ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
A.M. ‘Mac’ Cuddy, OAC ‘42
Ontario Agricultural College, 1942
Interviewed by Ross Hay
January 2, 1992
R This is an interview with A.M. ‘Mac’ Cuddy of year ’42 OAC conducted by Ross Hay, year ’45 on January 2, 1992. We are located in Mac’s office at the Cuddy home farm, RR#5, Strathroy, Ontario.
OK, Mac was Strathroy your original home?
M No, I was born and raised in Kerwood, about 12 miles from Strathroy, Ross.
R Was that on a farm or…?
M On a farm, a 100 acre farm initially. .
R Yeah. Well you would know of the Matthews then Burt Matthews?
M Oh yes his mother taught school in the schoolhouse adjoining our farm when I was about 4 or 5 years old.
R Great. Now you enrolled at uh OAC in 1938.
R What event or events in your life enabled you to decide to go to Guelph?
M Well, I applied and competed for the Thomas E. Wilson scholarship in Middlesex County and was fortunate enough to win it and there was no contest. If it hadn’t been for that I never would have gone to university. We had no money.
R No money?
M No money.
R Literally, no nothing.
M No money to go to school.
R Isn’t that something. OK. Did you live in residence?
M I lived in residence for 2 years and then the Air force came in and Sandy Pearson, Bill McEachern, and who was the other one? Lloyd Penacher? yes we lived in the attic of an apartment of Prof. Hamilton’s sister, up by the Cutten Club, up on the hill by the golf course!
R Boy, you were lucky to have such a good place. Do you remember anything about hazing in your first year or initiation?
M I do, I remember initiation, certainly.
R Can you tell us anything about it?
M Well, I was scared to death! I never wanted to come and I couldn’t get home in those days, even though it was only 100 miles. And after the first six weeks, of course, we had that day given over to initiation which was really quite - when I think back on it, it wasn’t as frightening as it was at that particular point in time. But it was good for us, it brought us together as a year and I understand the reason for hazing, really. And it gave us respect for the years ahead of us and more particularly it brought us together as a unit. But I remember it was embarrassing for some of those and a little painful (chuckle) for some of my friends in the same year. Glen White, I remember, and somebody, Al Hunter I think it was, no it wasn’t Al Hunter or was it? Oh I’ve forgotten now. It was so long ago.
R Did they have that flag fight out in front of the school at that time?
M I don’t remember a flag… I don’t remember that Ross!
R Flags up the pole and the freshman tried to take it down…
M No I don’t remember that.
M Well, we had one afternoon given over to nothing else but… they did that when you were there, you know, they had to catch the greased pig, and there was a pillow fight and a greased pole and jump off, we thought we were jumping in the Rose Bowl you know cause they were building a platform at the Rose Bowl the night before, and, of course, we were blindfolded, they assembled over in the beef barn and the you know…what do you call it, the round barn and blindfolded so we had to march with jute bags over our heads and all that stuff. We never knew where the hell we were! And it was exciting.
R The round barn was the Judging Pavilion.
M The Judging Pavilion, that’s right. Yeah, yeah.
R It’s now known as the Pub.
M Oh is it? OK. That’s what I meant.
R Who was your favorite Prof. or Profs
M Well, the first person that comes to mind is Jimmy Taylor. He was, you know, a real bright kind of a guy, always available. There were a lot of favorites, I guess, but Jimmy was probably the first one that comes to mind.
R After you graduated you joined I was going to say his but I’m not sure. His Majesty’s Forces… in World War II.
M Right. Well, I had been in the service here in Strathroy and the None-permanent Active Militia, it sounds a funny name, and high school cadets and I went to the Signal Corps when I was 15 years old up at Ipperwash and I was in the COTC, Officer Training Corps. all the time I was in Guelph and I guess I enjoyed the discipline in the army. And when we graduated, I think that was in May, and late June we got our call in the artillery, which I didn’t particularly want to go in the artillery but that’s where we went and that’s where we I ended up.
R And and you were overseas?
M Yes, I went overseas was an instructor at Petawawa for 6 months and went overseas in July of 1943.
R Where were you overseas? Were you in the thick of it?
M Well, no I wasn’t in the thick of it. I was in the thick of training. You know, it doesn’t pay it doesn’t pay. When I was a reinforcement officer and eight week course and after 6 weeks they pulled me out and sent me on a course with the service corps to learn about self-propelled tanks. They thought I knew something about mechanics. I didn’t then and I know less now certainly. But I did very well in the training course and when you do well academically they think you should be an instructor. You know in the army and I asked to be posted afield and Freddy Cooper was in that group, he was given Enzio and George Boyce, a lot of people that had been at Guelph in the COTC were in our group. So I spent most of my time in England, I got to Europe after the war was over but not before.
R Oh there was something else I wanted to ask you. You graduated in Horticulture.
M Landscape architecture.
R Landscape architecture and was there any reason why you took that course?
M Well, initially I had my option card, you remember in those days we had option cards, I had it signed, I think it was for Ag. Engineering, I was going to be a high school and phys. ed. teacher. And I remember going back and Archie Porter was the registrar then and I got some, about six people from the table and I thought I don’t want to take that course. What am I doing here? I’m not a teacher. And I asked for another, a blank option card, and I ran over to the Hort. Building and Prof. Thomason and I said “Would you sign my option card” and he said “What do you want to take?” and I told him and he said “Why?” and I said “Because I like it!” He said “Well, I can’t think of a better reason” and he signed it. And , I’ve never been sorry . If there had been a poultry course there I probably wouldn’t have taken it either because I hadn’t made up my mind then and it took me a long time to decide what I wanted to do. I didn’t know I wanted to be a farmer in those days really.
R Well, after you’d come back from overseas you worked for the Veterans Land Act.
M For four very unpleasant years.
R And then you purchase …
M I purchased this farm the 15th of June 1950.
R Fifteenth of June, 1950. I remember when you did that and away you went.
M Well (laughing).
R The turkeys. Tell us about that .I know you for a while it was rough going.
M Well, it’s no rougher than it is now. The stakes were different Ross really. Like, you know, when you’re in farming they said there was no money that, nobody had any money in those days, you will recall that. We were the same as everybody else. And coming here I was doing what I wanted to do.
R Well you were your own boss.
M Yeah and that’s pretty important to me I guess. It was rough, we came here, my wife was pregnant, we had two kids, I don’t know why I was so damn anxious (chuckle) to have so many children. I guess I didn’t know what caused them. But in any event, we killed our own turkeys for the first couple of years by hand and sold them in the market and hauled them to Toronto which, in those days, was 5 hours one way in the ¾ ton pickup truck. You know it didn’t cost nearly as much to live then. Relatively speaking, it still costs as much. But I decided that I wanted to be in the breeding business and we had a small breeder flock for Stan Edwards and then I went to Atlantic City to a turkey convention and met George Nicholas and decided that turkeys available on the outside world were much better than the ones we had and that’s when I built this hatchery back in 1950s, I think I started in the fall of ’52 and got it going in ’53 and decided that we were going to just produce something better than was being done currently in this part of the country. And we’ve continued to do that.
R Well, I remember talking to you back a number of years ago and you mentioned at that time that the feed company kept you going. because of the poor turkey prices. Not because of miss management or anything like that, I’m not suggesting that. But it was because of poor prices or high feed costs .
M No I don’t think that’s true Ross. I think its because I didn’t know anything about cash flows in those days. I didn’t have a business background and I remember going to the bank in Toronto and Andy White said “I want to see your cash flow.” I looked at him like he was a screaming idiot. I didn’t know what he was talking about. That was about ’52. But I’ve certainly I’ve learned since but what we were doing, we were using the the feed company as our banker really. And the feed company was willing to do it because they were anxious to sell feed and they were taking a good markup and it was part of the way of doing business. And you don’t do that anymore, of course, and that was the relationship with the banks. We didn’t know how to do it in the beginning and they didn’t either because they didn’t have any knowledge of this type of agriculture. And it’s been a a great learning experience for me.
R So from raising turkeys you went into hatching and growing them out to maturity. And then you went into genetics and breeding turkeys. And then, as you mentioned earlier, you met up with George Nicholas in the USA and from there you went on. Now did he go out of business? What happened…
M No no they’re still there, very much and he died seven years ago and the company was sold prior to his death to IBEC, which is, also that’s owns Arbor Acres so Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farm is now a part of that whole corporation. I’m not happy what’s happening to that company, more particular what’s happening to the turkey. It isn’t hold the place to some that it used to. Today, British United Turkeys out of England, we use a lot of those and that’s the turkey we are taking to Europe because that’s the only one that is accepted in Europe.
R Now you’ve really progressed under Cuddy Food Products and anybody that watches TV has seen your ads on the TV. How do you know how many different products you’re making now- turkey products?
M I honestly don’t know Ross. I really don’t know. We have a lot of chicken products too .I don’t know, believe it or not I was thinking earlier we we packaged 23 products for President’s Choice label alone, turkey and chicken and there may be more now. It was 23 when I last looked and that was in the Masonville store in London with one of our people. We make probably 75, 80, 90 products different products.
M There are always new ones coming on stream and old ones coming off that don’t sell. You know it’s a very changeable marketplace. The thing doesn’t sell and doesn’t move we just get it out of there. And there are more new chicken products coming on stream than turkey really. Everybody understands chicken. They don’t all understand turkey.
R Well, I have noticed at Christmas time its difficult to purchase a heavy bird And is that because a majority are going into further processing?
M Yes, It is in this country. It is in the states.
R What was the approximate sales of your companies last year?
M Well, in excess of 400 million dollars.
R Four hundred million.
M But our company in the States where Bruce, our eldest son Bruce is a graduate of OAC in 1969 has been there since that time and yeah that company is as large as the Canadian division.
R And the sales of 400 million…
M Total, total, total. Yeah about 418 I think.
R Yeah. And when was it you were broke?
M I never went broke.
R Well, (laughing). Never..
M But I still don’t have any money! OK.
R But I mean when you were down and as you mentioned earlier the feed companies were..
M Oh yeah that was (laughing).Yeah, ’52. I didn’t know that though Ross. Well, you never have enough money, God Bless. We expand too fast and we don’t we don’t get enough long term… And this is part of our problem today throughout the whole country, we have too much debt, our company has too much debt. And now the returns aren’t like they used to be when we put that debt in place. And so we are having to do some real re-alignment and readjustment. I have a director’s meeting on Tuesday and the Annual Meeting next Monday and these aren’t critical times but they are damned interesting times. And there’s only those of us who can adjust who are going to survive. And that’s no different than ever it’s ever been.
R Right. Right. The those with this lower interest rate now…
M Oh it’s a big factor.
R Big factor would help considerably.
M The currency value is an American dollar being what it costs this Canadian company a lot of money though because we export so much.
M We export over half of what we produce here you see. If it hadn’t been, we’ve been exporting for 27 years; we’ve been some eggs and poultry primarily into Virginia for 27 years. That’s long before I knew there was such a thing as free trade or there wasn’t such a thing as free trade.
R And uh now you are in Europe?
M Yes, yes. We’ve been in Europe for 15 or 16 years but we have just taken a position there in a with a joint venture in Europe and we have one person in Germany and one person in Italy full time employee. And we’re looking at having probably somebody from here go there as well, somebody who knows the company. And Peter, our son Peter, has been in Asia 5 times in the last 16 months and Peter Clark, our National Sales Manager of Cuddy Food Products, was there with him in October and they’re going back in February. We’re currently putting two products into Japan in quite quite sizable numbers.
M Teriyaki chicken, believe it or not and a product we call Smokin’ Tom’s which is a highly seasoned sausage-type product. They love it. And we feel the only way to make an impression in Asia is to probably go there with products that they like rather than doing what we did last year, we put two groups of turkey poults in Thailand and grew them, I think the darn things are still in the freezer, but they forgot we had to sell them. You know, I kept saying to people “Who’s going to sell these things?” And came time to market them they just
had to put them in the freezer. So we know that that’s not the way to do it. I don’t why I was every stupid enough to let it happen. But I think we can make products that they like and teach them about turkey and chicken and then go there,
R Great. Great. That’s a success story. Now I also know you’re in Standard bred horses.
M Yes, I also have a couple of Thoroughbreds in France (chuckle).
M Well the horse business. I’ve always had horses all my life.
R Yeah but you’ve had some really good standard breds.…
M Yeah, we’ve been really fortunate…… Bonefish that won the Hamiltonian and then Folio down the right and and another filly Win the Answer that won ½ million dollars. We’ve had some good horses. Right now we are at a low ebb because there’s no money to put in the horse business but I tell the boys, I don’t have a boat, I don’t play golf, but I don’t have as much interest in the horse business as I used to. I think its because the family aren’t as interested as they used to be and I ask myself that question and I haven’t come up with an answer that satisfies myself as to why I don’t have as much interest in horses as I did. I love racing in France. That’s where our horse I’ve got up there, he just went to stud when I left After winning his second race.
M I probably don’t have as much interest in the horses because I don’t know whether I’m even going to ride this year or not. I’ve always ridden and had a bad fall 4 ½ years ago on the hunt and I broke my back up pretty bad and I’m suffering now from arthritis and so on due to that darn accident and I’m getting myself in shape, hopefully I’ll be able to ride, but I don’t know, I don’t have the balance I used to.
R I can understand that.
M The horse business is tougher than it used to be Ross. That’s a damn tough business.
R Yes. Well so much can happen to them.
M Well, I lost the best horseman I ever knew. Martin VanTrek was with me for 25 years, a dutch gentleman who had been with the Dutch Olympic Team, taught my kids to ride and he died about 8 years ago. I kind of lost my alter ego, you know what I mean? He was a great horseman. He was a great selecter of horses.
R But you were at the top when you won the Hamiltonian.
M Oh yeah, we won the the Hamiltonian, The Canadian Pace and we won the Little Brown Jug the Jugette with our good filly Imagery that died last year. Yeah.
R And that was with Bonefish.
M Yeah, Bonefish and his sister, Imagery, were both. Yeah he was a great horse and we’ve been very fortunate, we’ve had some good horses. Right now we’ve got one that we think has has a lot of potential. But I’m not training many horses anymore No, two or three, that’s all. Too expensive.
R OK. What is your secret or ability to do so well in both ventures. You’ve done well in your Standard breds. Now you’re telling me you’re into the Thoroughbreds and showing me a picture of a horse winning a race in France and you’re also into some Angus cattle. Yet there must be something behind you Mac we’d like to know about.
M I got the application, dedication and good people. I I don’t know what else , hard work and a lot of good fortune. I don’t think there are any secrets Ross. I’m just a little more fortunate than a lot of people.
R Well, you must have had good breeding stock too!
M Oh yes, but there are two of George Bernard Shaw’s quotes to your right up there. I’m a great believer in Shaw, some of the things that he said. I think I have been very fortunate in taking advantage of circumstances and knowing when to make certain moves .
R Yeah but I hope they can hear it there because I am going to read you some. “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances but people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them they make them.” George Bernard Shaw.
Well, there’s another one I’d to read of George Bernard Shaw “Life is not brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations”. That’s great stuff Mac, great stuff.
M Well, you know I really firmly believe that. I want to make this world a better place than it was when I came and I said to Bruce when he was elected President of the National Turkey Federation last week, I said “ the only reason you should accept this position, this job, this appointment as if you think you could make a difference…just don’t do it because, you know, it’s the thing to do and the hell with it. You do it because you have to make it better than it was before.”
R Wonderful. Wonderful.
M That’s why I hoped to breed better horses but I haven’t done so great. It’s been a bit of a disappointment but we’re still trying.
R Now I want to bring you back to OAC. Did your four years at OAC prepare you in any way for your life since graduating?
M Oh yes. Everybody should have the opportunity or take the opportunity to go to university or college or something because the learning process is just not academia. Its getting along with the people and associations you have not only in the classroom but in in the sports, debates, you know, everything, field trips there’s just so many things. And since then, you
know, when I went into the service and the people that association I’ve had with Guelph and the graduates and its still ongoing you now. I don’t know what in the world I’d do without it, its been a very integral part of my life and in both business and social, very much so.
R I wanted to ask you one other question that I forgot about before. What does the A.M. stand for?
M Alfred which is a family name many, many generations, McInroy was my mother’s maiden name. It’s a pretty (chuckle) it’s an unwheely handle.
R Alfred McInroy.
M Alfred McInroy. When our sons were born I made sure they all had short names like Bruce and Brian and Robert and Peter and Douglas. They can’t mess up those names you know. I went in the service and they didn’t know whether I was A.M. they could call Alfred you know. Now I get I go around here a lot of people just call me A.M. (Laughing) They don’t know what to call me. You know that Ross. What’s Mac stand for?
R Yeah, well I thought maybe the M was Malcolm.
R Mac, is there anything else you’d like to tell us for the Archives of Guelph?
M I don’t think so. Except that I have five boys are all in the business, some of them probably more entrenched shall we say in the business than others some of them have brilliant futures and others are I’m not sure they have a future in the business really. I think that’s something I have to resolve and I didn’t train them I didn’t direct them to come into the business they they sort of earned the right . I just hired four young people, all under the age of 35 in the last 6 months trying to get this business people in place that, cause I’m not going to be here forever. And the next few years I would like to back off a little somewhat and I told Bruce last year that 3 more years, maybe even less, I’m gone. My only problem is, I’m not a good vacationer. I’ve had a place in Florida for 15 years and we don’t spend a lot of time there. It’s an acre and quarter, it’s a nice place but I get so damned bored.
R I thought maybe you were in Florida watching your horses run down there.
M No, no. I said tell my wife I’m going to retire and she said I won’t let you. (Chuckle). But seriously, as long as I feel I can make a contribution and as long as I’m told that I can, I’ll be here. But I think another two or three years - it doesn’t get any more difficult its just that the days do get a little longer.
R Well thanks very much Mac.
M You’re very welcome.
R A real pleasure for me.