ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
George Arnold, OAC ‘59
Ontario Agricultural College, 1959
Interviewed by Stan Young
July 23, 2001
S This tape is for the Alumni in Action group, the oral history section. The interview is being conducted at George Arnold’s home. George Arnold will be the person interviewed and I am Stan Young and I’ll attempt to do the interviewing. It’s July 23rd, 2001. George I’d just like you to give us a little story on where you came from, and how you got interested in OAC, and then how you eventually got there. Do you mind, starting out the story that way?
G Ok. Well, I was born and raised on a farm in Bruce County Stan, not very far out of Kincardine. And growing up in rural Ontario about 50 years ago there probably weren’t as many choices, career wise as there are today. However, I was always quite interested in agriculture and during my high school years I was thinking a little bit about going into to veterinary medicine. Remember talking to the local vet about it and, he even suggested that probably there were better things to do than be a veterinarian (chuckle). So, he kind of steered my in the direction of the agricultural college. I had a couple of uncles that had attended there previously so there had been some family connection and I guess I really never gave much thought about going any place else. After high school I took a year off and spent a year at home on the farm and during that period of time decided I was going to take the degree course at Guelph so started in the fall of 1955. So that’s more or less sort of the background to our arrival there.
S OK you started in in ’55, what kind of farm were you brought up on?
G It was a mixed farm, just 100 acres that my dad owned and was originally dairy and poultry We had a fair size poultry operation for those days, it wouldn’t be considered even a good hobby today. We also worked from a machinery point of view, with my uncle who had two or three hundred acres and we had a reasonable compliment of farm equipment and, you know, it was a reasonable sized operation when you put the two of them together. So that was sort of our background.
S What were the first impressions you had of the uh Ontario Agricultural College when you went there?
G I guess nothing too terribly surprising. I think I was kind of prepared for it. I had been to the college on two or three occasions in judging competitions and 4H and and through some Junior Farmer activities so I had already been sort of introduced to the college. But certainly it was a great experience. It was probably four of the best years of my life and I really enjoyed the fellowship there with fellow classmates and so on.
S Where there any faculty members that stood out in your memory?
G Oh, very definitely! I guess when I think back on it. I was in the Animal Husbandry option it was called at that time and we still had Doc Staples and George Raithby, Mike Stillwell was one of the professors in meats I believe, yourself I think was there at that time Stan, George Jones, another person that I remember quite well was Padre Young.
S Oh yeah. I know Padre has a few stories to tell!
G Yes, yeah and always did an inter denominational church service and well he had quite a speech impediment he always used to good advantage (chuckle).
S (chuckle). And extramural activities did you get involved in?
G I wasn’t terribly active extramurally. I guess College Royal would have been one of the major things. I’ve never been much of an athlete so (chuckle) the sport side I didn’t have too much to do with but College Royal, certainly in two or three of the years that I was there, was one of the highlights I would say.
S And what would you show at the College Royal?
G Beef cattle and I think one year I showed a dairy animal and was involved with the administration of the Royal in our third and fourth years, as I recall.
S You’d have picked up a few friendships on the way.
G Yes, yeah we certainly have and maintained those friendships to even ‘til today. I guess that a lot of us in agriculture have a lot of shared values and common interests and you know continue that association right to the present.
S When our year graduated we had the ceremony out on the front lawn. Where was yours held?
G Ours was in Memorial Hall and it was about the 15th of May I think in in the year 1959, but I think most of the ceremony was inside that year.
S Oh yeah. Did you have a job lined up before you graduated ?
G Yes I worked in the summer between my third and fourth year with the Ministry of Agriculture in the Ag. Rep. Service assisting Don Graham in Brant County so it looked like a good place to start out so I joined the Extension Branch and went to South Simcoe immediately following graduation and worked with Keith McCrure who was the Ag. Rep. in South Simcoe at that time.
S What are the big features of South Simcoe that you got involved with?
G Well, of course, as Assistant Ag. Rep. your major activities was the 4H activities. We pretty well had to administer that. But I helped out with a number of other things. One of the memories, and it goes back to South Simcoe, was school fairs. School fairs, of course, dated a long ways back and I think Simcoe County was maybe one of the counties to retain it longer than a lot of the others. In many of the other counties the school fair movement had dropped. But while I was there there was still probably four or five or six school fairs throughout Simcoe County and it was a day where a lot of the rural children would bring in various kinds of projects, animals, sheaves and dear knows what all, and we had to arrange for the judging and placing and so on. A lot of fun.
S You’d spend a lot of evenings out amongst the community!
G Yes, yeah. In the 4H activity the Assistant Ag. Rep. at that time was more or less expected to run the program so there was about four nights in a week that you could have meetings so that meant there were about 16 or 17 in a month (laughing) and that was pretty much our summers.
S Did you get involved in the Agricucultural exhibitions or the fairs?
G Yes, yes to a large extent of course, again with the 4H activity there were three of four major fairs in Simcoe County at Cookstown and Beaton and Collingwood. So there was quite an involvement there. Also judging competitions, we coached 4H’rs for some of the provincial activities, some of which were run at the University of Guelph.
S After your work as an Assistant Agricultural Representative, what did you do?
G Well before I left the ministry, I had a couple of other postings as well as the one in South Simcoe. I was the Acting Agricultural Representative in Rainy River for a year. That would be about 1961 and ’62 and that was certainly good experience, way up in the Northwest Part of the province and following that I went back and took some post-graduate work for a year and then was the Assistant Ag. Rep. in York county here for a brief period and then I was a Farm Management Specialist in East Central Ontario based in Brighton. During that period of time we had about 8 counties where we managed the farm management activities in East Central Ontario plus all of Northern Ontario so it gave us kind of a wide scope of agricultural activities.
S Geographically broad pasture!
G (Laughing) Yeah, right!
S And what kinds of activities did you get involved in the Farm Management Program?
G We had quite a number of extension programs involved. The blue book was still very much in demand in those days and we did a fair bit of individual consultation through the offices of the Ag. Rep., quite a number of educational programs dealing with farm management analysis, credit. I remember we did a fairly extensive series on credit back, I think it was about 1964 or 5, just immediately before I left the ministry and all in all it was it was a great experience.
S What was this blue book you talk about?
G This was the Ontario Department of Agriculture accounting book whereby people can record their income and expenses. In those days a lot of farmers didn’t have very good financial records or production records and the Ministry certainly did a lot of extension work to try to encourage people to keep these kind of records showing the value and so on. It certainly isn’t required to that extent today because most people realize the value of it and financial records, in particular, are almost mandatory today. s
S Do they still use the blue book?
G Far as I know they do and it’s been computerized and certainly a lot of the principles are are still in use today.
S What are your comments on the computerization of things agricultural?
G Yeah, that’s been a big change. I’m not the world’s best computer expert even though they have brought agriculture and farm management right into the into the modern day use. I guess Canfarm was one of the original programs, I was a bit involved with that although not to a large extent. Then following my stint with the ministry, I joined the Farm Credit Corporation, was responsible for their field training in farm management and I was employed with them for a period of three years from about 1965 through 1968 and basically again my responsibilities there were in farm management training. At that time the Farm Credit Corporation had about I would think something in the order of about 4 or 500 credit advisors across Canada and these people not only did appraisal work but they also did quite a bit of work in farm management trying to decide what kind of credit facilities best suited various farm operations and they also had an advisory service in farm management so that gave us a fair bit of opportunity to work with those people in developing training programs and so on.
S So you’re working with the professionals rather than the farm people!
G Working with the credit advisors primarily in that case.
S What was the main thrust in that?
G The main thrust, of course, was farm management and we had a lot of training programs through the winter months with Farm Credit advisors across the country. In the summer months, we filled in our time by doing some surveys on various kinds of agricultural topics that were of interest to the Corporation.
S And then after your work with the Farm Credit Corporation then where did you go?
G In 1968 I left Farm Credit Corporation to go with Royal Bank and had been the manager of the agricultural division of the bank in Ontario from then until the end of 1999 when I retired.
S Did they have an agricultural department before you went there?
G Yes they did. There was a gentleman by the name of Jack McArthur was the original agricultural person in the bank. He had been a branch manager, he wasn’t really a trained professional agriculturalist but he was the one that was instrumental in getting t the agricultural division of the bank set up initially and then in 1967 the bank employed Doug McQuarry who was fairly well known in Canadian banking and agricultural circles.
S Where did he spend most of his time?
G Doug originated in the prairies and spent a lot of his time in the prairies and then , more recently, the RB developed what was known as the Prairie Agricultural Department and then that was expanded to an overall agricultural department for the bank and Doug managed that very capably until the time of his death in 1989.
S So is it fair to say that you were working on the eastern section most of the time?
G Yes, yeah I was here in Ontario pretty well all of the time. During Doug’s regime he hired a number of people in Western Canada and myself and two or three other’s in Eastern Canada and during those years we pretty well had a department right across the country. There has been a few changes since then and there probably aren’t quite as many people in the system today however, it varies from province to province. In Ontario, we have a fairly dedicated group of professionals that handle the agricultural banking here. There isn’t necessarily the case all across the country but it is here.
S And did the bank and you through the bank get into a lot of community involvement?
G Yes, we certainly did.
S Other than lending money (laughing)?
G (laughing) Yeah right. Yeah we we certainly did. We were involved to a large extent with various activities, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, just to to name one organization but through a lot of farm organizations both myself and some of our people, were in reasonable demand at meetings as guest speakers from time to time so we sort of felt we had a a very extensive involvement in most phases of agriculture.
S Was there any overlap between the bank work and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food work?
G There was some overlap certainly, and yet I wouldn’t view it as serious. I think we tried to compliment one another and we would probably be invited to meetings to speak on credit topics and there were instances where we would involve people from the extension branch or the university on topics tha you know were production-oriented for banking meetings for the training of our staff.
S So it you had a a co-operative relationship then pretty well throughout your career with the ministry.
G Yes we tried to. I guess a lot of us in the early days came from sort of an extension background so it was kind of natural that we would try to be as co-operative as we could be.
S What other departments besides the Department of Agriculture would be involved in these kinds of things?
G The university of course to a large extent. I think of the banker’s summer school and I’m sure you have been involved with that probably from the very beginning. A lot of the bankers had a fair bit to do with the organization and presentation of those programs over the years and again an excellent example of co-operation between the banking sector, the university and the agricultural department too.
S What about organizations such as the Federation of Agriculture?
G Yes I think that we’ve tried to at least maintain a good working relationship with organizations like the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Christian Farmer’s Association and, of course, the Soil and Crop and the list goes on and on, Cattlemen’s Association, the Dairy Farmer’s of Ontario and so on.
S Any particular things that you got involved in that you would consider major achievements in in your career?
G Yeah I had the opportunity of serving on the Canadian 4H Counsel. As you may know it’s an organization of corporations and government departments across the country, and I guess I sat on the Canadian 4H Counsel for a period of about 10 years, or there abouts, served as President in 1967 and ’77, I believe it was, and that was certainly an excellent opportunity and in kind of an experience-broadening one.
S Can you indicate any involvement in providing honors to people in the agricultural industry that you got involved in with your career?
G Yes, I think there was. I look at the Hall of Fame Association. I’m not sure that I have had that much personal involvement, I guess we helped with the selection of some of the winners one year. Right at the present time I am involved with the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and they are setting up a program to honor people in five different categories so I’m involved in trying to organize the judging of those categories so that’s a current involvement.
S And teaching support, have you been involved in providing teaching support to the schools or any parts of the schools?
G I have yes. I guess during my career I was invited to speak at the Ag. Economics Department on various occasions and more recently, and again something that I did just this past winter, was developed a series of industry profiles that are used by the bank, mainly for training purposes for new recruits right across the country so that was certainly kind of an interesting assignment and again I think falls in the area of sort of teaching support.
S Could you indicate what kind of influences your college uh life and experience has had on your life?
G (laughing) It’s been major certainly. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do some of the things that I had the privilege of doing had it not been for the college and the background there so, yeah, it certainly played a very major role in my career all the way through and you know, certainly it was a wonderful opportunity.
S Are there particular things that you remember fro your experience at the college that you would like to get recorded?
G (chuckle) I’m just trying to recall some of the things. I was there during the period of time that there was the usual shenanigans at the college, bowling Mac Hall was one of the things that I certainly wasn’t involved in at all (laughing) but oh and then there was various things that happened during that period of time. I remember a treethat was cut down that happened to be the president’s tree and there was a lot of turmoil about that for a period of time!
S How much did that cost ya?
G (Laughing) It wasn’t us. It was a year ahead of us that (laughing) was involved with that.
S I think it was maybe about $500 wasn’t it?
G (laughing) I think it probably was (laughing).
S Well, you didn’t get involved in the in the Great Water Fight!
G Not no I can’t recall anything too specific there.
S OK. Any particular courses that you found most valuable throughout your career, whether it was on the farm or whether it was with the bank or with the government?
G (chuckle) Oh there there was a lot of different things that were certainly of value. I think they all played a role in shaping one’s personality, character and experiences. It’s hard to single out any one thing in particular. I’m just trying to think back to our time at Guelph, some of the courses. One of the things I think that Guelph always did that I think broadened people and certainly should be mentioned, was they always had a strong English Department and I think this went a long ways to help people communicate, graduates communicate, public speaking, writing, that kind of thing. I suppose in my particular case, I have had a fair bit of use of that in my career with the bank in particular, but in former careers as well, and I think that would be one of the very strong points of the University of Guelph was a strong English Department and the emphasis that was was put on those kind of things.
S Tremendous. You mentioned Post-Graduate Studies but you didn’t expand on it at all!
G Oh yeah, right (chuckle). I decided after I had worked with the Ministry for a period of time I maybe should go and take a Master’s Degree. I considered a couple of different alternatives. One was an MBA at the University of Western Ontario, this was a way back in the early ‘60’s when MBA’s were a little more rare than they are today and then against that I thought well, maybe another alternative would be to take a Master’s Degree in Ag. Economics or something of that nature so I took at look at Michigan State and they seemed to have a program that was of interest to me and I took off in the fall of 1962 for Michigan state and arrived home a year later with a Master’s in Agricultural Economics. I had been an Animal Science or Animal Husbandry undergrad so it was a bit of a career change, if you will, academically in that I didn’t have the, you know, the economic background and so on that some of the Ag. Econ. types did but we managed to survive and get through it and another terrific experience.
S You obviously picked up a family somewhere along the way. When did that occur?
G Yes. Yeah that’s another important feature of our life too. I guess it was after I had done my graduate work I returned to Ontario to Extension and it was during those years that I met my present wife. She was a home economist with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food working out of Lindsay and we got together and the rest is history (laughing).
S How many of a family have you got?
G We have two sons, neither of them are in the agricultural industry. One took Automotive Marketing at the Georgian College and he works in the computer industry serving the automobile industry. He works with a company called Reynolds & Reynolds and he’s currently in sales selling computer programs to automobile dealers.Then our other son is the hospitality manager at Angus Glen Golf Course in Unionville.
G Great. And here you are living in Elgin Mills. This seems to be quite a ways from the centre of Toronto where you had your headquarters…or did you have your headquarters there?
G No actually, our headquarters were downtown at 20 King West in the Royal Bank Plaza for about 20-some years and then in 1989 the office moved out to Burlington. Originally I thought we would probably move to Burlington but that didn’t seem to work out for a variety of reasons, our two sons were just finishing high school, it wasn’t a good time to move them so I started to commute and commuted for the rest of my career to Burlington.
S You’d have lots of time to think on the way out to u to Burlington and back.
G Well the one thing that I don’t really miss in retirement is that drive to Burlington, although I didn’t go everyday but it was it was a long drive through some of the busiest roads in the country.
S There must have been a lot of changes around this part of the country since you moved here!
G Yes, yeah this area is still a bit rural but when we moved here it certainly was very rural and York County or what used to be York County is quickly developing into sort of a suburban metropolis.
S Right. OK.
S That’s the end of the tape with George Arnold on July 23, 2001.