very much.  Hmhm. Hmhm.


P          Can you remember getting ready to come to Mac?


S          Yes.  The finding single sheets and getting your name sewn on them, and all the things that went out to the laundry had your name on them, and I remember my aunts – my father’s sisters, who had just retired from nursing in Chicago had come back and – and they were very helpful getting all my names sewn on.


P          And then the big day came.  Being as close as Kitchener, your parents probably drove you over?


S          Yes.  And – and quite often we would go home for weekends, too.  And people who were not so close, my mother was very hospitable and often we could just phone and say, “I’d like to bring so-and-so over this weekend.  And that would just be fine.  And they’d come and pick us up and take us – bring us back.  Also, I remember – because we had our big orchard – often we had a bushel of  apples under my bed…


P          Oh, yes…


S          I think – I’m not sure that my roommates quite appreciated having the smell of apples, but… (chuckle)


P          It would make you popular though.  Hmm?


S          (Laughter)


P          And – at that time, what did you see as your goal?  You wanted to graduate of course.  But, what did you anticipate beyond – your college degree?


S          Well, I think it was in our third year, that Margaret McCready – Dr. Margaret McCready arrived at Guelph.  And she had just returned from Scotland.  And her connection with Sir John Boyd Ore, and the United Nations, gave us a lot to think about.  And she told the stories with such enthusiasm, and in our seminar classes.  we could explore more about the Quebec Conference and the fact that Roosevelt and Churchill had met in Quebec and the first organization, in fact was founded by a nutritionist - well known Sir John Boyd Ore.  And I think that was in the back of my mind…


P          Hmhm


S          …and I did want to get into rural work – and rather than choosing hospital dietetics, I chose “Rural Extension”.  Hmhm.


P          Now, can you remember your - you were quite familiar of course with the campus, but can you remember your first impressions – the first day you were on campus as a student?


S          I think going into the dining hall.  And this is still after the War, and we were still using the tin trays – the sectioned tin trays …


P          Which had been introduced…


S          … rather than plates.


P          These had been introduced when the Air Force was (inaudible)


S          Yes.  Hmhm.  So I remember that.  And I also remember that we were a very small group of women.  Our class was twenty-five.  And the hall was filled with all these men!   And when we first – when the girls first came in they were pounding on the trays …


P          (laughter)


S          … as we arrived – this sort of heralded the news that this small class of women would be on campus.  And I think that was quite a day that I’ll never forget.


P          (Chuckle) (long pause)  What did you think of the meals in the dining hall?


S          Fabulous.


P          (chuckle)


S          Really, the choice.  Of course we always had home grown food on the farm – and to come to Guelph and have jugs of milk sitting on the table, and as much ice cream as you wanted…


P          Hmhm


S          … and all the vegetables and - it was just a wonderful - fabulous food.  Hmhm.


P          Now, can you remember your first day in class?


S          (long pause)  I guess I was rather pleased to be an “S” – Steckle”, ’cause they arranged the seating plan as such that the “A’s” were at the front, and the – finally you got to the end of the number – the letter system – “S” was quite near the back. And I think this is a carry-over from high school, because we left the horse – I think I mentioned about the horse – at the Dairy and went straight on to high school – and I often felt that people in my city class wouldn’t appreciate where I’d come from – would be sniffing around –…


P          (Laughter)


S          … so I was always glad to be at the back.  So I think this is a carry-over from high school, that I was glad to be in the  alphabet – and sitting at the back.


P          Geting back now, to the residence –the accommodation – you had a double room.   You had a roommate and you – this would be a new experience to you – to be sharing a room with another girl.  Did you find that pleasant? – at times not so pleasant?


S          Well, I think it – I found it pleasant.  In those days, space was not so important, as it is now - at least it wasn’t for any of us, I don’t think – and to be able to share and talk things over, and to go to cases, come home and get to the dining hall and – and certainly, we all  had individual interests – in fact it was quite clear that I think each of us would choose what extracurricular activities we wanted to do – and I usually chose sports and things like that.  My roommates would often be in the Arts programmes and theatre and Libranni, and so we had other things to share and exchanging our experiences and…


P          Yes, I think you established a first in the area of sports, didn’t you?


S          Well, I certainly enjoyed it .  And …


P          I was thinking of your archery.


S          Oh, yes.  Yes. Hmhm.  I had not even heard of it before I got to Guelph, and then to be able to train under coaches and do quite well in Inter-varsity teams.  Yes, it was quite an experience…


P          I think that was - was it not the first occasion when girls had participated in Archery?


S          Yes.  And also, on Inter-varsity teams …


P          Yes…


S          .. on a National basis.  Hmhm.   And so - that was quite a new experience, too.  Hmhm


P          And your team did qualify?  You …


S          Yes.  We did.  Hmhm.


P          Not only qualified…


S          …but won the National event…


P          Yes.


S          …and in fact I had – was honoured by the University – not too long ago, in connection with the Hall of Fame…


P          Hmhm.


S          …and it was a wonderful experience, to have that opportunity here.


P          So, your attention then, was more often in the sports activities, than in lectures, or plays, or anything of that kind?  But you probably enjoyed attending those?


S          Oh, yes.  I attended.  I remember the debating society – although I never participated as a debater, I was certainly out to support our candidate.


P          Hm.


S          And was very active in - I suppose you’d call it local government – the students’ council…


P          Yes.


S          …and I enjoyed being on Students’ Council …


P          Yes.


S          …both for Mac and for the College Council.  Hmhm.


P          Now then, tell me something about your professors.  Can you – were there any who (inaudible) particularly interesting impression on you?  - either for their personality, eccentricities,  academic prowess..


S          (Chuckle)  Well, yeh – I think I mentioned Margaret McCready…


P          Yes.


S          …earlier.  Hmhm.  And I think we were very fortunate to have someone like Dr. McCready come to the University of Guelph, and to establish the reputation for a university programme that was highly recognized across Canada, and the people on staff - oh, they were – many of them had been on staff during the War – the military during the War.  And to have you know, the experience that, in terms of getting a lot of people through programmes on a – a well constructed syllabus, and so, the management – I was very impressed with the management of the courses.  And, in fact all our staff had that ability to not only teach the theory, but to implement it, in practical management techniques.  And I particularly enjoyed that… and I think we particularly enjoyed the programs that were the curriculum in English.  Not only did we study literature, but we also had experience in writing –both in the technical field and in the more social aspects of writing.  And I’m sure that this was a very - I remembered that particularly and – and what an opportunity it was. Because the colleges – the three colleges, in those days were connected with the University of Toronto, we also had lecturers - or professors who came from the University of Toronto.  And in the social sciences, to build and start a foundation the social sciences, I remember having professors come from the University of Toronto.  And we felt privileged to have that opportunity. 


P          Did you have any classes in radio presentation?  Public speaking? – that kind of thing?


S          Yes, we did.  I don’t think it was in radio, I think it was more in public speaking. And those opportunities not only in our English classes, but in our technical courses - to make presentations, to the public.  And if I remember particularly, -giving a foods demonstration.  And doing some cooking as well as telling the theory……and being so involved in the telling the theory, I’d forgotten about the blender going round …and round and suddenly, things were spilling out over the audience.  That was a – that was (chuckle) an occasion to remember.


P          (Laughter) Yes I’m sure.  Can you remember any other incidents, amusing or otherwise, tragic? – during your (chuckle) schooldays?   I should say college days, shouldn’t I?


S          Hmhm.  Well, I think that, because the college was a relatively small college in those days, one got to know everyone on campus, and one got acquainted with the professors and – and students of every college.  And one felt quite, you know – connected.  I do remember Professor Scofield from the College of Veterinary Medicine.  And he was very supportive of the Student Christian Movement.  And he would bring us stories of his experiences in China.  And then would invite us over for Sunday evening.  In fact this – this seemed to be a –uh, um, - the professors often would invite students for Sunday evening.  And, I think we all enjoyed that very much, and having opportunity to know one’s professors as friends, as well as, authority figures.


P          Yes.  Then, can you remember your graduation day?


S          Hm.  Yeah.  Well, excitement– uh, we all had an opportunity to bring our parents and I think that was the sort of total amount of people that one could invite.  So, we were all looking forward to, you know, introducing our friends to our parents.  And so it was quite an occasion.  I remember my graduation dress.  I decided that I would be quite creative.  And my mother said that I could have her “pussy willow” silk, wedding dress.  And so I took on the challenge of remodeling it for my graduation day.  So that was rather special – that part of the uh…


P          Did you have the classes in sewing and clothing construction?


S          Yes.  Hmhm.  And Miss Bray was our professor in clothing and clothing construction.  And, she was a wonderful person.  She is a wonderful person.  She took such a personal interest in all of us, in terms of our shape and our colouring, and what would suit and what wouldn’t suit.  And, some of us were better than others, so I don’t think I was a very fine seamstress, but, in spite of that she was still interested.


P          Hm. Um, backing up a little bit did you have any field trips of interest – when you were a student at Mac?


S          Yes.  Particularly, I chose the Foods and Nutrition option.  And a number of field trips were organized, both to the food industry, and to the food service.  And visiting Toronto, I remember having a dinner in the Eaton’s College Street……and um,…


P          …the Acadian Court?


S          … the Acadian…


P          …no, the Georgian Room.


S          …the Georgian Room.  Yes. ‘Cause that was Simpson’s wasn’t it?  Hmhm.  Then also visiting (long pause) an ethnic uh, well a Chinese restaurant – and comparing food service in – in two different cultural backgrounds. And visiting the packing houses in Toronto.  And the ROM.  We visited the Royal Ontario Museum, too.  And…


P          That – that would be in connection with Art Histroy…


S          Art history.  Hmhm.


P          Uh, was Professor Couling ……teaching…


S          That - in fact that happened, I suppose in our third or fourth year.  He had just come on staff, and to have that opportunity to understand more about the theory and – and enjoyment of art.  And he was such an enthusiastic artist himself, that it – it passed on to the rest of us. Hm.


P          Now the actual graduation ceremony.  What do remember of it?  Were you impressed?  Or were you just too excited for it to even register?


S          I guess one always – when one goes through such a – the ceremony, one’s first thought is to do what is expected.  And I remember the kneeling and being caped……And but I certainly don’t remember the address of the day.  Uh, that was uh, out of my “ken” that day.  I think I was too  …excited about the detail of what was happening.  Hm.


P          Was Professor Mulak, uh, was Dr. Mulak still the Chancellor at that time?


S          That’s one I don’t remember.


P          No.


S          Would he be at that time?


P          I don’t know.  I can’t remember, either.  Certainly he was for a great many years.


S          Well, I remember you.  I remember you.


P          … I made more impression, than the – than the person who gave the graduation address?


S          Very much so…..Very much so, because to enter the Library, and – and be able to, find things and – and be helped to select the readings and texts that were available, and would lead up to our interests was certainly a very big part of …


P          Well, that’s interesting, Jean, because I think most of the Mac girls used Massey library very little.  You had your own small library in Macdonald Institute, of books relating to your particular subjects, and I think that, at least it was my impression, that most of the students, um, only came very occasionally to Massey.


S          Well, perhaps -.  I wonder that we – because I read– uh, Massey had left much more – in fact I’d forgotten that we had our own library, until you mentioned it… Because I’d – I’d rather remembered Massey as our library.


P          Yes.


S          And um, …


P          Well, certainly things have changed a lot, in the library world on campus.


S          Hmhm


P          Now, after graduation had you, before you graduated, already determined on employment?


S          In fact, the year before.  In - when I finished third year, I had applied to the Department of Agriculture to work as a summer student, in the extension service.  And, I was fortunate enough, with some of my colleagues, to have a summer job, with the Women’s Institute Branch, of the Department of Agriculture, it was called, in those days. And so having had that summer experience, I knew that was what I wanted to do.  And it was just a matter of making sure that I did the right things, in order to be selected the following year.


P          Did you start in right away, or did you take some time to enjoy yourself before (chuckle) you got into really serious work.


S          No. I think we went right away, because we uh, I remember that those of us who were taken on staff that year, we went to  Kemptville – just outside of Ottawa for a two week briefing and training period.  And that stands out in my mind, because we all were given departmental cars to go with our job.  And the tragedy of that uh, training program was - we’d just received our cars, and a terrible hail storm, with huge hail stones and so here were our nice cars all dented with the hail. 


P          (Chuckle) So you were then Home Economists with the Department of Agriculture.  And what did your work involve?


S          I was posted to Bruce and Huron Counties and lived in Walkerton.  Most of the work was with the 4-H clubs and becoming acquainted with the voluntary leaders, who were responsible for each of the clubs.  And helping to organize training programs for the particular sessions that would be held that season.  And we would have fall season programs, spring season and summer season.  And the department had experts out of the headquarters – head office in Toronto, and in order to get the people scheduled for your programs, and working with the local Ag. Rep to sponsor these courses.  I guess the other thing was working with the Junior Farmers’ Association, and I particularly enjoyed that, in the counties that I was, working in, and the fall fairs, then in the spring with the Women’s Institute Annual Meetings, and an opportunity to say thank you to the number of people who had served as voluntary leaders, and traveling quite a bit, not only in your own county, but traveling to help your neighbours, and then having the neighbours come and help you.  And so, this year we had a reunion of people who had worked with the Department of Agriculture, in those days before the transformation of OMAF, and to be able to meet at Alumni House, with all the other women who had worked in the Women’s Institute Branch- and a wonderful group of people.  I just – uh, hearing the variety of things that not only had they done in their work with the department, but have done in their work in their own communities.


P          Hm.  Yes.  I’m sure that that type of work would instill an interest in community work.  Now, how long did you remain in that position?


S          Not very long. Two years.  And – and I became quite interested in some of the programs that the Ag. Rep. in our area had started.  And he started a lot of “kitchen meetings”, with farm families, and much more in agricultural management and household management, and related to the basic crops that were grown in that community.  And, so I became interested in doing graduate studies, and found that I could do graduate studies at Cornell University.  And so with my acceptance at Cornell, I started graduate studies in – I guess it was two years after I left Guelph.


P          Hmhm. So you acquired a Masters’ Degree, then, from…


S          From Cornell.  Hmhm.


P          …and I know that later you went on to do further graduate work. 


S          That was at the um, Reading University in um…


P          In England.


S          …in England. Hmhm.  I was working in West Africa, with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and I had met some of the professors from the University of Reading in work with our - particular projects.  And it was through work with these colleagues that I learned of the programs in England.  Hmhm.


P          Hmhm.  And having acquired your Master’s from Cornell, did you come back, then to OMAF?


S          No I didn’t.  I had an opportunity to work in Newfoundland.  They didn’t have programs in the Department of Agriculture, but they had programs in Adult Education, that were offering 4-H to rural children – children in the out-ports.  And it was through the Adult Education program, directed by Dr. O’Neill – Dr Florence O’Neill, and I had the opportunity of working with her.  She was a woman from Newfoundland, who had done her doctoral degree at Columbia, and had a vision of the sorts of things that could be available to rural children in Newfoundland.  And I forget how I happened to hear about it, but it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Hm.


P          Did you travel by boat?  You wouldn’t have overland travel, there, though would you?


S          No. … but the trains – the “Newfie Bullet” as it was called (chuckle)…


P          Yes.  The one they had to tie down … on the stormy days.


S          Stormy days. Exactly. (Laughter)  But I did take a car.  I worked on the west coast, and there were roads on certain parts of the west coast.  And so I could use the car in those parts and then the other parts I would go by train.  Hm. Hm.  And so I didn’t go by the east coast.  I think there more travel by boat.


P          I see…


S          But, then at the west coast, you could either travel by train or by car.  Hmhm.


P          Um, what were your impressions of the situation in Newfoundland, when you first arrived there?


S          I think it was -- I didn’t realize that all Canadians hadn’t had the opportunity of the – of the communities and schools that we had in Ontario.


P          Of course, 1952 would be – no it - it was a little later than that – a few years later than that, but Newfoundland had not been in Confederation very long then?


S          No it was ’48 they joined Confederation – they joined Canada in1948.  So, there was still  a lot of – of talk of – of you know  - “the Mainland”,…and “people from the mainland” and - well the wonderful access to the Eaton’s catalogue, and the whole social structure, having benefits – the “Old Age” benefits and “Children’s Allowances” and things like that, that had never been in Newfoundland before.  And so there was still a lot of talk about that, because all these changes had been – were quite recent, and there was still a lot of talk about it.  And I remember – listening in communities to decide whether it was the debates in the schools would be, “Is it more valuable to have electricity or a road?”  And the thinking roads were more important, because at least you could come and go if you wanted a doctor, and electricity well you could wait for that.


P          - hm.  The very basics.  Your work there was with adults or teenagers or everybody?  (Chuckle)


S          The (long pause) the main core was working with the young people in a community, but to work with young people in a community you need teachers, and adults to give leadership.  So, the training programs and – and courses for the community leaders were a big part of running the 4-H program.  And so through that program I met many of the parents and local leaders.  And I worked with them.  Some of the leaders were remarkable – had remarkable memories – not having had experiences and – in going to school themselves, many of them did not read or write.  And we had prepared all our manuals as you know the – the – the guidelines in – in um,… so it……so it was important, I discovered, to go over the manuals, when we met with the leaders, and it was absolutely remarkable, that people could remember what was on a page, and what  was to be covered in certain periods of – before quote, “Achievement Day”.  And of course if a person didn’t read or write, they usually chose a partner to come with them, who was literate.  And, but, this was certainly not something that people would talk about, because they were great – they were leaders in their community, and they didn’t lack ability, but they had lacked the opportunity of going to school in earlier days.


P          - Hm. Did you feel that in general, the people were eager to learn?


S          - Yes.  I think they were eager to learn, and (long pause) oh, there’s no doubt.  They were hungry – hungry to learn.  And it certainly um, uh, opportunities either through the church, or through the community education programs such as the Adult Education Program, offering the 4-H programs, or local co-ops, farm associations, people were hungry to take part in things like that, that could benefit them, as people, and also benefit their children.


P          Perhaps I have a wrong impression of Newfoundland, but it seems to me that agriculture is not one of the most important, industries.


S          -No. (Chuckle) I think you’re quite right.  It’s more lumber – cutting pulp wood – and fishing.  And also, we had mines in our area – the asbestos, and the lime, and um, but basically it was pulp wood – the big industry was pulp wood – also - fishing expeditions, the sport fishermen, and running little hotels that were set up for sportsmen, and the salmon fishing and the moose hunting.  And the tourist industry was important too.  Hm.


P          But you felt that there was a sufficiently large – uh, sufficient interest in agriculture, to make your work worthwhile?


S          Well, actually we – we had uh, instead of having clubs in agriculture, we had clubs in forestry…


P          Hmhm


S          …and we had clubs in lobster, fishing and – and cooking to go into the woods. 


P          Yes.  That would be interesting.


S          …we adapted programs from the “Mainland” …… to address the skills and expertise of the leaders in the community.  And (long pause) I remember one -  we’re talking one of the foods and nutrition programs, and most of the children in that club were boys, because they wanted to know how to cook when they went into the woods by themselves, or with other men.  And of course I was talking about the balance of meat and vegetables, and things like that, and one little boy said, “Mam, we eats what we grows.”


P          (Chuckle) Very basic.


S          Indeed.  Hm.


P          Um, what was your next move? - After Newfoundland?


S          The next move, again through the National 4-H Program in Canada - Mr. Moore.  I learned that – and through the Adult Education Program of Canada um, Robie Kidd – I learned of the openings with the United Nations.  And so I went directly from Newfoundland to West Africa with the Food and Agricultural Association.  But, I’m most grateful to these leaders in the Canadian Programs, who recognized that a young woman in those days, who had enjoyed and been successful – relatively successful in programs in Newfoundland, could probably adapt to the Third World, and it was through them, that I learned that these openings existed, and had their support. Hm.


P          You would have some time in FAO and (inaudible) of course you said you went directly - you – you didn’t mean that literally?  (Chuckle)


S          Not – no not direct – not directly, because I did have a briefing session in Rome, and Dr. Elde Rob, was my field officer, and she had come directly to FAO from Smith, and certainly it was a privilege to work with a woman like Dr. Rob.  The other person who was the head of the, the total program, was a Canadian, Dr. Margaret Hawkins.   And she not only was my director, but we became great friends over the years.  Hm.


P          Which countries or country did you go to in Africa?


S          Ghana was the first country that I worked in – in West Africa.  It was known by me as the “Gold Coast”, and not until I got out my recent geography, was – did I know that it had been changed from the “Gold Coast” to “Ghana”.  In fact I was with the first group of the United Nations after independence, and independence was achieved in 1957, and I went to Ghana in 1958. So, that – that was in the very early stages of … of the…the President of that time was Dr. Kwami Ankruma. The program that I was working in – again, was an extension-type program, training leaders for community development.  And women had been selected from their districts where they knew – already knew the language and customs of the area – had graduated from middle school, and were employed by the district to take a short course – I think we offered a three month course and six month course in community organization.  And basically, technology that would help the family – and that was in child health, and nutrition, and health.


P          What – what was your place of work?  Where were you established, to give these courses?


S          - Oh, someplace in the countryside.  My first countryside training centre was a castle – a castle had been used for the slave trade, and had been set up as a residential course – a residential training program.  And this right on the coast, about oh, not too far – about three hours drive from the capital.  And we didn’t have any of the amenities of electricity or water or things like that, but it was all arranged.


P          Your learning to adapt in Newfoundland would come in very handy?


S          Oh, it did, indeed…it did, indeed.  And it was a wonderful opportunity too, to  become acquainted with the local culture, because of course, the women who came, were going to be leaders in their own area, and could tell me what was appropriate and wasn’t appropriate.  And so I learned a lot from these women who had come in for the training program. Hmhm.


P          Did you feel that – after a few months– did you feel that the program was achieving something – that it was being successful?


S          - Oh, yes.  There is no doubt about it.  Uh, the enthusiasm for communities to develop and to have better opportunities for their children, either through – whatever program.


P          You were speaking Jean, about child health in your work in Ghana?


S          - Yes.  One of the most serious um, childhood diseases was Kwashiokor.  Kwashiokor - a Ghanaian word for protein/Calorie malnutrition.  And this had been identified by a famous British pediatrician, Dr Cecilie Williams - And the opportunity to have more protein in the diet of children, when they stopped taking breast milk, and were weaned for the next child.  And so working with the communities, it was possible to find out what the good sources of protein that were available in the community, that would be acceptable for children.  And also, to understand that this was a nutrition problem, and was not a social problem.  Kwashiokor, literally meant the “the jealousy of the second – the uh, the first child of the new baby”


P          Yes.


S          And it wasn’t the jealousy of the child for the new baby, it was a matter of well it probably was too,  but the fact that it there wasn’t enough milk for both of them…and so it was deprived of milk and that there wasn’t another source of protein in the household.  And so having – and knowing that, and discussing this with the leaders of the community, it was possible to find alternative sources of protein that could be used in the diet.  And so this was quite effective – I think.  And of course, one had to find measurements that would be well known, and appreciated in the community in terms of success for, growth, and as a result of using more protein.  And one of the things that was recognized in the communities that I worked in, was the closing of the fontanel, the bones on the skull.  And so, when a child had a well balanced diet, with a lot of protein in it, this was recognized immediately, and the mothers would say, you know, that this child’s fontanel had healed, or grown, and this was an indicator of growth, and of success.  And the sources of protein were legumes – the beans –groundnuts, rice, all vegetable proteins, but again, being a scientist, I knew that different amino acids, from the legumes, grain, legumes and nuts, could be balanced in a way to provide a total protein, which would enhance growth. And I worked with research centres on this.  I worked with the University of London - Um, so, that they could help me, because they had done quite a bit of work during the colonial era, on the basic food crops of the countries.  And they knew the amino acid profile of these foods. And so by working with them, we were able to make combinations that would fit into the community, and also achieve a higher nutritional status… for children. Hm.


P          It was while you were in Ghana was it, that you went back to Reading?


S          - No.  This was some years later.  It wasn’t until I had been with the program in Sierra Leone, for six years.


P          Now wait a minute.  We are in Ghana…When – when did we get to Sierra Leone? 


S          - um, two years later.  I was asked by the government of Sierra Leone to come and help them set up a similar program. And so I helped with the training of community leaders in the things that women were interested in. 


P          Were the problems similar there, to those in Ghana?


S          - Uh, similar problems, but different methods of coping.  And UNICEF gave us a lot of help there, because people in Sierra Leone did not have as many opportunities as people in Ghana had for coming together.  And so the UNICEF organized support for workshops and training programs and helping the field staff with mobility – having vehicles to help the field staff get around better.  And so after I was with the program in Sierra Leone, oh, I guess the FAO headquarters wanted more leadership in this aspect of rural development.  I think Dr. Hawkins had a great vision of what people could do for themselves, through self-help programs, and felt that we needed to have this part of the program strengthened.  So, I was invited to come to Rome to head up that program in FAO.  And it was after I had been there for several years, that the University of Ghana came to FAO, and said, “We would like to start a university program.” And they, of course, any organization such as a FAO, or university must plan two or three years in advance …and yet they wanted to do what they already had students, who had enrolled.  So, through the Ford Foundation, and Dr. Virginia Cutler, with the Ford Foundation and she needed staff immediately.  And so, I took leave of absence from FAO to join Dr. Cutler at the University of Ghana.  And at the same time, arranged with the University of Reading, to register there, for the program and they recognized a lot of my courses from Cornell as a preliminary requirements for the doctoral program at Reading.  And so, in fact I only spent I guess two terms, in doing course work at the University of Reading before I joined Dr. Cutler at the University of Ghana.


P          What was you dissertation?


S          It was on Food Utilization Patterns under Different Socioeconomic Conditions. And um, of course it was great – I had great opportunities, ‘cause there were so many things happening I Ghana.


P          Yes.  Yes.


S          And we had the University.  So I was teaching in the University, and during the summer, the students were able to work with me in collecting data.  And so we chose communities where things were happening – where the Aquasamble Dam had just been built, and textile factories launched with the Chinese.  And agricultural programs with the Americans, and new varieties from Erie and Ikrosat.  And so we chose these villages…and compared their lifestyle as a result of these new socioeconomic developments in the country. And so we had this opportunity and – chose the same cultural group – the Evey… from the Volta Region.  And all these things were available, and then we just compared the different economic aspects based on the same culture.


P          - Hmhm.


S          And I also discovered that Barbara Ward, a famous British economist, had done studies in some of these communities, um, you know a quarter of century earlier, so it was wonderful, to discover that, and have an opportunity comparing her data with the data twenty-five years later. 


P          Yes.  It would be very useful. So, how long then – you – you didn’t always stay with FAO? 


S          - No. No.  Shortly after that, Canada was establishing more international programs. The International Development Research Centre was established in 1970, I think.  And our Prime Minister at that time, Lester Pearson, was anxious to offer research support to universities and research centres of the third world.  And rather than bringing people to Canada, his philosophy was, it was more important to have people establish the type of research that they felt was most important in their country…… and use the expertise that was necessary, and to form an organization of that nature.  And so, it was a great vision I think, on the part of our statesman.  And well he had that vision, not only for peace but, also for outreach and uh, recognizing the dignity of doing things for yourself, rather than having things done for you.  So, I worked then – I came back to Canada then to work with the International Research Centre in Ottawa.  And it grew very quickly, and they required people for establishing centres in various parts of the world.  And Africa was one of the first to receive support for establishing an IRDC Centre in Africa.  And I was one of the people chosen to help set up the African Regional Office in Dahkar – in Senegal        …and the director of the program was Tony Price.  And I worked on the Food and Agriculture aspect of that program. 


P          Then you did come back again to Canada…


S          Yes….  In 1976, I returned to Canada.  And I was pleased to be here as my parents came into their senior years.  And I had an opportunity of working with the government of Canada – Health and Welfare Canada – in the Indian and Northern Health Program.  And having had a such experience, in traveling and as I had had, it really was almost as if it were a natural to have an opportunity then to work with the Indian and Northern Health Program with Health and Welfare Canada.


P          You did a good deal of field work in connection with that, too, of course.


S          - Um, probably not as much as I had in any of the other programs.  We hired staff in each province.  And so I took an active role in selecting staff in each province, and working with them and establishing their network with the communities with the Community Health Representatives and the community nurses.  And again, we would offer training programs, and resource materials that would help the people in the communities, and we had quite a small staff –we had oh, at the most fifteen people across the country. And so we would decide how we would use our limited resources best together, and worked with local committees, to determine, well, again, problems with child health were one of the priorities again on the reserves in Canada.  And the other common problem across Canada was diabetes in adults.  And we found that diabetes was a major problem and again the impact of nutrition on that - not only the prevention, but also the recovery and maintenance …


P          How much of this do you think was dependant on the change of food habits – the change from the hunting and fishing, and the diet of the aboriginals, changing to manufactured foods and – and this sort of thing?  Do you think that was an influence on the increase in diabetes?


S          Oh, there’s a clear relationship.  In fact the prevalence of diabetes in north to south, uh, the southern communities along the border, along the sixtieth parallel, there’s much more diabetes in the southern communities that related to the urban contact, than people who still lived on an aboriginal diet.  And so there’s no doubt that that prevalence is directly related to the change …


P          Do you think that we have created the problem?  And therefore it’s our duty to fix it?


S          I suppose (chuckle) basically, yes. (laughter) And so, I’m pleased – I’m pleased – I know that Dr. Susan Evers, here at the University of Guelph, is taking a major role in this.  She had done some work on this when she worked at the University of Western Ontario.   And so, this – this is a major concern and  research funds are now being made available to get to the bottom of what’s possible to change, and how people themselves can recognize what has happened, and do something about it themselves.


P          Can you compare your feelings about your work in Africa with your work in Northern Canada?  Do you feel that there was similar, certainly not the same, but similar problems, requiring similar treatments?


S          Certainly the problems were – are –different, and the solutions are different.  But, if you go right back to the theory, the basic you know, philosophy – I think there are a lot of parallels.  And, in fact I was quite excited during a conference that was held in November, this year, by the Aboriginal people of not only Canada, but of the, in fact the hemisphere, but coming together to see how they might solve some of their problems.  And thinking that they might establish their own international development centre for Aboriginal people, and helping people to help themselves.  And I guess that’s basically what it all relates to, is an understanding of what has happened, and what is possible to do, and then apply it – apply the methods according to the climate, and the resources and other cultural aspects that relate to a community or a tribe.  And– this has to be done by people themselves, and have the opportunity of becoming involved. 


P          Do you think then, that self government for Aboriginals is desirable – necessary?


S          Oh, I think it is necessary.  And I’m not quite sure of – how it’s interpreted, but if it’s – again in principle, I think it’s very essential. 


P          Well, throughout your activities, you have received, I know, a number of honours.  You mentioned being enrolled in the Hall of Fame, the Athletics Hall of Fame, here at the University of Guelph, and I think you were also named an Alumnus of Honour.  Perhaps there are other events that I am not aware of – other honours that you have received?


S          I’m not sure…


P          Well, I think that certainly - you must have a great feeling of achievement.


S          - Yes.  I think so.  If I’d look back and said, “Would I do it differently?”  I don’t – I think that I – you know –I would say, “No.  I’ve had those experiences and opportunities, to have worked in different fields.  And even now the fact that I’ve had the opportunity of going back to my roots – with the inheritance of the homestead, and having…


P          Yes. That’s something that I want you to talk about a little more, but, perhaps…… a little later.  You have, I think, contributed to the Arts possessions of the University.  You presented a sculpture of your Mother.  Would you like to speak about that?


S          - Oh, yes.  That was – on the occasion of the anniversary – the Centennial Anniversary of the University of Guelph.  And - um,..


P          Wait a minute – of the OAC.


S          - of OAC.  Yes. A Centennial Anniversary of OAC    …And knowing that my Mother, well, not only my Mother, but other members of the family had been closely connected with OAC and a woman that I had  known very well, in Rome, - her husband was a famous sculptor, in Japan.  And because of our friendship, agreed that he would do, from a photograph, a sculpture of Mother carrying a basket of apples on her arm.  And he knew that if it were to be, - he wondered why a woman – why I’d want it – a sculpture done of a woman in overalls with a basket of apples – but he knew that if it was great dignity if it was going to be, you know, presented to the  University.  And so I think he did a very, very sensitive representation of a – a woman enjoying agriculture and also in a leadership role.


P          Yes. Then I think you have also, contributed to a collection of sculptures, behind the Nutrition Building.


S          - Oh, yes.  Aren’t they whimsical and delightful?  Yes.  These were a farm family – a sculpted farm family, from artifacts taken from the farm – wagon wheels, horse-shoes, - special equipment – special hand tools that had been hand-crafted and the vision of that, I guess the original thinking was that it’d be a shame to have these things disappear, without forming some artistic contribution.  And I discussed this with Joseph Drenters, who is a well known artist in the Guelph area and Rockwood.  And at first he didn’t want to be labeled a whimsical artist, and so it took several years, to realize a common objective.  And, so with his talent he – he did put together a piece which is actually four figures……and I think it was very, very beautifully done -Very whimsical.


P          Yes.  Now.  Since, have you retired?



S          - (Laughter) Yes. Yes. I have retired, but I still feel very much a part of the Aboriginal Community in Canada, and I suppose that’s another aspect of retiring, in Canada, that one can live in an ongoing experience with the Aboriginal people of Canada, as they achieve their dreams.  And so I think one of the things that I speak of honours – one of the greatest honours, I think I could have, on my retirement, was an Indian Feast.  And this took place in the Holiday Inn in Ottawa.  But, the women from the reserves brought the food to the Holiday Inn, and we dined on oh, every food that you could think of……um, the moose and rabbit and white fish, and sturgeon and …


P          Sounds like a high protein diet.


S          - Very high protein diet.  (Laughter)  But, that was quite a surprise, and quite an honour, to be honoured by, in fact, it was the “Assembly of First Nations”.  And– it…….


P          So, this was people representative – all across the country?


S          - Yes. And as you know, there’s always a great antagonism between government and the Aboriginal government and always, you know, and to be actually employed by the government and honoured by the “Assembly of First Nations”  ….to me was one of the greatest honours I’ve ever had.  So, I do look forward to keeping contact with the native people of Canada as they achieve their – their dreams. 


P          Now, you did mention your Foundation.  Tell us about it.


S          - Oh.  The J. Steckle Heritage Homestead.  Yes, in 1989, we formed a um,,.. (recorder noises)


P          - non-profit charitable Foundation. (recorder noises.)



NOTE:  Because of my carelessness, the remainder of this interview was not recorded.  I apologize for this.  However, Jean has approved the following resume of what should have been included on this tape.


Since her retirement, Jean has been applying her experience and knowledge of extension education, to this Foundation.  Its purpose is to acquaint urban young people and immigrants with the methods of farm and garden crop production in Ontario.  A portion of the original Steckle Homestead has been assigned to the work of the Foundation.  There each participant, with instruction and supervision enjoys a “hands on” experience from seeding to harvest.  At present, the project includes young people from the City of Kitchener, and a group of immigrant farmers from Central America who have settled in the Kitchener area.

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