ALUMNI- IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
DOUG HOFFMAN, OAC’ 46
Interviewed by Murray Miller
March 22, 2007
M This is an interview with Doug Hoffman, who received a BSA from the OAC in 1946 and an MSA in Soil Science in 1949, also from the OAC. The interview is being conducted on March 2, 2007 in his home on Winston Crescent in Guelph by Murray Miller, OAC ’53 for the Alumni-in-Action Oral History Project.
Doug it’s a pleasure for me to sit here and chat with you about your experiences throughout your time at the OAC. First as a student, then as a member of the Faculty and then your subsequent time at the University of Waterloo, but before we get into that let’s begin by having you give us a little bit of your past where you grew up, your early life and uh, early schooling etc.
H I grew up in Toronto, down in what is fondly known as the east end of the Beach District, and we were within a block of the lake-front, as a matter of fact, and so it was quite a nice spot in which to be located. I went to what in those days was called Williamson Road Public School. And this was followed by a number of years at Malvern Collegiate Institute. Now, by the way, Malvern Collegiate Institute celebrated a Hundredth Anniversary, some time ago. The interesting thing is, that my Father went there before me.
M And your Father he was a Dentist, right?
H Yes. Russell was a Dentist, and he practiced in those days in the east end of Toronto. As a matter of fact, over what in those days was called the Dominion Bank. It’s now known as the Toronto-Dominion Bank, but in those days that’s what the name of it was.
M And you Mother was a nurse?
H That’s right.
M So how did a young lad growing up in the middle of Toronto with a Dentist for a Father – what influenced you to come to the OAC?
H It wasn’t easy. I suppose that there were two or three things that influenced my going to OAC. One of those was of course, was the fact that father had a patient by the name of Bruce Overend. Bruce Overend graduated, I think from OAC in about 1936, although, I’m not quite sure of that year. In any case, he was
very enthusiastic about OAC, and that had a lot to do with what my father felt. My Father of course, was also one of those individuals who believed that you should tell your son what he was going to do, and in those days that was the fashion. You were told what you were going to do. I think I would have been a very great embarrassment to my father had I gone into Dentistry. My father, on occasion, tried to convince me that Dentistry wasn’t a bad way to go, in spite of the fact that in those days, the average Dental salary was seventeen thousand dollars a year, in the city of Toronto. Ah, that’s still a great deal better than many of us were making in the Government at that time. In any case, why, this was one of the reasons I went. The other reason I went was, because I had an Uncle who had a farm – two hundred and fifty acres up just outside of Wingham, as a matter of fact, and we had to have – farm training of some kind, before we did something at OAC. We spent some time, working on the farm, and that’s what I did for a couple of years.
M OK. Very good. And you came to the OAC in 1939?
H That’s right.
M Makes you now eighty-seven years old?
H That’s right. (Chuckle).
M What recollections do you have the first day or two of the OAC – the first few days initiation etc.? How did you first get to the OAC?
H Well, my father drove me. In those days he had a 1932 Reo, if I remember correctly, and he drove me, along with my mother, and up to OAC. And the thing that I remember most vividly was the fact that, in those days, we came a week early. We came a week early because we were ensconced in “Rugby Alley” as it was – “Rugby Alley” was where the football team stayed. I had a note from my coach at Malvern Collegiate Institute, saying that I (Chuckle) – I should be a great asset to playing football for OAC. Needless to say, I never was very much of an asset. And yes, I did get in the way now and again, but it wasn’t long until the whole view of OAC changed, particularly when the Royal Canadian Air Force came in and took over.
M When was that? What year?
H That would be 1940.
M 1940. Yes. OK. And initiation?
H Oh, yes. There was initiation. We had initiation. Those were the days when there was a large pool of some kind, outside of the English Department.
M The old Rose Pond.
H The old Rose Pond. That’s it exactly. And I could remember standing up there on a board over the Rose Pond, pretending that they were going to push us over the side – which they never did, incidently, but there were a number of things that happened. The thing that was most vivid of course, was the fact that every morning we had to get up early to go and clean up the rooms of some of the senior year –
M Well, those things have been going on ever since the OAC was formed.
H (Chuckle). Yes.
M Well. You graduated in 1946, but you had a break – for army. Let’s – we’ll come back to that later. Not army, but navy –
M We’ll come back to that later. What recollections do you have of your time at the OAC? What option did you choose?
H Originally I chose the Zoology option, but there was no such thing as a Zoology Option. I chose that because the professor of the day, gave me a hundred and two marks, because that was the total number of marks you could get, and I got the hundred and two marks on something, and I’d never got that in my life before. So I thought that was the thing to do. Plus he got involved in this thing. Well, I went to see Professor Baker. Professor Baker said that, really the only option he had was Entomology, and he wasn’t sure that there was any hope for a job at the end of this. He rather discouraged me right from the beginning, so I ended up in Chemistry. And how did I choose it? Oh, I suppose shear luck, just because I thought, well, Chemistry seems like a good thing. I’ll take Chemistry.
M And recollections of some of your favourite professors – and maybe some of your less favourite?
H ) Well – I didn’t have any less favourite ones. I was kind of fortunate I think . The majority of them were just - were just grand. There was Oswald McConckey. He made all his lectures very interesting. Who else was there? Oh, my stars. Mr. Burke – Professor Burke. He was, as I recall, Organic Chemistry. Then there was a chap whose name escapes me at the moment. I wish I could think of it. But he was quite a young man. He lived up on Waterloo Avenue, down here in the city of Guelph. And he was very good. Really, really did a wonderful job.
M What course was he in?
H He was in what was essentially Quantitative Analysis.
H That’s it. Yes, that’s right. You did it.
M Because I had him too… and he was great.
H Yeh. I liked him.
M …and Gerry Runke.
H Oh, yeh. Well, Gerry Runke , he was a cut above ordinary students in my day. In those days, why, as Head of a Department – and they were called Heads, they weren`t Chairs, as Head, why he pretty well dictated who was going to do what to whom.
M And then, your time at college was interrupted by the War.
H That`s right.
M Could relate a little bit about what you were doing at that time
H Well, during the War, I was one of the first Probationary Sub-Lieutenants. Professor Baker – again – had interest in the Navy in setting up a system which was something like, but not parallel to, the Officers` Training that the COTC had. The difference was that this was Naval Training, and he was responsible for developing that. And he became a Captain right off the bat which was quite a senior rank – in Naval terms, and he looked after this group. I turned out to be colour blind. And you couldn`t have a Probationary Sub-Lieutenant standing on the deck saying, ``Oh, I recognize the colour of that flag – it`s purple``, when it was really blue. And so, they decided that they would reduce me to ranks, which is what they did. I went in to the senior officer present, down in the training area – this was down in Nova Scotia – he had me up before him, and he said,
What was I going to do? I was colour blind, and the only thing I could do would be a coder or a wireless telegrapher. Well, I’d done a lot of work in wireless, back prior to that time, so I thought, oh well I’ll be a wireless telegrapher. He says, “Otherwise, we’ll send you in to join the Army.” So, I said, “Oh, that’s all right, I’ll go in as a wireless telegrapher.” And that’s what I was. So I worked backwards. I became what was called an Ordinary Wireless Telegrapher, and really didn’t get my proper rating until some time later – after I’d had considerable training, and then I was sent down to join a ship. The first ship I had I guess it was converted yacht, and they had a big gun – cannon sitting on the bow. And that’s about it. And we were to strike fear in the hearts of the enemy – (ha, ha, ha) which I doubt very much. In any case, this was called HMCS Husky – Husky
used to travel a lot in the Bay of Fundy and other such places. Then I was transferred to the ship called the “Fairmile”. Fairmiles are wooden boats. They’re a hundred and twelve feet long. They consist of a whole lot of machine-guns, but mostly depth charges. And our job was to go round and drop depth charges on suspicious characters. Which is what we attempted to do from time to time.
H I was on Fairmiles for six months. At the end of six months and a great deal of sea-sickness afterwards, I was sent home because my mother had died. And I was sent home in order to be able to do something about the estate here . Anyway, I went home to check on my Grandmother. My Grandmother went to live with my brother. My brother was left alone. He was just thirteen years old, and he was left alone, of course, here in this , great large house in beautiful downtown Wingham. He and my Grandmother managed to get along all right on my father’s salary, and so, after I’d been – I was given two weeks leave – after I’d been home for a week, I decided that the thing to do would be to get married, and we’ll see then what happens from then on. So that’s what we did. We were married in 1944, on October the 14th.
M So, I understand that you had known Fran, your wife, for many years prior to that?
H That’s correct. I’ve known her, at that time, for – oh, I suppose 10 – 12 years or thereabouts, and she lived across the street from me – in the city of Toronto.
M So, when did you enter the Service?
H Entered the Service in 1942. This would be September, 1942. I left it in October 1945.
M And you returned to the OAC then?
H At OAC to finish in one year. I had one year to finish up. So I did that, and…
M Well you graduated in the spring of ‘46
.H That’s right.
M Do you have any recollections of your graduation?
H No, except it was very nice.
Well, one thing I remember, most vividly is walking across the campus with – with Rick Richards and Len Webber and exclaiming on the fact that I’d be starting to work the following morning.
M And, so that brings us to that point. You began to work on the Soil Survey?
H That’s correct. In those very early days, what we decided to do was that all of the teams that they had – would work in the area of u Wellington County. That would keep us from getting carried away too far. In any case, we decided to work in Wellington County, since there had never been a map done for that area.
M OK And you mentioned Rick Richards – he was the chief of the Soil Survey Programme?
H He was – he was chief of the Soil Survey Programme. Actually, there were two people that were chiefs – the Provincial chief was – was Professor Morwick – and Rick Richards was the fellow in charge as far as the Federal Group was concerned. In those days he was a Federal employee. And it was the habit of the Federal Government at that time, to establish Soil Survey Units in each Province, and usually at the Agricultural College wherever there was one.
M OK And when you began you were with the Canada Agriculture?
H No. I worked for the Provincial for two years. And then the Feds advertised another position at OAC and that position was to go at twenty-seven hundred dollars a year, if I remember correctly. That was three hundred dollars more a year than I was making. And that seemed like a fabulous sum in those days, and so that’s what we did. We (chuckle) we switched allegiance, and I worked for the Federal Government from then on.
M And you were in that Soil Survey for quite a few years. How many …?
H Oh, my stars! Well the – the Soil Survey – I guess I was in that for somewhere on the order of sixteen – eighteen years. Somewhere in there. I’m not quite sure.
M And the later part of that time, you spent on the Canada Land Inventory establishing the “Land Use Capability Programme”?
H That’s right.
M Can you tell us a little bit about that?
H The “Land Use Capability Programme” was one in which we attempted to place all the soils in it’s seven classes. Class I was best and Class VII was worst. So, oh, you knew pretty well where you wanted to put all these things. There are certain ones that would be stuck in this no matter what. For example, many of the so-called flood plains – the bottom lands, whatever you want to call them, would be classified lands, because you had to undergo this flooding problem each year as the snow melted. And that was the type of thing that happened. The first three classes were considered to be the best for agricultural crops . So, that’s the
way they would go. Now what happened was –that later on, I got involved with the establishment of actual yields. And those yields have been indicated for each one of those areas.
M That, I believe was the part of your PhD Programme, was it not at the University of Waterloo.
H That’s right.
M Coming back to the Land Use Capability system, your knowledge of the soils of Ontario – from your survey - was a major help in establishing those Land Use Capabilities?…
H Oh, Yes uh-huh.
M Can you indicate something about how that Land Use Capability system has been used?
H I suppose that – with me, it’s a bit of a tender spot. It’s tender because, it would appear that much of that Land Use Capability has not been used to the same extent that it might be. Many people have undertaken to develop capability standards, and they have, among other things established again, yields. The difficulty is, is that in general, the public does not understand either the land use capability or the actual yields that one might attain.
M It has been used, has it not, in the land use planning area in Ontario?
H Yes. That’s quite correct. It’s been used – particularly when it comes to uses that are of a non-agricultural nature. If we look at uses, such as, mining, there are a number of different land uses like the building of houses, for example. We estimate what this means in terms of agricultural land loss.
H So, you’ll see that, even to-day, we are still faced with this difficulty – the tendency if we follow some of the larger cities, the tendency is to spread out in the country-side. And spread out, in this case means growing more homes, and we grow more homes because there’s more money in it. And that is probably the reason that you have to expect – this kind of thing to happen.
M Oh, but the establishment of these classes – one, two and three – has it to significant extent, controlled this development?
H I would say not. I would say that there are too many other pressures being brought on to it. All you have to do is read to-day’s newspapers. You read to-day’s newspapers and you find out all of a sudden that we are faced with a great
deal – a greatly increased immigration. We have numerous people that are coming to Canada because it’s a nice place to live. And I couldn’t agree more. The difficulty is that we have some difficulty in trying to maintain lots that are relatively small.
M And after or perhaps it was during this period of working with the Canada Land Inventory, you joined the Faculty of the Soil Science Department?
H That’s right. 1962. That’s when I joined them. Yes
M So this work was done as a member of the Faculty?
H That’s right.
M And you had teaching – a good deal of teaching responsibility?
M In what particular subjects - areas?
H Usually, it’s Soil – Soil Classification. Some on Land Use Planning.
M And subsequently, you became the Director of the Centre for Resources Development?
H Yes. At the College. Yes.
M Would you like to elaborate a little bit on that?
H The Centre for Resources Development was essentially a planning type of thing – largely emphasizing rural planning of different types and it had a programme all of its own. The Centre itself consisted of two people. The Director and the Secretary – and that was it. However, the Centre also operated on the basis of the fact that you could operate with students through their Departments. So if they chose a thesis for example, a thesis topic – and this by the way was a graduate level – right. If they chose this thesis topic that had something to do with land use planning, then in all likelihood they would end up working through the Centre – the Director was always one who was assumed to be part of the individual’s committee, and we were very fortunate. We had a lot of students at one time did that. We worked in general with several departments. Among them, Engineering There was one chap who went through the Centre ) who , was interested in the changing bird populations - a) when you cut down a series of trees – and b) when you changed cropping practice or even changed crops, as far as that goes. And we got into a large argument in their thesis about further – how you counted all these birds – because he essentially, had counted them. And he had done this of course, by using a drawing that said when you’ve got that many birds out there in
front of you, you have approximately five hundred – and so forth. And that’s exactly what he did. And fortunately, he was passed, but I kept wondering about this – this counting system that he had. But, it did show that there was a great change in the number of birds and the kind of birds and one thing and another. In any case, some theses were much more interesting than others, to say the least.
M And you were in that position – when did that start?
H I was a Director of the Centre for Resources Development from 1974 to 1978.
M And following that?
H And following that I went off to Waterloo – University of Waterloo. And at Waterloo I was soon posted Director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning. It’s just known as Planning these days, but in those days it was Urban and Regional. And I was their third or fourth Director – I don’t know which.
M How long were you in that position?
H For six years. At the end of six year – I had one more year to go, and then I reached my magic sixty-fifth birthday, and that was the time, of course, then, to move on. So I moved on.
M In that position? What were your major responsibilities and activities?
H Major responsibility was planning in general. And anything to do with what you might call urban and regional planning. That was the job that you had.
M And you retired at that point?
HYes. The end of that time.
M You had quite a broad uh, career, and I’m sure this is has led to recognitions. I know that you are a “Fellow of the Canadian Society of Soil Science”. What other awards would you like to tell us about?
H Well, I got an award from the Provincial Government as a matter of fact. This was back in – again in the old days when I was given the award in 1998 of the Ontario Volunteer Service Award. And that was given to me – a “Commemorative Award of Recognition” from their Ecological and Advisory Committee.
H So that’s - that’s what I got that for. Then I got another award for the – a “Commemorative Award of Recognition” from the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. I have a “Past President Award” from the Guelph-Wellington Men’s Club. I don’t know whether that makes any difference, or not (Chuckle). But – then I have a “Robert S. Dorney Award”. The “Robert S. Doorney Award” is the Ontario Society for Environmental Management, I won that, oh, heavens – 1993 or something. In any case – then uh, there’s the “President’s Citation” from the Soil Conservation Society of America.
H Those are some of the kinds of awards that I received.
M OK Well, certainly your your contributions to Ontario Agriculture and particularly the recognition of the characteristics of the soils of Ontario has been a major contribution that I think you should be proud of. Now, in your retirement, what’s keeping you busy?
H Well, what’s keeping me busy? First of all from the time I retired until 2002, I taught at three different universities – I taught at York, Waterloo and Guelph. Not all at the same time, although there was one year that I did it all at the same time – seemed to me I was spending most of my time on the road. But, other than those three times. I have been on the Board for the Guelph Museums, and that’s another one of the types of things that I’ve done. I think I mentioned once before, there’s the so-called Retired Men’s Club that I still have something to do with – in a slight way. So far, I’ve not got involved again in many different things, but those are some of the things.
M You’ve had connection with the St. George’s Church?
H Yes. I’ve been Warden there twice. Warden – supposedly looking after the governing of the church.
M And hobbies?
H Hobbies. Oh, one of my major hobbies has always been fishing. Back in the olden days when we used to walk across all these great expanses of Northern Territory, I used to carry a fishing rod with me, and we would go fishing for no reason at all – particularly on the look-out for trout and other fish that we could take back and cook up for supper at night. In any case, we would do that. It reminds me of one of the stories. I decided that I’d come across the river – and the river was quite deep, and I thought, well the only way to get across here is to carry my stuff – my clothing and everything else across when – and I held it aloft with one hand, and paddled over with the other hand. And I got over there, and I decided I would just sit on the bank and wait for myself to dry a bit before I put my clothing back on again. Well, that worked out very well, except I had chosen
a spot where there was a steep slope, and there’s a clay soil, and before I knew what was going on, I had wet everything all the way down to the river and had managed to slide down without being able to stop. So, I ended up in the “drink” anyway, and there are many stories (chuckle) of course that you could talk about, Another story that I think is rather interesting is that we were staying in beautiful downtown Kapuskasing. And (chuckle) we decided that what we would do among other things, is that – I had at that time – I had eleven students with me – and we would play baseball. So we would go out with our bat and baseball and play baseball in the evening – have a really enjoyable time. Well that worked out all right except we had one chap who was an excellent pitcher. And the local team asked if he would appear – to toss the ball for them. We just thought that was all right – he could appear – that would be fine. So we would go out and play and he would appear. Well, we got home early one evening, and decided that we should go to the hotel and have one beer before we went to bed. So, that’s what we did. And here we are all eleven of us, traipsing into this hotel room and getting one beer. Well, when we were finished, the person in charge of the beer parlor came up and he said, “You know, we appreciate everything you’ve done so much.” He said, “ Now, this beer is on us.” And we decided to go out the door. Well, just as we were going out the door, why, the team that was supposed to play came in – and it was very embarrassing telling this man that we were the wrong team that he had given the beer to.
M And was that when you were on Soil Survey?
H That’s when I was on Soil Survey. That was –those were the – the Northern days – on the Northern days we worked on the capability. We also were responsible for establishing capability for organic soils – bogs and so forth. And so we devised a system whereby you could do this.
M Any other interesting anecdotes from your soil survey days that you feel that you can relate?...
H Well, (chuckle) , the ones that I can relate, I suppose. Yes, it’s always – it’s always interesting. We had one young man who will remain nameless because of the situation that he found himself in. He had a sudden urge to squat down by the roadside behind the car, and evacuate himself – which he did. The difficulty is that the chap that was with him decided that it was time to move the car. And that’s exactly what he did. Highway number eleven was just over the way and I guess this poor fellow – he just was so upset about this. He never got over it. The other thing too, we had a situation in Emo. The rooms were on the second floor in this hotel – just a little hotel. And what would happen was that this young lad decided that he would go outside. Well, for some unknown reason – he wasn’t drunk or disorderly or anything – but there was a hole down where you were supposed to go down through the hole in the floor of the second floor, so that you could use the fire-escape. Worked out just fine, except in this lad’s case, he mis-stepped and he fell two floors – two storeys down to the
ground. Well, of course, we carted him off immediately to the Doctor and everything, but the Doctor said he couldn’t find anything broken. As far as I know this young lad is still out and about (chuckle) doing his own thing, somewhere as far as that goes. And that brings me to my third story, which deals with Rick Richards. Rick had decided to go to Emo – this is Emo, again. Emo had a very nice hotel, and there was just Rick Richards and Doug Hoffman there. And the two of them sat down for supper. And Rick Richards was eating a piece of apple pie, and in a very loud voice that carried all over the dining room, he was saying, “I thought you told me this pie was all right. I think it’s awful.” He said, “You should really do something about pie like this.” And the poor woman, of course, who’d been the cook, who had done the cooking, was so upset. And she offered him all sorts of pastry.
M And was the pie awful?
H No it was great.
M So, Rick got some freebies?
H That’s right.
M OK Doug, now, wrapping up perhaps here, can you tell us about your family?
H Well, I have or had two girls and two boys. The oldest girl is no longer with us. But my daughter in Winnipeg, living in Winnipeg. She has a position out there, which means that she does quite a bit of travelling, and she goes to and from various hospitals – check on the health system. I have a son Michael. Michael has his own business here in the city of Guelph. He more or less follows the path that his father set. Jim lives in Hamilton, and Jim is a teacher – or was a teacher. He’s retired. And he’s a teacher in the High School system – and taught French.
H Grandchildren – no grandchildren.
M No grandchildren.
H No grandchildren. No. I have great hopes, well I shouldn’t say no grandchildren. I’ve got grandchildren – what am I saying. I’ve got grandchildren three of them actually. Not great-grandchildren. That’s what I was complaining about.
H I have grandchildren. Three grandchildren. Two boys and a girl. My daughter has two and the one that was my oldest daughter had one.
M Great-grandchildren still to come.
H Well, they’re still to come, yes. Now we’ve got great hopes, but who knows.
M Now, is there anything else that I’ve over-looked in asking you? anything else that you would like to add to this before we close off?
H I don’t think so. I think that probably we’ve covered everything we need to cover.
M OK, Doug, well, on behalf of the Oral History Project, I want to thank you very much for taking this time to tell us of your really very interesting and rather eclectic career. You’ve gone through the Soil Survey, through to being the Director of a Planning Programme…
H (Chuckle) Yeh.
M So, thank you very much
H You’re welcome.