William F. Mitchell

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W.F. Mitchell was born in Berlin (Kitchener), Ontario, where he received his elementary and high school education. He graduated from OAC in 1939, and following that taught Physical Education at Lisgar Collegiate in Ottawa. He joined the navy during WWII and then taught again at Lisgar for 1 year, after which he returned to the Guelph campus as Physical Education Director.

Bill’s theme is mainly the evolution of athletics at the Guelph campus and his own participation from 1945 until his retirement in 1979. He talks of the many contributions to the program made by individuals and agencies down through the years as more and improved facilities were added.

Graduation Year




Interview Date


J. Gallin

Call Number

RE1 UOG A1340043


William F. Mitchell interview


Tape 1 of 1 Side A
William F. (Bill) Mitchell, 0. A. C. ‘38
Ontario Agricultural College, 1938
Interviewed by Jack Gallin
June 29, 1990
J This is an interview with William F. Mitchell, done on June 29th 1990, at Mr. Mitchell’s home near Elora. Interview is conducted by Jack Gallin on behalf of the Alumni -in- Action Group of the University of Guelph.
Bill, start out by telling us a bit about your early days, and how that lead to your future education and career.
B Well, Jack, I was born in Kitchener. It was Berlin when I started out, but soon became Kitchener. I attended school - elementary school in Kitchener, and while I was there I became very interested in sports, involving myself in swimming, track and field and soccer. Went on to high school - K. W. Collegiate - the only high school in town at that time - and while I was there , I found that I wasn’t going to likely be able to go on to college, and consequently, I ended up in the Technical Course taking drafting, because I was quite interested in drafting. After two years of that, and wanting to continue to be involved in athletics - I was playing both football and basketball then - I switched over to a special commercial course just to stay in high school. When I finished that, I still wanted to play football and basketball, so I started to take a program towards Jr. Matriculation. One of my teachers – my chemistry teacher was Roy Dickson, who coached football, as well teaching chemistry. And he began to tell me a little bit about the 0. A. C. and about the possibilities there. Well, I didn’t feel I wanted to spend the extra time it would take to get my complete Jr. Matriculation. So he began to suggest to me that I come over to Guelph, to take the Diploma two year course, and I came over and had a talk with Archie Porter – the registrar and he said, “Have you any farm experience?” And I said, “Well, really,no. I’ve gone on to the farm a couple of times to help pick potato bugs - that sort of thing, but, I really don’t have any farm experience.” Well, he said, “You’re supposed to have farm experience to get in here - and provide us with a certificate stating that you had farm experience.” Well, I couldn’t find anybody that was willing to sign a certificate for me. So Archie signed, knowing I was interested in playing football and he was an assistant coach at the time, he said, “I’ll see what I can do. If you make a promise, that you will take the work on the farm, this summer, at the college and get some farm experience, I’ll let you come in.” And as far as I know I was the only one to get into the 0. A. C. without farm experience. (Chuckle)
J What year would that be?
B 1933. In 1933, I came over and - I was glad (chuckle) - actually, I was glad to live in a - I worked for the - trying to make a little money - I worked for the Kitchener News Company. We peddled magazines over here, and we had a little shop downtown. I was going to live in the shop (Chuckle). That’s how I was going to make my headquarters. But in any event, my uncle, who played football for Kitchener, at the time, suggested, “Oh, if you make the football team over there you get free room and board.” Well, well, that’s terrific. Well, I made the football team, and it was during the early training period, and we got free room and board, during that time. I thought I was home free, I was going to get it all through the season, but at registration day, they told me, “You’re going to have to pay room and board from now on.” I came to Guelph with twenty-five dollars in my pocket. That’s all my mom and dad, at the time could afford to give me, and I had to work - whatever I could do to earn some extra money. So, I took the twenty-five dollars, managed to get me registered, and after that the bursar, at that time was pretty generous about permitting people to carry a debt. They were good enough to let me - just pay in installments and pay a little late and work summers and pay the first year after I’d completed my summer’s work. And in the meantime, I worked hard at a number of things. I worked at Student Labour. I worked in the piggery with Jack Slinger. Got twenty-five cents an hour and he gave me fifty cents every morning and I’d go down there because there was a deal to work for two hours for fifty cents, and I’d do the work in an hour and a quarter - something like that, and he’d give me two hours credit. But that didn’t last too long. I lived in ‘football alley’ or ‘rugby alley’, and the fellows that lived with me - I was in a triple room in ‘football alley’ - objected to me coming in smelling the way I did from the pig-pen
J You did get free room and board for part of that.
B For two weeks.
J Just for two weeks?
B the early training.
J Ah!
B And that gave me the impression I was going to get it for the whole season. guess all my uncles, really had got the impression from the two week training camp that he’d heard about. I soon had to give up the job working in the pig-pen at twenty-five cents an hour. And then, from then on I worked in - well, I worked picking seed. And a lot of people have done that, and explained that they had. I got twenty or twenty-five cents an hour. I worked in the switch-board, part-time. I worked with Archie Porter, part-time. I worked in the library, (chuckle) part-time. I even sold chewing gum and razor-blades (chuckle) to make a bit of money, to keep me in college. But I really wanted to carry on. But the thing that brought me to college in the first place, was football. Roy Dickson brought me over in 1932, to see the very famous game that was played between Varsity and Guelph. The football field was a sheet of ice - frozen solid. The Varsity team came up with only their regular boots
on. Baldy Baldwin, our coach had appreciated the problems that would arise on this sheet of ice, so, he put us all in running shoes. At least he didn’t put us in running shoes. I wasn’t there. I was a spectator. But, put his team in running-shoes, and in the first half the score was run up - there was a very big run up in the first half by Guelph. In the second half, the coach Lou Hayman, of the Toronto Argonauts - he ended up being in the Toronto Argonauts - a very successful coach there - but he was their coach - Toronto’s coach at the time. He went downtown and bought enough running shoes for his team so the score was a little more respectable at half time. But,that’s the story that has gone down in the history of football at (chuckle) at Guelph. They played on the ice. So that was Roy Dickson, my teacher and football coach in Guelph -
J In Kitchener - -
B brought me over to see and encouraged me to apply. Well, once I got established in Guelph, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to play football. I knew that, and basketball. But I wasn’t sure what career I might get involved in unfortunately, at that time, and it’s changed quite a bit, but at that time, the first two years - certainly in the Diploma Course - were in a very general program. And, by the end of my second year then, I had the option of going to the Intermediate year, and I chose to go to the Intermediate year, hoping to carry on playing football. Now, athletics didn’t interfere with my - with my academic success. John Fee, one of the first graduates, I guess he was in the first graduating class at the 0.A.C., had donated some money for excellence in English and one or two other subjects, and I happened to win one of the J. J. Fees scholarships, which was a real break for me. In my second year, I was able to win the Gold Medal for the best all around student - Second year Diploma Course. I took the Intermediate Year and had a real problem with French, ‘cause I’d never had any French in high school. Not a bit of it. But, I managed to get through. And following that - and as a matter of fact, the instructor had been an instructor - (chuckle) at the school I taught in, in Ottawa, so, I think he was a little sympathetic. But I managed to get through the Intermediate Year, went on to the third year, and of course had to pick an option. And I - because I’d had some experience with drafting - I selected the landscape design section of the Horticultural program and enjoyed it a great deal. And there was - quite successful, as a matter of fact. I ended up heading the option in my final year. I never did practice Landscape Design. But, some of the people I worked with – or at least, were in the same option, were very successful in horticulture. Ralph Goodwin Wilson was on the staff, horticultural staff, after the war, was a member of my group. While I was in my third year, I won the 1905 Scholarship as an all around person academically, and athletically and so on, and administratively. I went on to my fourth year. In the meantime, I’d worked at the - my first year - on the farm, - and that’s a story in itself - I had to get some experience - there was a green kid fromthe city - never having had any experience - I was put on a farm where they really expected me to know something about farming. And uh, Doc Staples - you’ve probably heard of Doc - he was the farm foreman at the time - and he really wanted to challenge me, I think, as a city boy, doing farm work.
J This was an O.A.C. farm?
B This was the 0.A.C. farm. So he gave me all kinds of jobs that really challenged me because they were hard jobs. He gave me a job to bury a dead horse, one time. The horse had been dead for about three days, I think. It‘d begun -there were a lot of flies on it (chuckle) anyway, when I was burying it. I had to dig a hole right beside the horse and then we pushed it in the hole. He (chuckle) gave me a job - he gave me a job cleaning out the - the wood in the - in the horse stall, in the horse bam. Had to lift these rotted planks, and take (chuckle) them out. These are a couple of examples of the kind of jobs that I got. One day I was in the barn- the dairy barn putting hay in the mow, and Dr. Christie was making his tour, as he often did, and he happened to come up and saw I was all by myself. He says, “Are you all - ?” Of course Christie was veryinterested in football. He knew all the football players. And he saw me by myself up there, sweating it out and struggling to keep on top of the hay as it came in. He said, “Are you the only one up here?” And I said, “Yes, I am, sir.” Five minutes later, there were two other fellows up there helping me. (Chuckle) But, I had a lot of wonderful times and I had some great experiences at the college. I’d met some fine people and some fine professors. 0. J. Stevenson, who was our professor of English -head of the English Department. Now, 0.J. was a really, I think, a brilliant man. And he introduced me to the classical music. Now I don’t suppose that has a great deal to do with English, but, quite often he used to play classical records, instead of giving us a lecture in English. (Chuckle) And, at exam time, we had to go and get some help from Charlie Castell, a bacteriologist, who was a brilliant person. And he’d go over the last five years examination papers. And, in the course of this he’d pick up enough of the information that would probably be on the exam that was coming up to get us through. But, the thing I admired Doc Stevenson for, was the fact that he introduced something to our lives that was, I think very important. Of course, Prof. Baker was the coach of our basketball team, when I was there as a student. And Prof. Black would coach the soccer team. A lot of the people on the faculty at that time - heads of departments - were very, very helpful, in all ways. Prof. Black sang in the choir, and - and helped with the ‘Glee Club’. Now, this pretty well covers, I think, my experiences as a student. I’m trying to think of – I lived in residence , in ‘football alley’ most of the time, but I worked there practically, - except for one summer -I worked in Vineland. The other summers, I worked right on campus and I lived in South House. I lived in the old Soils Building. I’ve lived in what they called Bursar Hall. I’m not too sure what they call it now - beside what we called the Administration Building - between the Admin. Building and the dining hall. But the other night I met Kay Beck. Kay was the dietician – looked after the dining hall. And I reminded her the time they brought in Jr. Farmers at Christmas time and gave them a little program. And they got those of us who were involved in athletics - we looked after their recreational program. And we lived in Bursar Hall. And of course we had to make out for our own meals. They didn’t - we weren’t given meals during that period. And Kay was good enough to give us - and one Christmas save us the carcasses from the turkeys that were used. And that was enough - (Chuckle) enough food - the turkeys and the dressing - was enough to keep us going for the whole week of Christmas. Jack Slinger, I mentioned I worked for him. I worked in the Hort. Department, and had some great experiences,
working there. Well then, after I’d graduated, times were very tough still and jobs were very hard to come by. And with my ambition to really some day, get involved in physical education - athletics, I decided maybe the best thing for me to do was try to get into the College of Education. So, after graduating, I went down to the College of Education, and took my teacher training.
J This would be ‘38, ‘39?
B 38, yes. I finished in ‘39 - spring of ‘39. And I took Agriculture - the only thing I could take down there was Agriculture. So, presumably, I was to teach Agriculture. But, I -I felt that at that time they expect - and they still do, I think, they expect teachers to coach, as well as teach in some instances, especially Physical Education teachers. Well, I took a program in Physical Education while I was down there along with the Agricultural program. And when I finished that, I had - I was fortunate enough to get a job in Ottawa, as a Physical Education teacher. And I think, the thing that got me the job was the - the principal told me later - they had interviewed me in Toronto - said the thing that got me the job was a firm hand shake (Chuckle) and they wanted somebody that could handle someof these kids from downtown (Chuckle) Ottawa. So he felt a firm handshake was a sign of somebody that could handle students.
J This was Lisgar Collegiate.
B This was Lisgar Collegiate in Ottawa. And I was very fortunate to get a job, then following the War, or toward the end of the War, I was assigned to Cornwallis as an instructor. And who should be in the - the program but Bill Winegard - Dr. Winegard was a student. He was training as an officer, at the time. And we were on a cruise together – training cruise together, just off the shore of Nova Scotia, at the time VJ Day came. We went on to -VJ came along, I got in the Navy. I coached football and basketball at Lisgar Collegiate. And enjoyed permission to transfer back to Ottawa. And I was stationed in Ottawa, so it was convenient for me to start teaching in September, back at Lisgar. I taught for one year at Lisgar, after the war, and then I applied for the job, which came up at Guelph, as Athletic Director - Physical Education Director, called it. I started out at about the same salary as I would have made at my maximum at high school, which is a great break too. In my first year I was committed to coaching the team, of course - the football team. A game had been arranged with Queen’s University – a pre-season game had been arranged with Queen’s University, to be played as a pre-season game. And I only had one week with my team to prepare for that. Queen’s were Senior Inter-collegiate at the time. We were Intermediate Inter-collegiate. We managed pretty well in the first half, but Queen’s were a very tough group. And I’ve forgotten what the exact score was at the end of the game. But, we managed to hold our own, but it was pretty rough going - especially when they had an American coach at the time, and they were using a little different style of blocking, which was a high - little higher block than we usually use. And we had at least one chap get a broken (Chuckle) nose in that game.
J What year would that be?
B In 1945 - fall of ‘45. And that was the year that Bert Matthews played football. Bert played for me, and won the Wildman Trophy that year. And the team the year before I had arrived - had a really tough year. We - in our - in my first year, we were fortunate enough to place second in the league. And, then the next - for the next three years, the teams were able to win the Inter-collegiate championship. Now, I suppose I should’ve maybe mentioned that I had participated in both football and basketball. But, however, I only coached football when I came back. And I had an assistant who looked after basketball, for me. Could I - just pause for a moment?
J So, you coached football at 0.A.C. for...
B My first...
J ..ten years?
B Well, I wouldn’t say I was the -I wasn’t -I was the Head Coach, but I think a lot of the coaching was done later on by very capable assistants. But I really was much involved in coaching the first five years I was there. But, during that time, we won the Inter-collegiate championship three times. But, by the mid- fifties, I was finding it a little too difficult. I’d planned - we were trying to operate – orimprove our Intra-mural Program - and there were a lot of things coming up – trying to get more facilities. And I really needed a little more time. So I was getting some help, and I found an excellent coach in J. Fryed. He was a grad of the – of Miami of Ohio. He was the first of three Miami of Ohio footballcoaches that we had. He was very well received and got along well with the boys.
J He started in ‘56?
B He started about the mid fifties. Well, now, the coaching led to my meeting some fine players. As I mentioned earlier - Bert Matthews was one of the first football players that I coached - Ernie Brennan came in. He brought a great - great power to the team. He was Rookie of the Year for the Ottawa Rough Riders. As a matter of fact, we weren’t able to use him in the final championship game, because he’d played pro football, but, we were able to beat Ottawa, in any event, for the Intermediate championship. The thing that impressed me, as much as anything , on the Guelph campus, was the co-operation received from the faculty, particularly the 0.A.C. faculty - people like Prof. Baker coached our basketball team for us. He was the Head of the Entomology Department. Prof. Bradford coached the soccer team. He was the Head of the Physics Department. Orville Kennedy came a little bit later, but he coached our hockey team. Phil Burt from the Apiculture Department, coached our hockey team. We had cross country running. We had a lot of faculty people involved in track and cross country. Each year we’d hold an intra-mural track meet. And practically every member of the staff was down there working in one capacity or another. Everybody participated. It was almost like “Farm and Home Week” - Farmers’ Week. Everybody on the staff seemed to get involved in Farmers’ Week - handing out sandwiches or that sort of thing. But the program
kept expanding, and it was necessary to start thinking very strongly about developing new facilities. We started out, playing on the front campus. Football was played on the front campus.
J Just before we get into the facilities, Bill, was there any kind of a women’s program at the time?
B That’s important. Dr. Reid was President at the time I arrived on campus. And I said, “What about the women on campus? Is there anybody going to be looking after their program?” At that time, all they had was the one program for women, and there weren’t too many women as students. It was the first year after the war. They’d just started again in Mac. They didn’t have a program in Mac during the war. Anyway, I was told that (Chuckle) by Dr. Reid - “I guess you better look after the Women’s Program.” So, I just went out and bought a bunch of bows and arrows. And we set up an Archery Program for the women. And that for years was the strongest program that we had on campus, although I had nothing to do with it. I got it started, and arranged to have pretty capable people coaching it. I was really surprised at how well our gals had done. Now, there were - we set them up in leagues, to play basketball and I found a very capable student in Macdonald Institute, who took over the Women’s Program - did a wonderful job, and managed to provide most of the activities that the women appreciated. They did rifle shooting, had basketball and archery and they had opportunity to be involved in rifle shooting. And as a matter of fact, they began to show an interest in hockey. Now hockey’s been a game that’s been playedat Guelph for years and years. Back in the ‘20’s, the girls had a hockey team. So, there was a lot of activity going over there, but it didn’t have - until the second year , we got an instructor - Mary Harvey. She married one of my football players - a Wildman Trophy winner. Mary Harvey took over the program. It was only in my first year that I had to look after Women’s Program.
J Was this women’s hockey, Field Hockey or Ice Hockey?
B No, Ice Hockey.
J They got into Field Hockey, lately?
B Oh, yes. That came along later. That became a popular sport later.
J Well, they had some - had some pretty good women’s Field Hockey teams...
B Actually, the women have done very well in inter-collegiate competition – over the years - especially Ice Hockey. We’ve had more championships in IceHockey for women than I, as far as that goes, recall in any other activity.
Tape 1 of 1 Side B
William F. (Bill) Mitchell, 0. A. C. '38
Ontario Agricultural College, 1938
Interviewed by Jack Gallin
June 29, 1990
J This is the second half of the taped interview with Bill Mitchell. Bill - tell us a bit about the facilities on the campus over the years, beginning in the very beginning. What sort of athletic facilities were there, and carry on with what’s been developed since then right up to the present.
B Well, surprisingly enough, within ten years of the time the 0.A.C got started they had a Physical Instructor, named Dark, and he was with the military. He was very enthusiastic, but mainly with military type drill. And he was instrumental in pushing for a new gymnasium on campus. Now, he started this about in, oh, the latter part of the 1880’s, and by 1892, with help from the Presidents, who wrote letters to the government, and pushed it, they got a new Gymnasium, 1888, was the year that the football team had a very successful year and it was the year of the first graduates of the Degree Program, graduated in 1888. And that was the year that they had an excellent football team and quite a (chuckle) few of the graduating class were on that football team. Some of them very successful people in the future. As I mentioned earlier, J. J. Fee was a member of that group, and he was the one that provided a scholarship. As far as I know, Creelman was a member of that class and played on the football team. He was the President after whom Creelman Hall was named. So back in the very early days they had football and they had a successful football team. Now, up until 1914, hockey was played outdoors on an outdoor rink down in - actually the general location of the current the current athletics facilities. In 1914 there was enough pressure brought to bear - and the students were anxious enough to have a facility - a hockey facility and skating facility that they pledged twenty five dollars as far as I know – twenty five dollars to - to go toward a rink as soon as it was started. Before they graduated, they agreed to give twenty five dollars. Well, this twenty five dollars in 1914, represents a pretty big chunk of money, for any student to contribute, and quite a few of the students - it was a voluntary thing - they didn’t have it to contribute, but many of the students did. But, by 1914, they decided to put up this arena and called for the pledges. The student body and student athletic association took on responsibility for putting up the rink. But, there were some problems as far as I recollect with the students getting permission to have a piece of property or own a building, so it was put in the hands of the Students’ Co-operative Association at that time under a man named Ledrew. The first building went up in 1914. It was a wooden structure - wooden spans. It collapsed the first winter. It was repaired between that winter and the next winter and collapsed the second winter, so it collapsed twice. And then finally, toward the end of the war, Mr. Ledrew (a professor - he was a Professor of Economics), located, what I think was an old airplane hanger - war surplus hanger...
J This was the end of the First World War.
B …from the First World War, and used the steel to put up the current - or at least what was up until recently, the rink. Now that hanger was only sixty-five feet wide, so it wasn’t a proper width for an arena. But, it was one arena, and there were very few colleges, or universities in the country with arenas. Now, this was used, off and on, very successfully some years, depending on how cold it was. But they used to have colder winters, it seems, than we’re having now...
J That of course was natural ice.
B We had natural ice. We had hockey teams through all those years - between 19...‘18 or‘14 on. And some of them were very successful - but they played mainly in the Inter-city Leagues, and that sort of thing. Now, that rink was used until the Second World War. And in the Second World War, the Air Force took it over as a parade square, and they paved it - put in paving - and repaired the upper part of the roof, where apparently there were a few leaks. That was their contribution (chuckle) to the arena. When I arrived in the fall of 1945 - they had a paved arena and we were using it for ice skating and hockey. We played our games downtown, but we practiced in the arena, and we flooded the ice, and worked at it very diligently. I remember on many occasions being down there at two o’clock in the morning - it was very cold - trying to build up the ice surface. On one occasion we had a particularly difficult time. The water-line froze up, and at that time the water-line was buried in manure, at least there was a long pole we (chuckle) had to adjust to turn the water on, but that union was down five feet- five feet below the ground in manure to keep it from freezing. Well, it happened to freeze up thisnight, so there was Bill Mitchell down in there digging out manure to get that (chuckle) unfrozen, and get on with the job of making ice. So, those were some of the early days, some of the interesting days in that arena. Well, after a fewyears, we felt that we just couldn’t get along with natural ice. It was too much work. And there were too many problems. So we put on a campaign - the Athletic Association put on a campaign - and we requested that the athletic fee be raised four dollars, and that would give us the privilege of installing artificial ice. We could go to the bank and borrow money to put in artificial ice.
J When would that have been?
B This was about - gosh I don’t - this was about the mid-fifties too. And we got permission to borrow money from the bank and arrangements were made for Premier Package Manufacturing Company to come in and install artificial ice. They did everything except pour the cement floor. We found a floor finisher who happened to be a graduate of 0.A.C., who was willing to do the job, for as little as he could possibly do it for, providing we got the cement wheeled in. So, students volunteered. And one night we worked all through the night, wheeling cement in to pour this cement floor, which encased the pipes. Well, that made a fine asset to the university at that time, and I always felt very proud that the students were willing - as they have been for this recent arena - to really take a hold and do something for themselves. But, that provided us with an ice surface that we were able to use for curling. We got started in curling immediately. I went off to - well, I guess it was Georgetown. They were buying new rocks for their curling rink, and
we bought their rocks at a good price. As far as I know, they’re still being usedin the Alumni Bonspiel. And we had five sheets of curling ice. Now, we curled one day a week, and then we played intra-mural and inter-collegiate hockey the rest of the week. And there were a couple little sheets of...
J Curling ice
B ...ice.
J ...adjacent to that.
B Those came later when we built the new facility.
J And when was that building built? It was built to enclose the old rink ...
B It was an unfortunate thing, but the Deputy Minister of Agriculture was Tommy Thomas -I don’t know whether that rings a bell - but Thomas was his last name - and he came up -the Alumni Association were very - we can thank them for the - for our facility that we have - the one we have now - and we can say thank you to them, because they promoted it and some of the Alumni were very influential with the government, to get government support. As a matter of fact, the treasurer was a graduate of 0.A.C. Well, Tommy Thomas came up, they agreed to build it - and Tommy Thomas agreed to put up seventy-five thousand dollars, as I recall, to get the project started. He came up and we turned the sod for the new Physical Education Building. Poor Tommy died, and Mr. Bill Goodfellow took over from Tommy Thomas. And, of course the Public Works Department weren’t sure what Tommy had in mind. And the Public Works - as I’ve always found them – were very anxious to please and do the best job possible. So, they went ahead and built a building that was actually the finest facility in Canada at the time. \
J When was that,. Bill?
B ‘57-it was about’57
J That included the gymnasium and …
B Now that gave us a beautiful gymnasium - just exactly what we have now in the way of physical education facilities - the swimming pool, gymnasium, and an ice surface. Now they encompassed the ice surface that we had previously - in the building. I’d requested that, if at all possible, that we have all the facilities together to make it easier to supervise them. They were willing to do that. And then, the next thing I asked for – I said, “Really, could you put the walls of the building - the rink - the old rink – far enough apart, so that at some time we might build a span across there to give us a wider ice surface.” Well, they’d been spending money high wide and handsome - and were getting some criticism, I think from Toronto, for being so generous in doing what they did. So, they limited - they said they’d agree to put the walls up. And they got slipped in, but they never did get around to putting in the span. So, the steel that was put up there, about in 1918- 1917, is still there, in the present rink. That rink has been converted now, into another
gymnasium, and it really is a very attractive facility.
J And we now have brand new twin pad rinks…
B And we have a brand new twin pad arena. And once again, we have that because of the support of our students. Students put in a great big chunk of money - promised a great big chunk of money, over a period of years.
J Now, the first football field, then, was right in front of the Administration Building -
B The team of 1888 played on the front campus. That’s where they played - right in front of Johnston Hall. And football was played on that field - even though it had a slope – we used to have a game - at least a little technique that we used - we always ran end-runs going downhill. We’d arranged to play football – so we’d set ourselves up and run a nice end-run, running downhill. It proved very successful on many a little better facility for football occasions. But, they played there until 1946, and then we felt that we needed more than the front campus - and a level playing field. The Veterinary College had some - or I guess the University had - or the College had some land behind the Veterinary College, that was available at that time, and I got permission to bring in a few bulldozers - who got the Engineering Department, Glen Downing and Frank Theakson, to survey the place. And we got the Crop Science Department - or Field Husbandry Department, at that time, to plant the seed. And we built ourselves a football field down there - with the help of personnel on campus. While we were at it, there was a need on campus for a proper track, and I got permission – I got into a little trouble, I think, with Dr. Reid. We maybe spent a little more money on the track than we were supposed to, because it hadn’t been budgeted for. But, we were able to get from the Casting Company downtown - at least from Mr. Cunningham – Doug Cunningham was just coming up retiring in Microbiology Department - his father – was willing to give us all the cinders we needed and truck ‘em up. So, we had - there’s where I got in a little bit of trouble - we had a bulldozer for an extra few dollars, taking the earth out of a space for the running track. He came up with his trucks and cinders and dumped them in about a foot and a half deep. And this gave us a running track. We had a nice football field. We felt we should have a lighted football field. We managed to get a few poles put up and were able to have floodlights for the football field.
J All this was over behind the Vet College?
B Yes, over behind the Vet College. And the next thing that happened was we said, “Well, we can’t just have our football team provided with good facilities. We got to have our soccer team provided with good facilities, too. So we built a soccer field adjoining it. We needed changing rooms for the football team and the soccer team. The married students were given an opportunity to park their trailers in behind the Vet College, at the end of the football field - to shower and do their laundry and so on . Well, that was only for a year or so. That finished up. We got that building - as a changing room for the football team. And we built a little addition on the side of it, and it was an excellent facility. And up until a very few years ago the Veterinary College was still using it. The Field Husbandry Department were getting rid of a
building to make way for the Landscape Architecture Building, and I said to them, “What areyou going to do with that barn that you’re using for seed cleaning?” And they said, “Nothing.” I said, “If I could find somebody to move it, and pay to have it moved, would you let me have it?” So, they agreed to letting us have it. We moved it down to in between the soccer field and the football field. And it was the soccer changing room. A lot of scrounging went on. Now, all of this was in behind the Veterinary College. And after a few years, the Veterinary College wanted to build on that land - that site. And we were in the position - we said, “What are we going to do for playing fields, now?” And the College was good enough with assistance and support of the government, to say, “Well all right, we’ll find a spot for you.” And I suggested maybe we could have the facility or the fields and so on, put up near the Administration Building and so on. And it was decided on Power Plant Lane, to take the old Crop Science, or the Field Husbandry test plots, and take that section and - and level it out, making a big bank on one side and you have tremendous numbers of big, heavy machinery coming in there, to move the earth, but they leveled up a nice field for us. And because we had a nice playing field - they gave us a new playing field – an excellent one - one of the best in the country, I must say. The Argonauts train on it now, among other places on campus, and think it’s one of the finest sites they ever used.
J That’s where Alumni Stadium now is?
B Alumni Stadium now is there. We had floodlights on a couple of old telephone poles down at the other fields, so they gave us a beautiful floodlight system. We had a changing room, so they built us a new changing room at the end. It’s now gone. It was torn down, when we got the Stadium. And they - we had a running track in. They put a brand new running track in - an excellent, excellent facility. So, because we had managed to scrounge a few things on the other side of the campus, the government was good enough to replace those facilities with first class facilities. Now, at the same time, we were able to get some land there, just the right of it - they were able to use for a soccer pitch, because we were losing that as well. Well, then we got into building our new facilities about 1957, thereabouts. And when they were finished, they replaced the old gym that we had since 1892 - the old gym was built in 1892.
J That’s the one that sat where the Arts Building now is?
B The Arts Building is now. And the ball on the top of the, front of the building - the
cement, carved stone ball is sitting there as a memorial, recognizing the location of the old ,...
J That’s inside the “U” of the Arts Building...?
B Well, yes, - it’s an outside....
J Yeh...
B ... location, but it’s within the “U” of the Arts Building. It really was something to see that. But, that building served us very well, and we had excellent support from the Alumni Association. They pushed it all the way. And as I say, we’re very, very
fortunate in getting the facility we did get to replace that. Now, a little later on, we had some changes; we were developing the facilities and so on, for what was Physical Education at the time. We were building the addition to the Athletic Centre for Human Kinetics, now Human Biology. And there was a suggestion that we needed some more, playgrounds, and so on. And at that time, we’d suggested that lighted fields would be much more effective, because we play in the fall and so on. It gets dark early in the evening. And if we had lighted fields, we could make much more effective use than if we had many fields. So, we ended up with a lighted soccer field, a lighted softball diamond, with a lighted rugby field, a lighted field hockey field, as well as a rugby field. And I think -I think that there isn’t another university, that I’m aware of, in the country, that has as fine facilities for outdoor activity, as Guelph does.
J So you retired in ‘79,...
B Been retired for eleven years, now.
J ...although you’ve called that retired, you’ve been involved in a lot of activities since, in the Elora area. I know you’ve done a lot of things in the Art world. Particularly involved with helping young artists?
B Well, we didn’t want to retire completely, so we set up a little shop in downtown Elora, and sold artistic items, and quilts and curtains and a variety of things. We’ve always been sympathetic to young artists. And one of the buildings I own downtown – a very old building, and dilapidated building, happened to be an excellent site for a gallery.
J This was in Elora?
B Yeh, yeh. Barry McCarthy - you may have heard of him - he’s a University of Guelph graduate, and is becoming quite a renowned artist, was looking for a place to set up a little studio, so I had this old building that was in terrible shape. I said, “Well, you’re welcome to - if you want to go in there and fix it up, you’re welcome to it, and we’ll give it to you at a good rent. He did a magnificent job of fixing it up. Incidentally, in fixing it up used some materials from the old gym that was built in 1888, or 1892, rather. There are still a couple of the girders from the first gym we had, sitting up in the gallery downtown. You can still see it - hanging there with lights on it.
J In downtown....
B It’s in...
J Elora?
B ...downtown Elora. As a matter of fact, (chuckle) it’s an interesting thing. When they tore the old building down -I like to scrounge things - and I took the wood - they were going to send it out to the dump. I took the wood out of the ceiling of the old gym, and my son-in-law made kitchen cupboards out of it. It’s really
(chuckle) really something. I think I have a bit of a reputation as a scrounger. There are two iron tables out here that are the iron radiators that were sitting in the roof of the old gym. But we had a very interesting time. We retired from that a while back. We were finding that it was taking just too much of our time.
J And now you are living out in - outside of Elora a mile or two in a wonderful log house that your son-in-law built for you --
B Yes, that’s in my little development downtown Elora, we wanted a shop and about that time our son-in-law had taken a log building course and wanted to get some work, and we said, “Well, build us our little shop.” So he built us a nice log building, and when we saw the finished job, we said, “That’s the kind of a building, we’d like to live in.” So he built us our log home. And set on a site - we have a cottage down below here that was a spot we used to come to on weekends and occasionally in the evenings and then for any summer holidays we had, we spent time up here. Rather than going up north and bucking traffic, I decided I’d like to have a little cottage nearer home, and that’s what prompted us to buy the property, here.
J Now, I hear that you’re going to be honoured by the University of Guelph this fall - I believe at Homecoming Weekend. They’re going to name the Athletic Centre at the University - the William F. Mitchell Athletic Centre? Is that the proper name for it?
B Well, as far as I know, that’s what its going to be at. That was a thrill to hear that. It’s - all my life I’ve dreamt of a life involved in Athletics and I’ve had that opportunity. And this is the culmination of- of just what has been a terrific experience for me. It was a great honour, and I’m looking forward to Homecoming Weekend, when it will be officially named.
J Well, congratulations on that honour. Bill, and thank you very much for doing this interview. This has been an interview with Bill Mitchell, the retired Director of Athletics at the University, conducted on June 29th, 1990, by Jack Gallin.

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