ALUMNI- IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
DR. DON BARNAM, OVC ’41, PROFESSOR EMERITUS
Interviewed by Ron Darling
May 3, 2007
D This is an interview with Dr. Don Barnam, OVC’41, Professor Emeritus Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Immunology Ontario Veterinary College, conducted by Ron Darling, OVC ’60 on May the 3rd, 2007 for the University of Guelph Alumni Association Oral History Project.
When and where were you born Dr. Barnum?
B I was born June 20th, 1918 on a farm about eight miles from Campbellford, Ontario.
D And then you had an agricultural background?
B Yes. My father was a mixed farmer. We had dairy cattle, about twenty-five cattle, shipped the milk to the cheese factory. We raised pigs and had poultry and of course used horses as our only power for working the farm.
D Where was your primary and secondary education?
B I took my primary in a country school; all grades were in the one room. There were about twenty pupils in the school I guess, varying with time. And following that, I went to Campbellford High School. And I went there for about five years and took my senior matriculation, as it was called at that time. And I graduated from high school in 1935.
D When did you first attend OVC?
B I came to OVC in the fall of 1937, and I’d spent the intervening two years on the farm, before I decided to go to Veterinary College.
D And then you graduated in ’41?
B Graduated four years later in the spring of ’41.
D And at the undergraduate level, do you have any interesting memories of college life?
B Well it was all an interesting time. You must remember that after two years at the college, then war broke out, and so there was a big change in 1939 when we had
to have military training as well as taking the veterinary courses. So it was an interesting time.
D Did you live on campus?
B I lived on campus for the first year. There was a little housing for vet students, about twelve students. So the first year I lived on campus, but we didn’t eat on campus. We had to find food somewhere else. After that I lived in an apartment with other members of my year.
D How were you influenced career-wise, by either professors, or fellow students?
B Well, I was influenced probably career-wise by faculty members – two faculty members. In particular, one was Oscar Bain, who taught micro-biology. And I became interested in that, and between my third and fourth years, I worked in the laboratory with Dr. Bain and with Dr. Scoffield. Another man that influenced me was Dr. McNabb, who came from Toronto and taught Public Health to us.
D Can you recall the make-up of your class – for instance the number of foreign students.
B Oh, yes. We had a class of sixty. In my final year, I was the class President and I’ve continued as the permanent class President, so you got to know all the students very well – personally. Thirty-seven was the start of the time when most of the students were Canadians. Prior to that, about half of the students at OVC were Americans. In our case we had just two Americans and, none from other countries. And the rest were Canadians coming from every province of Canada, from Newfoundland – which wasn’t part of the Canada at that time, of course – to Vancouver.
D Any female students?
B We had one female student. She was older than the most of the class members, having received a university education before that, but because of her interest in small animals, she came to the Vet College. This was the only female in our class and because of her age and general experience was a general "Mother-type" to the fifty-nine male students in the class.
D At that time were there very many lady veterinarians?
B No. There were about three I think in all in this school when we first came, and, when we graduated, I think there maybe were four in this whole school.
D What major differences would you say exist between the under-graduate training which you received and training which present day students receive?
B Well, our training, of course was rather meager, due to a small faculty, and to the fact that in the thirties there was very little money for education. There was very little opportunity for clinical work at the college. There was laboratory work, but it was primarily lecture and experience from the faculty members.The information of course, that was available was not particularly new. It come back from the early part of the century and we used a few major textbooks, whereas today, the information is available in so many forms, and there are all the equipment and the tests that are now a part of the schooling. There’s no comparison. You couldn’t compare them in a reasonable way from what we had, which was sixty-five years ago.
D What was your extra-curricular involvement on campus – either sports or non-sporting activities?
B I did play a musical instrument – a trumpet, and I played in the band that was on campus at that time. It was the Ontario Agricultural College Band. I played on that for four years. I played hockey for the college team for four years. I played some softball for the class.
D Was hockey a major sport? At that time?
B Oh – it wasn’t particularly, because the only artificial ice in Guelph at that time was a small rink used for curling, and itt was also used for small hockey, so you had to go to another city if you wanted to get artificial ice, so hockey wasn’t a big factor, but one sport that the OVC students participated in. Otherwise they didn’t participate with the Agricultural College very much in activities.
D The veterinary students didn’t get into football, for example, to the extent that agricultural students would?
B No, the sports of the Agricultural College were not looked on with a great deal of favour by the administration of the Veterinary College. An interesting thing is that at that time there was one of the American students – one of the senior years was a recognized half-back from an American school and he didn’t even play for the OAC team.
D And what post-graduate degrees have you received?
B I received the diploma in Veterinary Public Health from the School of Hygiene of the University of Toronto. I received that in 1949, and then I received the Doctor of Veterinary Science from the University of Toronto in 1952.Of course I took extra courses at different times in microbiological fields – short courses. But those were the two degrees that I received.
D What did you do following graduation?
B Following graduation I was employed by the Ontario Department of Health Laboratories. So, I worked in the laboratories and I worked as an assistant veterinarian to the Ontario Hospital Farms – for two years and then I was a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Medical Corps for two years and was in the service at the end of the war.
D And what were your duties as a soldier?
B I was placed in charge of diagnostic laboratories in hospitals. I was responsible for running the lab in the hospital, which included tests of all types – not the radiology, but all laboratory tests. And then also I served in a special branch associated with biological and chemical warfare, working with botulism and a special project of the National Defense at Kingston, Ontario – for six months.
D And following the war?
B I went directly from the war to the Faculty at OVC.
D And what point did you become a full Professor?
B I came on as Associate and I became a full Professor in 1960 and, and then in ’62 I became a Chair of a Department.
D And what title did you have as a professor?
B Well, it was in Microbiology, I was Professor of Microbiology, but in the Veterinary College you weren’t designated by your professional rank or by your doctorate degree. And you’re always called Doctor, not Professor so-and-so.
D Can you tell us the positions you’ve held over the years – and possibly the dates, or as close as possible?
B Well, the positions I held when I arrived at the Vet College in 1945, I was an Assistant Professor, and I worked in the field of Clinical Mastitis – Clinical and Bacteriological areas of Bovine Mastitis, and then I started three years later – that would be ’59, taking my diploma in Veterinary Public Health, and I became an Associate Professor after that, and then as I say, in 1962 I became a full professor.
D Teaching and lecturing were important in your career. Can you talk a bit about that?
B I enjoyed the teaching and I taught Microbiology to Veterinary students and to other groups on the campus, during my time there. I enjoyed the teaching and the laboratory exercises that I presented to the to the students. But at the Veterinary College, you were also associated with animal diseases, and at the Veterinary College for many years I was responsible for the diagnostic bacteriology at the
Veterinary College – which was practically a full-time operation. I enjoyed teaching the graduate students, which occurred starting in the 1960’s. And I had both Master of Science students Doctorate students over the years.
D Bovine mastitis was an area of interest of yours; how long for?
B Well, bovine mastitis was of interest for a long time, because I’ve mentioned after my high school period, I was two years on the farm – it was a dairy farm and I became acquainted with bovine mastitis as an important disease in the dairy industry. And then, after the war, penicillin – that came into the picture, and therefore we needed control programmes – we could have control programmes, and treat, successfully, cases of bovine mastitis. So I became actively involved in that and continued with, a large part of my career in having some association with bovine mastitis, in both the field and in research – and was a member of the International Association of workers on Mastitis. That was an International group. And there was also a North American group of workers on Bovine Mastitis, of which I was an active member and Chair at different times, of the Association. Many of the procedures we initiated in the control of mastitis are still very important to-day.
D What other diseases were of particular interest to you?
B Oh, I worked a great deal with enteric diseases, with salmonellas; salmonella intestinal B as a disease. And then the coliform diseases, both in sheep - not so much in sheep, but in cattle, calves and in swine, with a number of specific diseases caused by E. coli; also in poultry. Working with E.coli - myself and graduate students- we had a reputation of really good work in that field. But I worked on pneumonias; the pasteurella group of organisms. I worked on fungal infections in skin and so many of the bacterial diseases I had association with, because of the diagnostic lab and the need to diagnose, and promote control.
D I know you’ve made some excellent contributions to Veterinary Medicine. Would
you want to talk about some of your more satisfying achievements?
B Well, I think the achievements were in Bovine Mastitis, of course that we did develop an excellent method of enumerating or testing milk samples for the presence of mastitis – evidence of mastitis in cattle so that it could be used in the dairy industry, so that today, all milk that’s sent for consumption or sale is tested at the dairy barn by the techniques we developed. And in the field of working with E. colli, was the identification of specific toxins that were relating to disease, and being able to identify the types of differences in the organisms that indicated their pathogenisity. I also worked with rabies some, being on the Rabies Committee.
D So, your career has been somewhat diversified, from the point of view of bacteriology and virology. Your name has been associated with many
publications, books and papers. Have you an idea how many? And could you say, perhaps, a few words about some you feel that are worthy of mention?
B I think there were over a hundred publications I’ve been associated with. But many of them of course, were associated with other authors, so, the part you play is significant in some cases and not so much in others. I think some of the early papers that were interesting were in relationship to the use of antibiotics in the treatment of animal infections and the development of resistance and the detection of resistance to organisms. That was a very important field in the beginning. I was involved early in that and sent on international committees on the development of resistance in microbial agents.
D How early would you think that you were suspicious, or knew, that resistance was going to develop to antibiotics?
B Oh, well, yes, after the war we were using penicillin in mastitis, and this was a very good opportunity to show very early, that strains of staphylococcus became resistant to the use of penicillin. This was easy to identify because , whereas in some cases it would work in one quarter of a cow, and later in another quarter, it wouldn’t work. And you could test then, in the laboratory, whether or not it was effective against the organism. So, I think in the mid-‘50’s, we were conscious that it did occur. We didn’t understand the genetic relationship of what was happening, always – or how the resistance was spread from one organism to another, until we or got involved with the genetic activities of microorganisms. We realized how this resistance was carried through genetic information, and could be passed from one organism to another and then it stayed there – resistant genes.
D Your retirement was in 1984?
B No. '83.
D After your official retirement, your work has continued. And could you explain what that has involved?
B Yes. I did some of this before I retired, but I became involved in work outside the country. I did some work for then, UNESCO – United Nations in that we gave courses to veterinarians. I did this in Africa; in Tanzania, where we gave courses to veterinarians from each of the countries in the area. We did this in Sri Lanca; we did this in Malasia. Then I did work with CIDA involved in Indonesia and China. I did a lot of going and giving small courses – I did courses and lectures in Japan. I was an external examiner for the programme of "mastitis control" in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
D How were you received overseas?
B Oh – very, very well of course, because we went as an expert and, and you were treated as an individual.It was the local universities or the government and so on. They treated you with great respect and always made it a most enjoyable trip.In many cases I was able to take my wife with me, who then was able to become very acquainted with the other countries in which we were visiting.
D Many changes have happened during your seventy years association with OVC. I guess it’s more than seventy, now. Could you elaborate on that?
B Well, of course the changes occurred in a number of ways. One of course is just in the physical structure of OVC, which in 1935, was one building and one small barn – and now it’s a whole complex of buildings which kept being built over the years. So, it’s been a huge construction site of buildings. And then of course, the Faculty then always were made up of individuals who had taken graduate training – a Masters or a PhD, especially trained Faculty. Another thing was the change in the population of undergraduate students, which was in my time, one female out of sixty; now the percentage of females is sixty percent – or more. That’s a significant change. Plus there’s a big – big change in the prestige that is awarded to the Veterinary College, and to the students.
D You would say the prestige has – has improved through the years?
B Oh, yes! Yes. I mean the thirties, there wasn’t any particular prestige except within the farming population, about going to Veterinary College. Now the whole population is aware of a Veterinarian’s existence. And this is due in large part to the Small Animal group of Veterinarians that now exist in the country.
D And in relation to Veterinary Colleges throughout the world, OVC you would say has improved from the prestige point of view?
B There was prestige at the Ontario Veterinary College, primarily because of Dr. Scoffield, who was a well known international scientist, as well as a humanitarian, so because of him, the Veterinary College had received prestige, and also, because the students of OVC then went back and in their communities or the universities, or where ever they went, they were a credit to themselves and to the university. I think it’s the Alumni that have really made the Veterinary College such a popular place.
D Could you say a word about the honours you’ve received through the years: what would be your most favourable memory in this connection?
B Yes, one honour I received was Fellow of the American Society of Microbiology". This is a prestigious organization, and to be recognized by your fellow members for your scientific work to be made a "Fellow", which occurred in the ‘60’s, was quite significant. I received an honour from the OVA, being a "Veterinary of the Year". I received the honour of being a Conference and
Research Worker – a scientific body in Canada and United States, when one conference was dedicated to me. And I received a recognition from the International Association of Workers in Mastitis. I received recognition for my work on Rabies control in Ontario. I Received recognition from my work in the establishment of the "Canadian Veterinary Mission", I received recognition from other societies for my work, all of which has been very, very pleasing.
D Yes. It must be very satisfying. Regarding life at home. When were you married?
B Married in 1942
D Can you say a word about your wife and family?
B Yes. My wife came from a rural background. Her professional life has been in music, both as a singer and a performer. And our children are raised. One boy, who was sort of in financial activities. Another boy is a full-time musician in the field of professional orchestras, and a daughter who is a teacher of music in French. And I have six grandchildren; none of whom have gone to a Veterinary College, or have been interested as much in biological sciences as in the Arts.
D You yourself had an interest in music, I understand?
B Well, just as a student, I played in a band, and I played in an army band at one time, but it wasn’t very serious.
D But even to this day, I know you’re a choir member?
B Oh, yes. I enjoy singing; it's an enjoyable experience. And also in my private life, I have been very active in church.
D And you had involvement in your home with students. Could you say a word about that?
B Yes. For this I give the credit to my wife, who is always very willing to have students, particularly graduate students from other countries come to our home for visits and this was a very rewarding time, and we did this for many years; our house was an open door for particularly students at the Veterinary College; graduate students, but also undergraduates who came from other countries.
D Bound to have been a big comfort and help to them morally I’m sure.
B Ah, Yes. They always appreciated it. And we enjoyed it.
D Well, thank you for your co-operation Dr. Barnam, and the giving of your time. The information you have provided is both interesting and invaluable to our project.