ALUMNI- IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
JOHN A. ECCLES
Interviewed by Ed Brubaker
December 7, 1997
B This is an interview with Mr. John Eccles, who lives in Guelph on the campus at the corner of Stone Road and Gordon Street in the College House. John came to the campus in the Fall of 1936 as a student and has spent most of the past 61 years here in Guelph on the university campus and working for the University, except for a few years during the war years. So, this is being conducted for the Alumni-in-Action Oral History Committee on December 7, 1997, in John’s home here in Guelph.
John, can you tell us a little bit about your early life, where you lived, and what influenced you to come to Guelph originally?
E I was born in Galt, my father had been a farmer, and they left the farm because there was no place for farmers up where he came from, there were too many children, and so he came to town and I was born. But because he was a farmer, and because of his interest, if I was going to go anywhere to college, it would have to be to the Ontario Agricultural College. The person who influenced me most was a fellow by the name of Denis Nathan who was one of my teachers at the Galt Collegiate Institute. I didn’t have any aspirations to go to university because I wasn’t very good at French, or Greek, or Latin. However, he said “You could go to Guelph if you wanted to”, and I said, “Well, I don’t have any money.” And he said that, well, he had worked his way through because he’d come from South Africa. I said, “Well, if you can work your way through, I guess I can.” So, he brought me up and introduced me to the campus and, as a result of that, I registered in the Fall of 1936.
B Ok, John. Now, your student years here were over four years, and you worked on the campus during those summers, what was student life like in the late ‘30’s before the war started?
E Well, student life during the depression was pretty laidback because money was the whole objective – the whole problem – people didn’t have jobs and so a lot of them came to college having taught public school for a few years to get enough money to come here. Things were pretty slow going. The budgets were cut on the college, and actually things were just holding on by their fingernails during that period.
B You lived in residence and ate in the dining hall. What was that like?
E When I came, everybody had to live in residence, in order to pay for the new building that had been put up, and Christie – Dr. Christie, the President – insisted everybody lived in unless they had his permission.
B And was there any problem getting that permission? Did some people live out?
E Really, I’ve only talked to one or two but I don’t think it was a problem for anybody who was married, or a senior person, or an older person, because most of the rooms were filled anyway, because there was an increasing enrolment at that time. A lot of people came here because they couldn’t get anywhere else, and they were allowed to take the two-year course, and then go through an Intermediate Year, and then qualify to get a degree.
B About how many students would there be on campus at that time?
E Student enrolment started to increase after – it was like the baby boom after the first world war – and starting in ’31-’32, the numbers started to increase. Now, in my year, there were 116 freshmen and it’s an interesting fact that we graduated 116, but they came through an Intermediate Year and so on to join our class. Actually, only 83 of 116 graduated.
B What was the dining hall, which was Creelman Hall, like in those days?
E Well, it was pretty posh in those days. And this is kind of ironic in a way, because everybody had to dress up for every meal and had to have a coat and tie. One waitress looked after three tables. Everything was served. Compared to present day, we lived like kings in a way. All the milk you wanted to drink, and seven meals a day for four dollars a week, it seemed like we were getting a bargain.
B And that included your room, didn’t it?
E No, the room was two dollars but the diploma students got room and board for four dollars. We paid six dollars.
B You were rich! Now, you sat at the table and there were tables for everyone to go in and sit down at the one time and eat together?
E We all had our place at a table in the dining hall. The girls were at the north end and the boys at the south end.
B What was the food like, John? What did they serve?
E Ah. I mean, for a freshman who was a bachelor for a couple of years, I thought the food was excellent. They always had lots of everything to eat. I don’t recall anybody saying they didn’t get enough to eat. People who were a little picky may decide they didn’t want to eat everything that was put in front of them, but if you bachelored it like I did for a couple of summers, I never had it so good.
B Very good, John. Now, I think you told me that you also worked in order to support yourself here on the campus. What kind of work did you do?
E Well, I had a talent that a lot of people didn’t have. That was I’d done a bit of sign making and had a bit of an artistic flair, and started out making labels on an entomology collection, and was promoted then into making signs for students and faculty, and eventually given a job in the photographic extension department, which eventually became a summer job.
B Okay, and what was the fee?
E We got paid $15 a week in the summer, and if we lived in residence and paid $6 room and board, we had $9 to save to put us back in the Fall. Most of us couldn’t save enough money that way so we “bached” it in the summer instead. I always like to make comparisons. If you make $15 a week, we were able to rent a room in – which is now of course called South House – for $1 a week, so we were able to save $14 if we “bached” it.
B But you had to buy some food out of that.
E Well, we got cracked eggs from the poultry, we got spillage of milk from the dairy, and we knew where the potatoes could be found on campus, and outside of buying some tea and some bread, and whatever we got from home, we lived pretty cheaply.
B Good for you. You graduated in 1940, John. The war had started. What did you do then before you went in the Navy?
E Well, I completed the College of Education and was employed as a High School Teacher in Stamford Collegiate before I went in the Navy as an ordinary seaman.
B And what did you do in the Navy?
E Well, we were in what you called Officer Candidates and after three months we were sent to Cornwall – H.M.C.S. Cornwall -- and if you completed the course you were eligible to take the officer training. Then, in nine months I qualified to be an Officer Candidate and was given a division in Vancouver,
H.M.C. S. Discovery, in June of 1944. And then, having completed my officer training, I joined the H.M.C.S. Fergus which was a corvette
sailing out of Halifax to Bermuda. Eventually, I ended up
being on mid-ocean escort as convoy duty.
B And then you were discharged about the end of the war?
E Not right at the end of the war. At that time, I had a teaching job and I was promised my job back but I couldn’t go back until the following fall, so I ended up being the Sports Officer for the discharge base in Halifax. I didn’t get out ‘till April 1946.
B Ok, John. What brought you to Guelph, then?
E Having worked here for three summers with Mr. Tolton in the Extension Department, it was normal for me to come and pay him a visit when I was on leave, and he made me a proposition -- how would I like to go to work for him? And I said: “Well, what have you got in mind?” And he said: “Well, I’m having trouble with the students. I need somebody with a firm hand to be Dean of Students.” And I said: “Well, how much are you going to pay?” And, I said: “Well, sorry, I can’t come. I’m making that money now as a teacher.” And I said: “Unless it’s worth my while, I can’t see why I would change.” So he got together with President Reek and they decided to change the title to ‘Dean of Men and Student Counsellor’ and with that they increased the salary sufficiently to entice me to come.
B And could you tell us about what that salary would be at that time?
B A year.
E Yes, but teaching salaries wouldn’t be much – I started teaching at $1,600, so I didn’t expect I’d go back to much more than $1,800.
B Okay, so a nice boost for you. John, you came onto the campus in the early spring of 1946, is that correct?
E That’s right.
B And what was your job at that time?
E I’ve just told you – I was Dean of Men and Student Counsellor - and the whole theory was that I was supposed to keep the limit on the student residences and keep students under control. Which, with veterans, apparently they’d had problems with some of them playing tricks to the
point of embarrassing some of the people. I figured after having looked after naval veterans and being a naval person and all of that, I was quite capable of handling the job.
B Okay, John. Some of these students, of course, would be even older than you were at that time. Did that create any problem?
E No, I was pretty old at the time compared to a lot of the veterans. No, I didn’t think the problem of age might ruin my job. No, my biggest worry was some of these fellows had been commandos where they had been used to playing tricks on the enemy and were capable of making my life miserable if they wanted to.
B How did they do that John? What did they do?
E Oh, I’ve had a few tricks played on me, but nothing very serious. They painted my car, they put water in their rooms, they – oh, called me up at night to tell me stories when I was fast asleep and wake me up. Yeh, little things, that kind of kid’s stuff. But you went along with it, so you wouldn’t get excited about it.
B Okay. So there was nothing that was of a permanent damage of any type of thing? Just pranks that they were letting off some energy and….
E No, I can say that for students, they play games, but very few of them will create what would be considered a felony.
B How long did you hold that job, John?
E Well, I was Dean of Students for four years until my superior, who happened to be the Director of Public Relations – he died and, fortunately, I got his job, so that’s how I got to be the Director of Public Relations.
B Okay, and how long did you hold that job?
E That went on until the University came along, that was in’60 – well ’62, I guess, ’63. Well, they really did a re-shuffling of all jobs and it was a matter of how you fitted into the university structure. Then I became a Director of Accommodations and, in the meantime, I became Secretary of the Alumni – the OAC Alumni Association - and I had my three jobs at that time. I was in charge of the audio-visual section of the Department of Agriculture, Director of Public Relations, and Secretary of the Alumni Association. Most of the time, I wasn’t sure who my boss was.
B It sounds as if you were busy. John, were there any differences - major differences - that you could see between the OAC in the ‘30s, the late ‘30’s, as
a student and then in the late ‘40’s immediately following the war, and then on into the ‘50’s before it became a university. What changes did you see occur here on campus?
E Oh, I would say the biggest change was the relation between students and administration. When I came it was in loco parentis. Girls weren’t allowed out unless under supervision, had to be in by 6 o clock or what-have-you, and when I first came I had to sign a book to go home at the weekend. The war years certainly changed that a lot, as they did from the first world war. There seemed to be a liberation effect. The liberation effect caused by wars, and the whole dining hall structure changed. You lived off a tray, and the reason you lived off trays was because the students didn’t want to pay more than $12 a week for room and board. So, then they brought a caterer in to run the food service, and they found out they took $12 for the food and they had 50 cents left to cover laundry, and they didn’t pay anything for the room. I heard somebody say the rooms weren’t worth anything but in the way of furniture it was pretty beaten up after all the war years. That’s where the change came in – expectations of students for the money they were paying. Everything changed and as the rates – they started cost accounting what it cost to do certain things, then they found out they’d been getting a bargain and didn’t know it. But I would say, changing rules.
Then we went through this next stage where they had the student revolts in the ‘60’s and the girls were going to live with boys in the residence. There was a transition there, where if you kept your foot on the floor and the door open then it was okay. And, then the doors were closed.
Drinking on campus was another thing. You weren’t allowed to drink. You did drink but you weren’t allowed to drink. You couldn’t admit to having alcohol on the campus. Then they started pubs and everybody had what they wanted to drink. Alcoholic beverage came on campus, and they were allowed to do it. It was the whole transition and I guess that was attributed to the baby boomers wanting to be liberated – and that was the big change as I see it.
B Okay. What changes occurred in the teaching programs and faculty that you recall?
E Well, I get a little bit out of my baileywick here but ever since Galbraith said we were the cow college things changed on the campus after the war. With Dr. MacLachlan setting up a research institution versus just a straight teaching institution, and with the increase in budget and so on for the research, it attracted many highly qualified professors and had quite an influence on the quality of the graduating students of the institution. I give Dr. MacLachlan all the credit for making that transition. And then the next stage was the coming of the university, and of course, that was all – change altogether – and I suppose there was a little more choice in what you did, in
various courses you took on the campus compared to what we had, which was more or less a fixed situation, in order to get your degree. By the way, all of our degrees were from the University of Toronto up until the time the University of Guelph started.
B John, let’s go back to your student days. Can you remember any particular highlights or low point in your student days or any particular professors in courses that were of no value or of great value to you?
E Well, as far as courses go, I was interested in all the courses. A lot of people can make fun of what it was like in those days, but I was interested in animals, I was interested in plants, I was interested in poultry, I was interested in everything that I took. So, as a person who was going to be a High School teacher, I just enjoyed everything I took. Now, as far as student activities, having coming here with the objective of completing the course not owing anybody any money, I found I was very busy doing four or five jobs over the years. One was – started out – making labels. I ended up making old English on Diplomas, being assistant to Mr. Tolton doing his photographic work, making signs for organizations, managed the caterers on campus… With all these jobs going on simultaneously I managed to hire people to help me as well as participating in the track team, the cross-country team, the basket ball team, and ended up winning the major societies award and the athletic award.
B Good for you. Okay. How did your four years here fit you for life as a teacher, in the Navy, and then when you came back here as Dean of Men and Director of Public Relations?
E Well, we OAC students figured we had something that the other universities didn’t have. We had the camaraderie of living four years in residence and rubbing shoulders with people, in many instances, from all over the world, and being able to debate subject matter with… in full sessions in the residence. And then we went out. And the College of Education attracted people who had just graduated with no contact. We figured we were better fitted to take on the world than the other chaps. I don’t know, we had a complex that a lot of people didn’t understand.
B Were there many from your class went to OCE with you?
E There were 12 of us who went down OCE and I don’t think they liked us particularly because we were kind of an independent bunch having lived in residences and being able to rub shoulders and express our opinions quite vehemently.
B Okay. OCE is the Ontario College of Education, for the record here.
E That’s right.
B And, so John, that would fit you - residence life would fit you well for a Navy life too, where you were confined in fairly tight quarters on ship, and so on. You had to get along with people.
E Well, before I got in the Navy, it fitted me to teach High School, I thought, because I think I understood students somehow. I wasn’t that much older than students, so I figured, having got along in residence for four years, that knowing some of the problems in that regard would make me fitted for getting along with students in the classroom. And the same as when I was an ordinary seaman, not many people my age were ordinary seaman, and knowing that we were Officer Candidates we had to, well more or less, I don’t know what the word is….
B Be on your good behaviour.
E Well, it wasn’t so much being on… but being able to take any track from the young fellas about us old guys and knowing that within three months we’d be assessed as potential sub-lieutenants. And we were able to do that quite nicely, I think, rub shoulders with them.
B Good. And that would fit you well coming back here to a rather rebellious group of students that came in right after the war and were used in many cases to running things and had “kicked over the traces” sometimes.
E Well, it would appear that veterans would be hard to supervise but, you know, the fact that they had lived in a very liberal environment in the service, and then having a restricted environment in campus, some students had trouble with this but… For instance, in residence, you knew drinking was going to go on, but when they’re told if you are going to drink don’t make it evident to the person in charge, well then you got along fine. One or two students tried to beat the system by thumbing their nose at us and they got kicked out. Of course, this doesn’t go over very well.
B So, there were some students expelled for various dismeanours?
E Well, there were two in the first year I was here and then later on in the 60’s some students tested the system by taking beer into the dining hall and the faculty took them out. They were left on their own as to who was going to be er…. If they said they didn’t do it, then we let them off but they chose to go out as a group, so this caused me a bit of a problem with Deans and so on but I think the ironic part of this was that the chap who was head of that year, ended up being my father’s lawyer in Galt, looking after my - after my father died, he looked after the estate. Bob Miller – Bob Miller.
B Okay. So, he wasn’t all bad.
E No, no. I don’t think he ever held it against me.
B Probably not, probably thought that may have been a good turn.
E Well, it happened that one of the students happened to be the President of our Class’s son! Bert Middleton. That was a little embarrassing because our kids went down and visited their kids in St. Mary’s, and I had to send a letter saying “I’m sorry but your boy’s been kicked out of residence.” Didn’t go over really well.
B So, they were out of residence. Not out of the university?
E No, no. Residence.
B Not out of the college. Okay. Can you remember any other highlights of residence life when you were here?
E Not really. Once you go through once… Really it’s just a comparison between one era and the next and you go from in loco parentis through the whole string to letting the girls and boys live together, and the alcohol situation. These are the transition of times that are…. I call it the student revolution - in loco parentis – student revolution – that’s the change.
B Okay. Were there every any problems with drugs on campus during the ‘60’s or a later time.
E I can honestly say I don’t recall anybody ever being involved with drugs. I had one case of homosexuality and had all kinds of problems with – not a lot – with alcohol but no, the student pranks and being able to go with the punches and student pranks.
B And let them go, eh? Okay, John, you have lived in a house here on the campus, built by – paid for, I guess, by the university, and owned by the university for a long time. How did you get this house?
E This was not a university house . In 1946 , I got out of the service on April 3rd, I was hired here on April 1st, and by the 1stMay it was known in the cafeteria that Colonel Kennedy who was the Premier, would give any veteran ¼ acre of land on the campus on which to build a house because of the shortage of housing in the community. Professor Downing, who was Head of the Engineering Department, and his Assistant, Jim Scott, made this known that they were interested, and so as we sat around the cafeteria one day, it ended up there were 7 of us who were willing to go in on this housing deal. We had lots of energy. We didn’t have much money but we knew that
we could put up houses if we took our mind to it. So, on May 24th, 1946, we put the first footings in Professor Bush’s house and, by December, the whole 7 of us moved into houses on the campus. The house belonged to us, the houses belonged to us, but we had a 99-year lease on the ¼ acres of land.
B Okay. So, you put your own money into the building and your own labour, and you worked together and you didn’t just build this house yourself, as you have done other houses, you all worked together, eh?
E Until we got the roofs on, and the siding on, then it was up to us to complete the houses on our own.
B Okay. And that worked very well. You must have a lot of good times doing that, too, working together.
E Well, it was – you know, everyday except Sunday. We worked every – all our holidays and every night, except Sundays, until we moved in.
B Who designed the houses?
E They were Halliday houses and they were able to get them transported out here when we wanted them, and having Professor Downing, Head of the Engineering Department in charge we felt quite comfortable that the house would get up alright.
B Good. And it’s been a good home for you?
E Well, I’ve been here for 51 years. I guess you can say I was quite happy living here. A lot of people may have moved on because they got the money out of the house in 1950 from the government, and this is when we sold the houses back because we found out that the whole operation was illegal. Colonel Kennedy had taken this on his own to do this and his lawyer and gone along with it. They both had died and they wanted to get out of this situation, so they bought the houses, with the condition that whatever we got paid for it, between one house and the other, the rents would be pro-rated from one house to the other, based on how much we got for the house. I think it was $35 a week is what I paid them. $35 a month, I’m sorry!
B $35 a month. That sounds like a reasonable rent. John, what changes have you seen on this particular corner here on College and Stone since the late ‘40’s when you came here.
E Well, the first thing, they straightened out the road. It was a crooked road. Stone Road was crooked. Secondly, they paved it, they took out the old stone house on the corner, the old stone barn, they paved the road, they put in a stop light, they put a motel on the corner – Pagani put a motel on the corner.
Of course, the university went on the other side and the entrance to the university went through the old garbage area. And on this side, the poultry were all moved off the campus, no more poultry, and on my side all the fields that were used for pigs and horses and cows had become residences. The field on the other corner opposite the motel was where we used to survey to see where all the contours were in that field. That’s all become the university – what do they call it? – well, all the groups that want to be associated with the university in Canada. Associated bases as different organizations.
B A little further south of that field too, there used to be another field that I surveyed along with classmates, for drainage and so on, it’s now got the Day’s Inn on it and a lot of hoses and so on.
E Oh, the Harvard area. Yes.
B There would have been a lot of animals around then, when you first came here. Did they disappear kind of quickly at one time, or was there a very gradual change?
E Well, they didn’t move the poultry till they got the poultry farm out at Arkell. They didn’t move some of the animals until they got some beef testing out at Arkell. They didn’t move some of the dairy cattle up ‘till they got the dairy farm up at Elora. Just south of Elora. The vet section, they had the farm out at… which is now the Mall, Stone Road Mall, was where the Vet Farm was. So, as the farms got purchased in the area, then animals slowly moved off the campus.
B Do you miss them?
E Well, my children would. When they were here, they enjoyed the fact that they could go and look at sheep or dogs and horses, or whatever. Animals and poultry and I used to spend time out in the greenhouse. So, my children were brought up in what I would think a most happy environment.
B Pretty rural environment. So, John, when did you get married? How many children do you have?
E Three girls –born in 42, 45 and 46. Incidentally, my daughter’s retiring from teaching this year, at Christmastime!
B How does that make you feel?
E Kind of old!
B Not very old! You then had some grandchildren?
E I not only have grandchildren. I have two great-grandchildren! A boy and a girl.
B How old are they?
E Oh, three and two.
B Where do they live, John?
E They live in Galt, or Cambridge.
B Close enough that you can get to see them. So, John, you’ve had quite a full life here on the campus. Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t come back to talk to Mr. Tolton that day in 1946?
E I would probably have been still down at Niagara Falls teaching. Not teaching now. I’ve been retired. I’d be retired in Niagara Falls. That’s about where I’m at. I didn’t – I had the inside track to get a job because of the war years, I guess. It wasn’t a big problem to get a job then because a lot of teachers were leaving to go in the Service but it got to the point where now, for instance, getting into the teaching profession is very, very competitive. So, I imagine, I would be still teaching, and retired in Niagara Falls.
B Do you ever think that would have been a good career? Or, were you happy here?
E Well, my two brothers taught High School and my brother spent 40 years in the Galt Collegiate and my other brother spent 30 some odd years in the Kitchener Collegiate, so I guess if they could stick it out, I probably would have stayed teaching all my life.
B They probably thought they had a good career, too.
E I would think so.
B John, you, here in Guelph, got involved in many sporting activities. Softball, curling, golfing, and so on. Can you tell us about some of those things that you did?
E Well, I was always a competitive type of person when I was in High School and I played basketball, football, and track, and some hockey but mainly skating. I guess being a competitive person, I was – when I was a student I played basketball, cross-country, and track and I didn’t play football because I was too tied up trying to make money, or I probably would have played football, too. My brother did. But after I came back after the war,
for something to do, and without spending any money, we organized – well it was actually Leo Kline did it. He was the superintendent of the property, and he got me to come on the campus, helped me get on the campus, and we organized a ball team called the OAC Haymakers, which I couldn’t think of anything I could do and have so much fun, and not spend any money.
B What position did you play?
E Well, the only reason I came to campus was because I was a softball pitcher so they needed a pitcher to come here, so, that’s how we got started, and we actually won the Ontario Rural Championship.
B So how many years did you pitch for that team?
E ‘Till I couldn’t run around the bases any more! Fred Mason and I were the battery and at 40 years of age we could hit the ball pretty well and could field the ball pretty well, but we couldn’t run around the bases very fast and most of the people we were playing with were like children of ours. So, that’s why I gave it up, looking for something else to do. So, that’s when I took up golf. But as far as curling goes, I used to bowl with the college people up until 1950. They had a bowling league, indoor bowling, and Bill Wheeler who I talked to – who lived ‘till 101 – helped me build the house and kept pushing me to join the curling league. I found it met my particular abilities very well because it provided me with some release in the pitching and it ended up that I played a lot of curling. In fact. I made two trips with Canadian teams to Scotland over my years, and I’ve played 25 years against the Americans every fall, so I guess I spent more time curling than anything else.
B And you still are – curling?
E No, I only… can’t bend down – I use a stick. Curl with a stick.
B But you still enjoy it?
E Oh, yes. I curl about 90 games a year.
B Good. And you probably watch the Canadian Curling Championships that are on.
E Well, if you weren’t here I’d be watching the Skins game on television.
B Okay. So, you enjoy sports still. Alright John, I think we’ve gone over some of your life and activities here on the campus. Is there anything else that you want to add before we shut this down?
E Oh, just that… I guess I’m the only one that’s been here on campus for 60 years. Having written my memoirs, I’m putting them in the archives where if anybody wants to read them they can. You do know I wrote The Boarding House which tells all about students in housing and where they lived and how much it cost? That’s all in my book called The Boarding House. I don’t know whether you’ve read it or not, Ed?
B I haven’t read it.
E I’ll have to give you a copy. But that’s really why they put the John Eccles Building in – because of writing this book.
B Okay. Now, I’m not familiar with the book, and I’d appreciate a copy and I’ll read it and get it back to you.
E Maybe you’ll get some more ideas.
B. Yes. Alright, John. Thanks very much for your time this Sunday afternoon and we’ll let you get back to the TV now if you want to see the rest of that game.
E Well, it’s the Skins game.
E Well, if you want another story, why don’t you take this and read it and then if you want any more, I’ll give you the other book too.
B Okay. Thanks very much. This has been an interview with John Eccles, Sunday December 7th, 1997, in his home, for the A.I.A by Ed Brubaker. Thanks very much John. We appreciate your time and reminiscing with us.