ALUMNI- IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
J.E. Moles, OAC '36
Interviewed by Art Grubbe
G This an interview with J.E. Johnny Moles of the Ontario Agricultural
College, class of 1936, conducted by Arthur Grubbe on March 30,1993 for
the University of Guelph Association and the Alumni-in-Action Committee.
Well, Johnny, I wasn't able to get much spicy information about you from
the Libranni of your graduating year, it did indicate you were from Toronto.
M Well, I was from Toronto when I went to the O.A.C. but I was born in
Collingwood. I don't know whether it was on Maple Street or Birch Street.
If anybody's familiar with Collingwood, they'll know that those streets are
all named after trees. After I was about two years old we moved to Toronto
and lived in the area along St. Clair and Christie Street. My early schooling
was done at... in the public school which was in York County at Wallington
which was about half a mile above where we lived in the township which was
really the city which we lived in.
G And you had to walk that half mile?
M You bet your life. Both ways! When we were about twelve years old, my
twin brother and I were sent to Ridley College, over in St. Catharines, at a
boarding school. And this is where we got our Public School education up
until the entrance to High School. It was an experience that one gets and not
too many get it. I think it was probably money well spent by my father but I
was not a student and I wasn't a scholar so I wasn't going anywhere in the
academic world. My brother was different. My twin brother ... And when
we came back and the depression hit in 1929, we were back home, I was 16
years old and I had to make a decision as to what I was going to do. There
were two things. I could either go on the lakes; I had some time sailing. But
the boats were tied up, there was no grain movement. The farmers were
producing grain but nobody was buying it. SO, I decided that I would go...
my father and I decided that I would go to the Ontario Agricultural College
in Guelph. We went up to see Dr. Christie at that point in time and Archie
Porter who was the Registrar. And they said I was pretty young to be
thrown into college. However, I would be 17 in October and the college
started in September. They asked me what background I had in farming or
agriculture, and during those first 16 years, pretty near all of them, we spent
a month or a month and a half on my grandfather's farm at the Batteaux
which was just outside of Collingwood on the sixth line, which is the line that
runs up from Stayner, and in from that one. I also had an uncle that was
farming, and he was by the name of Simpson and he farmed between
Elmvale and Wyevale . So between those two places, we were probably on
the farm dealing with agriculture, and cattle, horses and sheep, because my
uncle had a flock of sheep, about between seven and eight weeks out of the
G I suppose we might try to establish what were the factors that actually did
influence to go to O.A.C. You were certainly in that position of having to do
something or other.
M Well, I was always interested in agriculture. I enjoyed my days on the farm
at my uncle and my cousins up at Collingwood. I found the life pleasant and
interesting. There was always the thought that, knowing the depression was
on and there was a lot of people standing on the kerb, at least if you were
farming, you could eat. And so, that and the fact that I loved livestock - all
kinds of livestock - and that I guess if you get right down to the nitty gritties
I had enough qualifications to get in. That's one of the main things. So I
entered and, of course, I was in the two-year course. In 1932, I got my
diploma, which wasn't hard to get because everything we did in those two
years related directly to the farm. We dealt with the crops and the livestock
and the horses and the hogs and the staff made up of Steckley and Raithby
and Staples and Stilliwell were all people that could implant in our minds the
activity and the value of good livestock and the breeding of good livestock.
So, it was no problem to get that diploma. I then applied to go back as an
intermediate year, as it was known in those years, and I guess like everybody
else 19 -20 years old the world was sort of a rosy place and I'm afraid that
I've nobody to blame but myself - I didn't do much in the way of studying.
So, I had to repeat. And so instead of graduating with the class in 1935, I
graduated with the class of 1936. I did manage to get through the
intermediate year and go on, and from there on, once I left the intermediate
year, I had no problems.
G Let's get back to entering the college in the diploma year. Tell me your
initiation experiences, as it affected you, and did it sewe any useful purpose?
M Well, I guess you gotta say I've mentioned earlier that I had been at Ridley,
and we lived in dormitories, so you had to get along with other people. And
when I registered, of course they were in the process of tearing Johnson Hall
down. So, 14 of us were put up above old Hort. all in beds along the row,
you'd think you were either in an armoury or a baby's crib, or some damned
thing. And my bed companion next to me was Romeo La Rue, the Ag Rep.
And then there was people from all of the options in there, and our dean at
that time was Spike Galbraith and a chap by the name of Hughes who was a
school teacher, I believe, ended up down at Leamington or somewhere down
in there. Anyway, Dr. Christie's ofice was below us, and so was Archie
Porter's. So you can imagine when the raids were made on us for initiation
that there was a great ruckus up on our floor. Not only that there happened
to be, I suppose you could say some leaky taps, and there was a little water
around. I recall one time we were having a water fight up there with those
big hoses from the chemistry lab and we used to let them expand to about an
inch and half and that gave a lot of pressure. And we were soaking Spike
Galbraith and the water was running right down into Dr. Christie's office.
So, we paid for that dearly because Spike had a lot of things ....
G When you say Spike now you mean the...?
M Galbraith the economist. Right. Comes from Elgin County.
M Yes, well, he didn't have much sense of humour. At least, we didn't think he
did at that time. But the initiation was rugged in those days, as you -
probably a lot of us will remember. We had to get blackened and greased
and a lot of grease painting and we had to go through the knees and in all
kinds of weather and at night and eariy in the morning and we were taken up
- the last thing we did, we were taken out in truck loads out into the country
blindfolded and we had to find our way back Well now, of course,
everybody cheated, they looked out onto the blindfolds but it was still
difficult to pick up landmarks so some of the guys didn't get back in time for
breakfast, they were out all night. But it was good - I think it was a good
thing. Two years before that they'd had that great problem with that fellow
from -- I think it was Jamaica, or South Africa. They'd taken him down in
the pig crate into the square and I think that was all done a little too far.
But anyway, we still carried it out, and we carried it out on the years behind
us, so I mean it didn't make a difference. And then we had the fight after two
years, that'd be the sophomores and the incoming class and that was a real
heyrube - you could end up with a black eye if you weren't very fortunate.
But it was good ...
G You're really saying then that maybe the initiation as it was to you was
useful and good.
M I was used to having to agree to a whole group of people having gone to a
boarding school. But a lot of my room mates up there in old Hort , and a lot
of our class mates had never been away from the farm more than to go into
town. And it was a real shocker I'm sure for some of them to see human
beings act like that but when it was all over they got the year - the year 1934 - altogether as a group and from there on we functioned as a year, we did
things as a year, and we'd talk about Conversat and College Royal, all of
these things. And the start of that was by having an initiation that made
everybody realize that they were part of a group that were going to survive.
G When you speak about old Hort. That was the building opposite the
gymnasium, wasn't it?
M Yes, right by the old Lily Pad, you know, the rose bowl, the old pond. And
one of the things about old Hort., there were no showers, only toilets and
washbasins. So, we were all given a key to go to the old gym to shower and a
few ... well, I don't imagine too many people - back unless you know a few
years, - knew that there was no hot water in the gym. You showered in the
cold shower, you jumped into the swimming pool, which wasn't heated, and
then you ran back across the road there to old Hort. - quite a few of us got
pneumonia! But, it was a great experience. I wouldn't give it up - and I
would like to see some of these young chaps today and girls, get the same
experience. It was a thing of sharing and trusting that went on between the
students and the professors. In those days, we knew the professors because
the classes weren't that big, the school wasn't that big. And we knew them
and they knew us. So, you know, you didn't get away with anything. You
had to produce.
G So, I might ask then, which professor made a lasting impression and why?
M Well I think, probably, if I had to pick on a favourite one, it would have to be
George Raithby. I was on the dairy judging team to St. Louis, he was the
coach of it of course. But he always to me, when he stood up at the lecture in
the front of the hall, gave us a honest approach and assessment and I think
you can read that and you'll know it in the records, when he did the
classification of all those dairy cattle. He was an honest man, not cowtowing
to anybody. And he took an interest in us, and he'd talk to us and we were
invited to his home for the odd meal, a few of us anyway. And that was... He
was the key in the Animal - what we called - in the Animal Husbandry
Department, but mind you the others were no slouches and they knew their
business, particularly Staples when he could quote all the Clydesdale
pedigrees back a thousand years. But then Steckley, of course, got into that
schmozzle with the change of government and Hepburn and he got relieved
of the department and we had Bill Knox. And Bill was an entirely different
type of man than Steckley and I think maybe that the companionship and the
doseness was lost a little in that change. But not with George Raithby. I
think he looked after his students and his - particularly those that were
involved in his judging - right to the man I found, at the bitter end. We
appreciated him, we recognized him as a top man.
G That's very interesting, you know, because I suppose I think I could still find
my lecture notes from George Raithby and I think if I looked over them a
little carefully, I'd be able to give that lecture right from those notes. He just
was perfect when it came to telling you... and you got those highlights down
and they meant so much to you. He was a great man.
M Yes. There were other parts of the college I didn't do so well - in chemistry.
I didn't do very well in the French class. Survived the Economies. Poultry
was fine. And there was, of course, Prof. Graham. I can always remember
Prof. Graham - Head of the Department, of course - and Earl Snyder in that
division. And when I graduated, I'll later on maybe talk about it, but I sold
feed, livestock feed, and of course there wasn't a whole lot of various
livestock feeds made, it was mainly for chickens. And back in those days, the
old Rhode Island Red was a beautiful bird but it didn't lay many eggs.
G But would you not be there when the cafeteria rationing ?
M No, I was finished. Yes.
G It came after that?
M Yes. Norm Hoag was involved in the development of that. It went along with
Maple Leaf Mills and Prof. Graham but.. .
G But most of the research though was done at the ....
M Oh, it was done there, yes. And so, anyway, I was out and wanted to find out
what the ... how many of these new Hamps were going to be in hand, were
they going to be successful and so I went back one day when I was traveling
through and I stopped and I went into see Prof. Graham and I said: "Prof,
what's the percentage of New Hamps, are they going to take over from the
Rhode Island?" You knew Prof, he always answered a question with another
question, and he said: "Moles, why don't you go up to those colony houses,
you know where they are, and count them and you'll get an idea of how
many of those colony houses I've got New Hamps in and how many have got
Rhode Island's in. So that... and he was one of the top research people and
he'd been recognized, of course, long after he left the college. So, those were
part of things that the college ... Conversat, College Royal--College Royal in
those days was a major effort and we practically took a week off to build
exhibits. We went down after supper and early in the morning, those of that
were showing cattle, and those of that were collecting grain samples to show
in the grain exchange and the judging. It was a great experience. The
judging of the livestock showmanship was one of the things that taught you
that you must spend some time because no animal will respond to you unless
you understand the animal and it understands you. Also, there were
disappointments. You didn't always win. And so you learned by experience
that, you know, everything wasn't handed to you on a plate. I think that, in
my opinion, any young person - and I went back in those days to the college
- that didn't come out with an understanding of human nature, all the
knowledge that he could absorb, and being prepared to go on and do any
kind of a job ... this is a broad education that you got up there. It didn't
make any difference whether you were going into the Ag. Rep. service, or
whether you were going into the feed business, or whether you were going
into anything else.
Fertilizer. You had an understanding of people and if you did that you knew
what they needed and it was an honest effort to go out and do whatever you
were doing - selling, whether it was ideas, education or a product.
You mentioned Conversat. Was it the grandiose set up that we later
Yeh. We used to go out and rent a tuxedo - tails or a tuxedo for five hours.
Some of us had to rent shoes. Anyway, we went every year. And I know one
year, the year I was in repeating that grade, that intermediate year, I was
broke. My father said 'Well, you gotta go and get it but you're going to pay
yourself and not run around the country. So I had a good pair of shoes,
Dacks, in those days they were $25 and that was a hell of a price for a pair of
shoes and I sold them for $10 to go to Conversat. You know, the experience
of decorating the Creelman Hall and changing into the theme of what ever it
was. Whether it was a fairy castle or Spain or British or whatever it was, we
decorated that whole hall. Conversat was the highlight of everybody's
existence in the college. Anybody that didn't go, when it's time for their year
to build the stage and the decorations didn't compete, missed something,
they really did!
Then, of course, you had the inter-year or the class festivities - Halloween ...
Oh yes. Halloween, and the dances, and then, of course the dances over at
Mac Hall twice a week they held them....
Was it twice a week?
Yes, 8 o'clock. Yeh. Because the girls had to go to bed. We used to dance in
what is now, well was the Common Room and we watched the girls come
down that big staircase, and we'd say "Well, 1'11 not have that one." And
I'm sure they looked down saying "I'm not going to go with him!" But that
was our social life. And the other thing is that, of course, nobody had cars.
And so on the weekend everybody was at the college and when lectures quit
at noon on Saturday all the activities, the dances, the competitions,
everything, took place on Saturday night and Sunday. Everybody was there
because nobody could leave. Nobody had a car. Now I look up there, and
hell, on weekends I might as well shoot a cannon off, and there's no activity.
I gotta grandson going up there and I don't know how many people he'll
know when he graduates but not very many.
What about the... well let's talk booze situation.
Oh, oh. Well, of course, you weren't allowed any. But there was a few
people that I know of that used to bury a barrel of cider back in maple on the
dairy bush. And if we were lucky and it didn't turn to vinegar we had some
pretty good ciders. And it was relatively hard. But the rest of it, you weren't
allowed any. We smuggled, of course, as everybody else did, some beer in,
through barber Bill. It would be delivered to the barber shop and we would
pick it up there and smuggle it out.
Of course, this is in the prohibition days too.
Oh yes. Oh yes. Well, of course, if wanted really something to do we would
go on down to Little Italy and for 50 cents you could get a bottle of red wine,
I don't know what they made it out of - gasoline I think- you used to have a
hell of a headache anyway the next day. And the other thing is that if you got
really ... I shouldn't be saying all this .... . And then when we needed
something for Conversat or a Halloween Dance or something, we'd get our
class mates in the Chemistry Lab to get a little alcohol and then we'd go in
and get Katy, bless her soul she's passed on, to give us a few oranges, squeeze
a few oranges into it. It was strong, you could have a good time at the dance
with that. So that... basically, there wasn't that much drinking, there was a
little bit of it, and when it was done, it had to be done on the side and the sly
and that didn't make it any fun. There was no beer parlours to go to or there
was no bars on the campus. And I think it was good. Well, in those days
everybody was in the same boat, you know. As you said, prohibition was on.
They repealed that in 1933 on December 3'd.
I didn't think it happened till '34.
I was showing cattle in Chicago. And they'd repealed it and in the loop on
Halstead Street we went by - normally when we went by there were clothing
stores and drug stores and everything else and of course we knew that, being
in the international, the livestock people knew that behind those stores, you
could go in and bootleg. And at midnight, on December 3, 1933, carpenters
came in by the hundreds and threw all that stuff out on to Halstead, out
front - all if it was closed down and went out the door. If there was anything
else, it all went out the door and they just moved in great big 80' - 100' oak
bars and they were ready to go. All the time, it had been going on behind the
door. And I can remember going around - I wasn't very old then -they
were showing cattle for Nadik? Farms, Rhode Island, dual purpose (?? ).
When you went in these places, Art, you went through the clothing store and
then there was a narrow hall with two doors. One you opened and when you
went into this place there was a little alcove and there was a great big black
guy sitting there peeling potatoes. I don't how many potatoes he'd peel in a
day but he was sitting there and you either went through him or you got
thrown out, one or the other. It was a great experience. I was sorry to see
the International go and leave Chicago but then all the big stock yards and
the killing plants, Wilsons and Guns and all of the rest of them moved out to
Weston . And that's unfortunately I think is what's going to happen, or has
partly happened to our Toronto market with the Packers moving and I
would think that the stockyard on St. Clair and Keele is having a pretty hard
time making the rent. But Chicago took it by the horns and moved
Well, when did Mitch Hepburn -when was he elected? Was it '34?
No, he wasn't elected unt... well it could have been because he brought in
that Minister of Agriculture ....
Whatisname? In the year I graduated, '36, you had no jobs, so I was
working in the college and that's year that ... I can't remember that
Minister's name, maybe I will...
I can't either, its....
Well, anyhow. He brought over Craidleighs Realization, the big Clydesdale
and he brought over Millhills Ransom , the short horn. And I went with
Andy Crawford, who had joined the horses by then, and we brought
Craidleighs Realization up from the train and I'm not sure exactly but I
think that train stopped down at Campbellville at the junction.
That'd be the CPR then.
CPR And then I went down and I got Millhills Ransom, the short horn.
And I paraded with him every day, and in those days we had Farmer's week.
Yes. And I paraded Millhills every day for the thing. And I often think, you
know, that that was the start of the small bull in the short horn breeding.
Any other breed, they were trying to get them down. I still think, and it is
my opinion, that of course this was a mistake. You didn't get any more
money, you didn't get as much money on the market for them and then it
proved itself here what, fifteen years ago, when all of sudden they brought in
the Charlays And the Semintols? To try and put some size back into those
G Well, I started there in '36, Fall of '36 and Professor Knox then was
suggesting we had to get to the smaller size because everybody ....
M Angus were all that size.
G They were living in apartments and they wanted little roasts. In the end, of
course, I well remember too when Alf Hales toured the countryside. He even
said give me any carcass and I will cut the roasts to meet the demand.
M hat's right. But, you know, those were the things that happened and they
changed. When you look back on them, that importation of that bull
changed the livestock industry for you know, for ever.
G And it disrupted really.
M Right. And it put a lot of the good breeders right out of business. The big
Hereford was dead. They had to breed down to these little dwarf ones. And
other than the an odd ranch out in the West, they are all small.
G So, at any rate, we've covered that very, very well, I think Now, the only
question I suppose if you've got anything more to say maybe about some of
your class experiences. Your little feuds between years and what happened
in sports and that sort of thing.
M Well, no, we always won! No, we had good football teams, we had good
hockey teams in our years. We didn't win them all but we had good
turnouts. We played inter-faculty between Toronto and Western, some of us.
At that time, I can remember, I weight 105 Ibs. I was known in those days as
a flying wing and just got killed every time with all those big bruise rs... but
we had competition between ... and there was competition - for instance,
you go back to College Royal, the competition between the clubs, the Poultry
Club and the Field Crop Club and the Animal Husbandry and the rest of
them was fierce. And nobody would let anybody know what they were going
to have as a theme. So, you know, there was a tremendous amount of