ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
EVERETT M. BIGGS, OAC ‘48
Ontario Agricultural College, 1948
Interviewed by Murray Brown
January 27, 1995
M This is an interview with Everett M. Biggs, OAC Year 1948 conducted by Murray Brown, OAC Year ’51 for the University of Guelph Alumni Association.
Everett, what factors influenced you to attend OAC at Guelph?
E Well, first of all, I grew up in Pembroke, on a farm in the Ottawa Valley. At that time it was the end of the depression, there wasn’t much encouragement for young people to find jobs, there was a young student finishing his sophomore year in our church at Pembroke, and he encouraged me to attend. As well, of course I had the interest in agriculture but at the same time there were also two other students going to high school who went to Guelph at the same time, at least went to the freshman year at Guelph with me at the same time.
M You started OAC then with the class of ’43 and left to join the army during the Second World War and so you would have enlisted then in the spring of 1940 and is there anything you would like to highlight about your first year at OAC?
E Well, I guess first of all, the recollections that the people in that age, particularly the sophomore year I had, was the freshmen and the hazing was not at its highest but it was pretty bad and I remember duck-walking at the campus , going into the sophomore rooms and entertaining the sophomores by reciting various poems and all sorts of things that they could think of that would bring the freshmen to the level where they felt they should be as new entrants to the Ontario Agricultural College.
M That sounds like fun because I remember duck-walking underneath the bleachers when we were in the final year. After the war, you returned to OAC and graduated in 1948 and I know you became President of the OAC Student Council in your final year because that was the year I was a freshman. Please tell me about some of the highlights of your undergraduate days and after the war.
E Well, I guess I had over five years in the Armed Forces and when I got back to Guelph and really I was in the army a couple of months before that happened and I guess it was the greatest experience that anyone could have after being five years plus in the armed forces to join up with a group of young people, 95% I suppose, of five, six years younger than we were because you immediately became 5 years younger and it was a great rejuvenation for me and so during my year, 1948 of course, I had this experience and as an overview, I
suppose having been in the army, having this five years, I tended to have a bit of a leadership role and I ended up being one of the year presidents, I became the President of the Student’s Council, I got on the inter-year debating team and subsequently the debating team for the OAC and for Guelph at that time and I had a really great experience and by the time year ’48 came around I had all the recollections of the, in particular the hazing, all the recollections that I had when I was a freshman and I think I put some of the freshman year, your year, through when you came into your first year Murray.
M That’s right. I do remember that Ev. But one thing that I don’t remember about your undergraduate days is whether you lived in residence or not?
E I was married, I was in Europe, I came back, I was married, I went back to Europe and I came back to Canada to go to Guelph as a married man, so I was at Guelph in residence for most of the first year, all of the first year when my wife was waiting to come overseas. And then my final year I put in about 2/3 of that year living at home with my wife and then to study, I moved into residence.
M Very good. What professors had the greatest influence on your career decisions Everett?
E Well, I suppose I have to think in terms of the Debating Society and those activities. I didn’t gravitate into the Animal Science Judging Teams or the other judging teams because, I guess they seemed to feel that some of my attributes lay in the debating area and so I have to remember the English Department, first of all Dr. Reaman, he was Year ’48 Honorary Chairman and he had a particular leaning towards careers and what people were fitted for and what their idiosyncrasies might be and this sort of thing. So he did take a great interest in a great many students in our year and I suppose in other years. Professor McLean, of course, was outstanding in the English Department.
M Everett, where there any major student pranks during your student days?
E Yes, I’ll have to sort of some of them I was involved with as President of Student’s Council as a sophomore year and what have you. But, the hazing, of course, carried on until after the university was created and then it was stopped. During my years it manifested itself in some activity that was plain viciousness and I think we experienced some of the characteristics of some of our boys that like to be bullies, of course, we were asked to do certain things, such as I was asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer, which I wouldn’t take on as coming from a United Church in Pembroke and I objected to this. I developed much more undesirable habits later, of course, but be that be that as it may, and I suppose as an offshoot of this hazing there was a Dean involved with, well it was Percival Hall, and he advised me one evening when I tried to break up a brawl between what was really a fight between the 2 year veterinarians and the 3rd year I think and tried to settle it, it really was serious. But anyway he stood there and informed everybody what Everett Biggs was going to be in future years.
M Thanks Everett, I’m sure he must have run into you in future years. If I recall correctly, you joined the staff of the Ontario Department of Agriculture, now OMAFRA, in the Peel County Office. How long did you serve in that office?
E Well, actually, I had been advised that there were certain openings coming up in reorganization of the Department as it was then and it ended up, six months later I became Dairy Commissioner for the Province of Ontario on the invitation of the Deputy Minister and the Minister with the task of coordinating all aspects of milk marketing in the Province.
M What year did you become Dairy Commissioner Everett?
E Well, actually I was appointed Ag Rep. in Peel the fall of 1949 and then appointed Dairy Commissioner the spring of 1950.
M Very good. And where there any contentious issues when you were Dairy Commissioner and what happened in those days?
E Well, actually the dairy industry was headed up by 4 or 5 milk marketing groups, there was from cheese to fluid milk. The task was to, first of all, work at the general quality of milk in the Province, milk and cream in the Province and as well, coordinate the marketing because there was a desire and I, as part of my postgraduate studies, which I broke off for a year on, I studied the marketing of milk in particular in the United Kingdom and also in the United States. So marketing was the basic problem in all its aspects.
M Thank you Everett. I know you became Deputy Minister of Agriculture a few years later, so you may not recall the exact year but where, how long did you serve as Deputy Minister of Agriculture?
E I served as Deputy Minister of Agriculture for 12 years. I became Deputy Minister of the Environment in January 1972…
M Maybe you can tell me a little bit about the highlights of that responsibility.
E Now actually, my main career, as I look at it was in Agriculture and I was moved, as I said, from Dairy Commissioner into Deputy Minister through the marketing ADM and up into Deputy Minster. And then I was appointed January, 1972 as Deputy Minister of the Environment. I guess first of all I my task was to form the ministry and I brought water and you name it all aspects of the environment under that and I suppose the outstanding piece of legislation was the Environmental Act, which covered environment generally and that was followed by the Environmental Assessment Act and I suppose the problem in the early years, 1970, ’71, ’72 were not popular years for environmentalists and I can remember accompanying Bill Shirt to Cabinet and his fellow ministers were not that enthusiastic about some of these environmental concerns that they felt had not really reached their time.
M Yes, I’m sure I remember those times as well being in related environment area, being at the University of Guelph in the Agriculture and Agrology area … and I well remember those times when the Ministry of the Environment was formed. Another highlight of your career, as I recall, is that you were a pilot and owned your own aircraft at one time. Did you have any nerve-wracking experiences during your flying days?
E Well, I don’t know whether they were nerve-wracking or not, they always say a lot of these faults or accidents are due to pilot error, you’ve heard that all the time. I did own three different aircraft during my career, I did fly wheels but I used the aircraft for business, I
don’t know whether everybody knew that or not but I did and the reason that I did this was it was cheaper to rent an aircraft from say a company that was in the business rather than Land’s and Forests at that time it was cheaper to do it and I did it and was able to have them approved. And for this flying I used aircraft on wheels but for my own craft, most of the time they were on floats. Now my experiences I had on both wheels had floats, wheels primarily -the first time, I ran out of daylight down near Bradford and I had to come in and land in a field that was about maybe 1500 to 2000 feet long and that’s a little short but really you sideslip in and don’t use much of the field and then it isn’t too difficult at getting out. Getting out in the morning I remember going to the Ag. Rep’s office, I think it was at Bradford having them hold the tail of the aircraft with a rope back in the corner of the field, and then letting it go and throwing themselves on the ground. And that was a little silly, you know, to do it. And then I ran out of gas up in Northern Ontario, that’s north of Barrie, and had to land on a field coming back in floats and I landed on a plowed field and I had three or four interested people coming over to see the airplane because they had heard that an airplane had landed on floats on a plowed field but they’d never seen them take off. So we got off too.
M Good for you. I presume you owned a float aircraft because you flew into the lakes in Northern Ontario either to fish or to go to a cottage.
E That is right.
M Which did you use it most often for?
E Oh, I used it mostly for fishing. I did a fair amount of moose hunting in Northern Ontario. I did my fishing in the French River area but south of Sudbury but aside from that I did fly as far north as half way up the the shores of Hudson’s Bay and fly into some of the small lakes there. My son, who is a commercial pilot, was very concerned ‘cause he had all the material to guide the aircraft in his aircraft he was flying and of course by this time he had been flying for some time and he had flying experience I didn’t. Anyway, it worked out.
M I’m sure those were very exciting years and I presume that one of the trips then that you took to Northern Ontario was your longest trip or did you take any longer trips than that one?
E Yeah, this friend who had an aircraft that was well equipped with uh navigational equipment and we had four or five good trips fishing char.
M Everett, I know you have had another career since retirement from government service. Could you highlight one or two of these activities as a consultant.
E Anyway, I retired in 1977, took early retirement and it was the best thing I ever did in my life because I had a few years to go before they would have pushed me out and I took up my incorporation and I ended up doing some work on my own and as well did some work with a couple of the management consulting firms and this was a great experience because it opened my eyes , I got another look from a different perspective of government and government administration than I had had before. I guess that sums it up most easily. And I guess you inferred a moment ago that I’ve had a pretty good life and I have had one and since giving up those management consulting areas, laterally I’ve been chair in the City of
Brampton for the Race Relations Action Committee. It’s quite an experience, I have been for, going on three years now, and I’m chair of this committee where we have a mixture of the Black community, Pilipino, the Sikh the Indian community, you name it and it’s quite a challenge for a white person to chair these activities, particularly when you see the race relations problems that they are facing, particularly in the Brampton area and the Metropolitan Toronto area at this time.
M Yes, I’m sure that’s the case. I just spoke to a teacher in Mississauga last night who is the daughter of a famous Aggie and she says she teaches and one year she told me that in the Village of Malton there were only two Anglo-Saxon children in one classroom, so I know Metropolitan Toronto area is becoming very ethnic populated and I sure hope that some of the work that you’ve done, and which I’m sure you have, has improved the situation here in the Brampton area, from an ethnic standpoint, and I know that you had a very interesting career since you retired from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and it sure has been a pleasure meeting with you and sitting with you here as you serve out a very distinguished career and life and I certainly thank you for taking this time to provide a history of some of the highlights of your career as a student at Guelph and working for the Ontario Government, and it was a real pleasure chatting with you Everett, thank you very much.
M This interview took place in the Biggs residence in Brampton on the 27th of January, 1995 when Everett was confined to bed with cancer. I must add that Everett Biggs completed a post-graduate degree at the University of London when he took leave from the Ontario Department of Agriculture as Dairy Commissioner for Ontario in the 1950’s. His thesis dealt with the marketing of agricultural products. So it was very natural that his last job as a consultant was preparing a history of milk marketing in Ontario, a book has been prepared and about 65 audio tapes of those responsible for milk marketing over the years, including many dairy farmers. In addition, 15 audio-visual cassette tapes were prepared through Rogers Communications in Brampton. This material is being forwarded to the library of the University of Guelph at the end of January, 1995. Everett and Irene Biggs are to be recognized as 1994 Citizens of the Year in Brampton on February 8, 1995.