ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
Interviewed by John Price
J This is an interview with Dr. Gavin Francis Hamilton, OVC’52, conducted by a classmate, Dr. John Price, OVC’52, on December 12th 2006, for the University of Guelph Alumni Association, Alumni-in-Action Oral History Project.
I will let Gavin take over now, because he has some interesting stories.
G Thank you, John. Well, I guess that we start at the beginning. I was born in Nokomis, Saskatchewan, in August 6th, 1930. August the 6th is kind of a historic date, as that’s the day the first atomic bomb was dropped in our world in 1945. Anyway, I grew up on a small mixed farm in Saskatchewan, horses, beef cattle, sheep and swine during the depression years, the 30’s, the so-called dustbowl in the province. My dad bred and showed sheep and swine.
I attended a rural school for my education. Thankfully, small classes. I think there were four of us in grade 1, and I think by the time I got to grade 10, there was only me and one other person. I took a Latin course by correspondence when I was in grade 10 and I did that at a grade 9 level. When I went to the, village school to finish high school, I started Latin as an extra subject, through till I finished school. I lived about 6 miles from the village, so, apart from living in and boarding in the town in the wintertime, I commuted 6 miles a day by bicycle or horseback, or whatever was convenient. I was active in sports, baseball, hockey and drama during high school, and I finished that in 1947.
I entered university, at the age of 17 years at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I took first year pre-medical course, and that was when there were still a lot of veterans in the university. The first pre-med course was general arts, and you didn’t know how many people were in the course - there could be 100 pre-medical students or 1,000. We really didn’t know; there was no way of knowing. There was no medical school is Saskatchewan, so, my future was relatively unpredictable. You had to get admission to meds on completion of the pre-medical program, which prompted me to get admission to an out-of-province school, Alberta, Manitoba or else in Eastern Canada. So, I heard about veterinary medicine through a veterinarian in Saskatoon, and I decided to apply.
Just about the time they completed the spring examinations that year at the university the officer training corps program opened up for recruitment. I had a brother, a veteran, at the university, and, he drew my attention to that and said that that would make a good summer job, and for 16 weeks I could go into training and make a bit of money. So, I applied and was accepted, and sent to Camp Borden for the summer in Ontario. While I was at Camp Borden I was accepted at Guelph, conditional on an interview, and that was quite convenient, because that saved me going back to Saskatchewan. I stayed in Ontario, but there were a few weeks between the end of the training program at Camp Borden, and when the
Guelph term was to begin, so together with, an agriculture student from Manitoba, we went down to Tillsonburg, as there was lots of employment there working in the tobacco fields. We got down there and one day was enough for both of us. It wasn’t our thing working in the hot sun and the wet tobacco leaves, and the sandy soil. We had enough, and we left there that night, after 13 hours on the job. He decided to head back to Manitoba, so I went down to Leamington and got in on the tomato harvest at the Heinz tomato plant. That was an evening shift, 13 hours, and, allowed me to save some more money and since I was very frugal all through the summer, I had managed to put away enough money to take care of tuition, board and room for the next year at Guelph.
So when the time came, I went up to Guelph for an interview – that was quite an experience – you’ll remember that. I think, the elderly Guelph gentlemen that met us was the registrar. I believe it was Dr. Stevenson, and he took us into the library where there were 4 or 5 men sitting around in white lab coats, and looking quite disgruntled. I don’t remember what was said, but it was very brief and I was dispatched, and that was the same thing that meant that I was in. So we were now students of the Ontario Veterinary College.
I’m not sure about what my expectations would be at that time, but my first impressions were daunting. We were exposed to an initiation. I had never been, encountered that kind of a thing before and the class of ’51 was in charge of our initiation, and we got those beanies, and sweaters and what not to wear, and were roused out early in the morning and paraded around, and, it was all a new experience to me.
I moved into the residence, a large room, 4 beds and 2 roommates; one about my age, and the other twice my age. The youngest and the oldest in the class were stuck together, and that’s the way it was going to be for a while. The significant differences in our ages and in our experiences were accommodated by long-suffering and deep understanding. My participation in water fights wasn’t becoming to my roommates, and I had to tolerate their late burning of the study lamps. I had to adjust to the mess hall food, and in turn gauge the survival, our survival in the academic battleground. There were dynamic forces at work that shaped our formative years, and memorable years – those four years at Guelph.
The academic program was demanding; sometimes bordering on oppressive; the sciences emerging from the horse doctor image of the Depression years, an the college was beginning to embrace the inventions and discoveries or the Second World War. Penicillin was the new wonder drug. Unknown at the time, but the academic program was really on the verge of a virtual knowledge explosion that characterized the second half of the century. Really, it characterized the years that you and I have been veterinarians, and meant immeasurable change that took place since our graduation.
The professors and staff were a mix of old and new; predominant figures of their times; McIntosh, Fowler, McNabb, Henry Batt, Schofield, Kingscote and Frank
Cote were beginning to defer to Henderson, Barker, Archibald, Brown, Smith, Downie, Gilman and McSherry. A new wave and a new order were in the works, and the wider vision was on the rapidly approaching horizon. Advancing knowledge dictated more time for covering the subject matter. A five-year program was being developed and we were the last of the four-year curriculum at Guelph.
Extramural activities were a large part of the campus life. There were extensive playing fields, as you recall, amidst the scattered buildings - OVC, and across the highway the Admin building (Johnson Hall), Memorial Hall and the library - in between was the grass-covered expense on which the football team practiced late into the evening, intramural soccer and football matches took place and intermingled with walkers, sunbathers and spectators. Sports and various clubs were many and varied, inclusive and offered something for everyone. Inter-mural competition was severe and, incited keen emotions. In regard to athletics, the OAC/OVC Athletic Association was an organization on campus that tied the two colleges, three colleges together with Mac Hall, and I was the representative from my year for the four years, and was the president in the final year. I participated in College hockey for two years, inter-mural hockey and soccer for four years, and our OVC’52 hockey team, you’ll remember, you were a part of it, went undefeated for four years. I rather suspect that still stand on that campus.
Escapades were many and varied. We used to slip out the back and across to the apple orchard and steal apples; go in there when the Aggie students were doing the same thing, but didn’t know we were there, and we’d start talking as if we were employees of the Agricultural College and then listen to hear them bailing over the wire fences, at the other end of the lot, killing ourselves laughing that they had been hoodwinked into getting out of there. And then borrowing chickens for a weekend barbecue; not sure of you on that one; but I could name a few that were, and raiding residences, and one particular escapade of kidnapping students from McMaster during the football season. There was always some kind of intrigue on campus and machinations going on in the background.
You asked about friendships. We developed friendships at Guelph that last forever. Some of my happiest memories and closest friends were born of my time at OVC. They’ve endured the test of time, been nurtured over the years by various meetings at conventions and other reunions, my Christmas card list to this day is still dominated by contacts made in my student days. Nowadays, the e-mails keep the survivors in touch with one another.
And about summer employment. I had mentioned already that I began with the Officer’s Training Program in the Canadian Army. I did that in the summer before first year and the summer after as well.
Then, the next summer I went to Saskatchewan where the government had a program of employing Saskatchewan students and collecting blood samples for the brucellosis testing in cattle. They supplied us with a Ford car, and an expense
account. I was able to travel the Northern part of the province, contact a lot of farm folks and pocket my salary for the year ahead.
The third summer was spent with a Veterinarian at Melville, Saskatchewan. That was a rewarding and remunerative experience also. I learned veterinary practice first-hand, was allowed to get my hand into the real thing, and then he offered me a godfather offer, one I couldn’t refuse. That he would put me on the road with a new car to collect blood samples for brucellosis and he would revenue-share. We paid a certain amount of (inaudible), tested a few cattle, and paid the cost of running the vehicle for the day. We shared the revenue from there on and I was able to make quite a bit of money that summer, and was financially secure to finish my program.
Upon graduation, the same benefactor financed the purchase of a new car to get me started in practice.
Graduation was followed by practice in Saskatoon for 14 years. Then, the practice was sold to the University, and my partner and employees were hired at the new Western College of Veterinary Medicine. I left almost immediately, for Colorado State University for 3 years where I undertook the studies for Doctor of Philosophy and Veterinary Surgery; particularly on food animals. I was supported by a Medical Research Council fellowship, and together with six children and a wife we relocated for 3 years, and that became one of the best times of our lives, and the most memories for our children. They were all in different schools, and I was at school, and my wife did a little bit of selling AVON products until a couple of dogs scared her out of that business, when she went to an acreage outside of town.
I returned to the university in 1970, and taught for 12 years, and became the Dean of Faculty for 10 years, and retired in 1993.
My campus involvement included a lot of various things across the university campus, government studies, search committees for deans, boards, student appeals and labour negotiations were all issues that I encountered and was active outside of and within the college.
My professional associations were many and varied - provincial and national veterinary associations as president and on numerous committees. I gained diplomacy status in the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, and functioned on some of the Boards associated with that body. On the Commonwealth Veterinary Association, I anchored the animal health technicians committee and presided over the Deans of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine for a while in Canada. I chair the Canadian Vet Medical Association committee that accredits Animal Veterinary Technician’s education programs. I’ve done that for 30 years, and hope soon to be able to divulge myself of that responsibility.
International work with the Canadian International Development Agency centered on the evaluation of a disease investigations center in Indonesia, and then with the technicians, we had consultations in Guyana in South America, Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa. I was a consultant for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture
and Food to evaluate their farm animal health program at the Ontario Veterinary College, and at the University of Montreal to evaluate and advise on their none thesis degree program, and then consulted with Mississippi State University on bull lameness, which was the subject of my thesis PhD.
In regards to community activities, in Saskatoon: I was with the City animal control advisory committee, presided over the Saskatchewan Livestock Associations group, Board of Regents of the Theological College, St. Andrews College for 13 years, chaired boards and committees of the United Church at the national, provincial and congregational levels, involved with the city hockey associations in Saskatoon, the Caledonians Society, the Probus Club in Kelowna.
In regard to honours, I was awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree, Honorus Causa at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon, and different life memberships in the Saskatchewan, Canadian and American Veterinary Medical Associations. I am an honour-roll member of the American Veterinary Association, and awarded the Canadian Veterinary Association president’s award. I was also veterinarian of the year in Saskatchewan, in 1993. I was given the Primal of Life Achievement Award from the University of Saskatchewan Retiree’s Association, and also was the champion for the senior men in the (inaudible) golf tournament in Prince Albert in 1985.
I’m not sure that I ever influenced government very much, but you asked, what the influence of the university environment had on my life. The succession of rules and achievements that have been cited over the past years would be severely limited without the acquisition of knowledge gained from the education and environment of the college. The assurance it provides and the awareness of continuing and expanding of opportunities that run from nature would be impossible without those years at Guelph. The faculty and the training program tend to give a person a vision of what can be, as well as what is.
My roots were in agriculture; my inclinations were in service; and my security was in knowledge. I do believe it was a Shakespearean character that said “knowledge is power”. The pursuit of knowledge is a lifelong journey; it never ends. That is the influence of education on my life. Learning lets you find out the dimensions of what you don’t know. College experience offers one the possibilities, opens the possibilities to a person, but they are part of their inheritance. I think the college experience broadened my perspective of what I might be; stimulated me to reach further, and be receptive to change and achievement and achievements give me great pleasure and satisfaction.
The university education and environment was my career; not one that I set out to pursue, but one that just happened as opportunities presented themselves. I kind of always followed the open doors, and my rewards are measured in joy, friendship, family and running a good race and keeping the faith – faith in myself.
J Gavin, thank you very much for sharing those ideas, history and opinions. You left out one part of your later years here in Kelowna. I’d like you to expand a bit on that. Don’t you have something to do with a hockey team?
G Yes, I had an interest in hockey and I have 4 boys that all played hockey at some significant level, and nearing the conclusion of my Deanship at Saskatoon, a couple of them turned to me one day and suggested that they wanted to call and secure a franchise in the Western Hockey League; major junior league, and brought the president of the league up and wanted to know if I would commit any resources that I might have to help them achieve that goal. I’d been in consultation with my wife and her mother. We agreed that we would do this, and they proceeded and hired a scout, applied for a franchise; were granted it in January of 1991. The operation got underway and the team took to the ice that fall. We had secured a number of investors, set up a holding company and hired them, and my family have been intimately involved ever since. The team has been reasonably successful and had their third appearance at the Memorial Cup, and one Memorial cup reign in the last three years. We’ve had good reason to have some broad smiles, and a feeling of accomplishment and a real joy to have been able to participate with my sons on almost a daily basis ever since I took retirement from the university.
J Gavin, where was the first franchise?
G The first franchise was in Tacoma, Washington and then in our retirement we moved down there to be closer to the operation and assist with it. Then after four years in Tacoma, it wasn’t flourishing, and in the business sense we had to make some adjustments, so we brought it back to Canada to Kelowna. The first two or three years were difficult, but the city and the private investors built a new facility, state of the art hockey arena, and that turned the whole operation around, and we’ve been very pleased and successful ever since.
J Well, that’s a real success story of the Kelowna Rockets, and it’s a household word around the Okanagan now and I remember when you were in Tacoma, and I was really pleased to know that you were headed for Kelowna after that. Now, for those who are listening, I mentioned this to Gavin that he’s probably the only member of our class of year ’52 that you could call Dr., Dr., Dr. for a DVM, a Ph.D, and a Doctor of Divinity. A really great stable to have on your side. Now, Gavin, is there anything else of interest you’d like to share with the alumni?
G Well one. When you asked me for honours, I was a little slow, taken aback and I had to go back and do a little research, to see what all had happened to me. One of the most significant, and I didn’t make comment on this earlier, and one of the most significant honours that was directed towards me was 3 or 4 years ago when the class chose to nominate me for the Alumni award, the OVC Alumni award. I felt very privileged and honoured that they would rally behind that nomination, and support and recognize me as a representative of their group because there
were many in that class that would be equally worthy of the awards, and to be even considered, let alone to be chosen from them, was for me a distinct pleasure and an absolute honour.
J Well, you know that’s right Gavin. We’d had a very unique group of people in our class and I think I’ve made mention of this one other time that the contributions, the legacy that has been left by our members in science, and politics, and, God bless them, there’re the people out there tweaking the dogs and cats and horses and cattle and have also made great contribution to the welfare and the lifestyle of fellow Canadians. And. Americans, because many of our classmates as we both recall, immigrated to the United States and many of them stayed there. Anything else comes to mind Gavin?
G Well, I think that you know when we did do something like this, you sort of count off in your mind all those years and some things that I particularly appreciated and to this day still enjoy remembering is a lot of the encounters I had in large animal practice in Saskatchewan. That was my favourite part of practice, to be able to meet and know and count among my friends a large number of livestock owners, families in the area where I practiced. Then subsequently people I got to know through association with the livestock breeders in the province. Then to carry on and be privileged to be able to influence the lives of students that came through the college while I was at the University and even subsequently, as I continued to meet students in veterinary technician training programs, as I meet regularly and accredit their programs. What a tremendous series of excellent opportunities have been afforded to me to influence the direction of veterinary medicine and it’s a compliment to the group in technical training. So, I couldn’t have had it much better, because I’ve been able to extend myself a long way.
J Gavin, again, thank you so much for taking time to prepare a few thoughts and to, and to share them with us. This then draws to a close the interview, on December 12th, with Dr. Gavin Francis Hamilton, now of Kelowna, formerly of Saskatchewan.