ALUMNI- IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
JOHN W. MUNRO, OAC ‘40
Ontario Agricultural College, 1940
Interviewed by Ross R. Hay
July 11, 1991
H This is an interview with John Wilson Munro of year ’40 OAC, conducted by Ross Hay, year ’45, on July the 11th, 1991, for the University of Guelph Alumni Association, the Alumni – in – Action Group. We are located at the home of Mr.Munro at 608 Lorne Avenue, Burlington. John, was Burlington always your home?
M Well, no, if you want me to sort of fill in between…
M I taught for a year at Waterford after one year at OCE. Then I went in the army, and I was in the army for three years - latter three years of the war. I was overseas, all the rest of it. Then I came back and I finished out a part of a year at Waterford, then I went back and taught in Sterling, where I’d gone to High school myself .
H Yes. Well, you originally lived in Sterling before you came to Guelph?
M Yes. But before that, my dad was a lumberman and we lived in a little village called Bannochburn, north of Madoc and that’s where I lived until I was eleven years old.
H Well, what events in your life enabled you to make the decision to come to the OAC at Guelph?
M Well, it was a combination - I’d been to Queens a year. I didn’t make a go of it. That is as far as (chuckle) subjects were concerned. I was going to have to rewrite a couple of – what did they call them then?
M Sups, (chuckle) yes And then the fact they burned down in Sterling.
H This was the cheese-box factory?
M The cheese-box factory burned down. Things were pretty tight – the Depression Years, you know.
M So, I just decided that - I wasn’t goin’ to go back to Queens and first of all repeat a year and at the same time the costs at that time. So as I say, Bill Sutherland kind of convinced me that Guelph was a good place to go. That’s where I went.
H Well, Bill Sutherland – he wound up with Massey-Ferguson?
M He’s back there now, I think.
H Right. Well, when you started at Guelph, was there any hazing at that time?
M Chuckle) Yes. Yes I remember – I think I remember standing in a big drum – well, I guess it was a waste drum of water, reciting something - singing – either singing or reciting – oh yes. You see, I’d been a year at Queens and I was a good target. I was a good target to those guys. And I had to do these things in a bra.
H You didn’t sing “The Cow Kicked Nellie in the Belly in the Barn”?
M Oh, no. (Chuckle) They wouldn’t want any entertainment – they just wanted to haze me, you know.
M That’s just one episode, that I recall.
H Did you – at that time was there the “Flag Fight”?
M No. Not that I recall.
H The sophomores and the frosh tried see who could get the flag down.
M Oh. No. I don’t recall that. Now, you know. That may have been left out by that time. I don’t know.
H No. Well, I went through the ’40 Year Book and I noticed that you were on the College Royal executive in 1940. Do remember what that was for?
M No. I don’t. On the College Royal executive?
H Yeh. You were in the picture, anyway.
M Well, I must have had some little job, but I have no idea what it was. No. I don’t recall that. I was more athletically inclined than intelligent.
H Well, what did you do in athletics?
M Well, I guess it would be my second year, before I really started in athletics. And I went down and did some wrestling for a while. But it bothered my stomach, so I had to quit that. Then I got on the soccer team – on the junior team. But, I don’t know how long, and then, finally in the latter years, on the senior team.
M I’ll tell you who was on the team that got a lot of publicity now, is the chap that has the big turkey business.
H Mac Cuddy?
M Mac Cuddy. He was on the soccer team. I was on the same team as he was. Well, I was always into physical things like that. I played hockey in Guelph.
H Inter- year, or…
M Well, toward the latter years, you see, there was the depression, again. I guess Baldy Baldwin was a little tight with the funds, and he came up with a team, or a league in Guelph. Like a business league. And there were teams from different companies – or manufacturing companies in Guelph, and we had a team. I think, in fact we had two teams.
H They still have that to-day.
M Well, I suppose.
H But, now there’s two pads of artificial ice. You’ve seen that?
M Yes. But, at that time of course, we played all our games down in the arena in Guelph. Well, I played hockey there and then I didn’t do too well as a player on the inter-collegiate team, but I did play a couple of games with them. And I guess that was about it as far as athletics were concerned. But I enjoyed it.
H What did you do, John, when you graduated from Guelph in 1940?
M Well, I went to OCE in ’41. And then I taught a year in Waterford, before I joined the army. And I joined the army took a course with the “Signal Corp” and I was a Lieutenant with the Signal Corp during the war.
H You served overseas?
M I served overseas, yes.
H Were you into the thick of it?
M I guess so. Yes. A signal officer was what they call a non-combatant officer, but you could still be in the thick of it, because I was attached to the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment - an Infantry Battalion. So, if you’re with an Infantry Battalion, you were in the thick of it. But, I enjoyed it there though. I had a chance to be sent back to be in Army Sigs, which was still in England, and I turned it down.
M I liked it a lot, not the excitement, but I liked the camaraderie and everything that went with the battalion level.
H Right. So, how long were you in the services?
M Well, I guess, from ’42 ‘til the end the war.
H Be ’46 or…
M Well, two - three years or better I guess. Yes.
H Yes. And what did you do then, after you returned home?
M Well, I went right back in teaching.
H And what did you teach?
M Well, I guess, at that time they were still teaching agriculture in the high schools – the rural high schools. I taught after I came back, as I say, I went back to Sterling. I taught there two years, then I taught ten years in Smiths Falls.
H Oh, yes.
M Then I came from Smiths Falls here to Burlington.
H You know the Abouds from Smith Falls?
M I knew Sam. They called him Sam.
H Yeh. He came to Guelph.
H David and …
M I think he’s the one who told me about how some of you fellows decided to go and steal some apples from the orchard in the middle of the winter. (Chuckle)
H Yeh, could be.I wasn’t in on that one.
M He said there was some guy and he went out to the orchard – (laughter)
H In the middle of the winter? They would be frozen, wouldn’t they?
M Well, I don’t suppose there were any apples.
H That was something Al’d do. I could tell you stories about him but I can’t do it on this tape.
H So, before retirement - you retired from teaching ?
H You stopped being in agriculture…
M Well, up until I moved here, and here was strictly science.
H Strictly science?
M Yeh. That’s what I wanted to do. I taught – well, science at any level – grade nine right through thirteen – Chemistry mostly.
M I’ve been retired fifteen years.
H Right. That’s nice. You’d remember Dr. McNabb, then?
M Oh, yes.
H He was a clever fellow in the Chemistry Department.
M …a brilliant mind didn’t he?
H Yes. He’d a brilliant mind. I could tell you some stories about him, too.
M Oh, There were stories when I was there, but…
H He was a brilliant teacher. One of the top at OAC in my time, anyway.
H Did OAC prepare you for after life – you know – after you graduated?
M Oh, I don’t suppose I can pinpoint any specific example, but I’ve thought… that, yes. At that time, you see – it wasn’t the big University of Guelph. It was the old OAC, and there were only a thousand all together, maybe.
H But, there was Macdonld Institue, though…
M Oh, yes. But gosh you got to know pretty near everybody in the place, far as the students were concerned. And there was a great “camaradie” - there. Oh, yes, I think to be quite honest that when I compare that with Queens, OAC was the place for me.
H And you lived all the time you were there in residence?
H Do you remember at all, what room and board was at that time?
M No. Ah, gosh, no.
H It would be somewhere around eight dollars a week.
M Gosh, yes, sure it would.
H And they did your washing too – washed your bed clothes. And then there was all the songs about the food, you know. “ Then there’s fish on Friday, that’s been six months out of sea…and then they have the climax, boys, at dinner there’s no tea.” Everybody complained about it, but it was fantastic food. I can still remember the butterscotch pies.
M Oh, yes.
H You know. And you hoped that half the kids wouldn’t be there, so you’d get a second piece.
M Oh, I – I really never complained about the food. I guess – whatever my background and all that – as I say, I lived in the sticks in Bannochburn, there, - no electricity, - and when we lived up there – this is about the centre of Hastings County and you know, you have a little bit of a background like that, you don’t complain too much if something may be a little better.
H Right. I can understand. What about your family? When d’you get married? Did you marry an OAC girl – Macdonald Institute…
M No. I met my wife at Waterford. She was teaching.
H That’s before you went overseas?
M Yes. I was in the army at that time – and got married and actually had a daughter that I didn’t see until I got home.
M But, I left for overseas… see, I spent, I think, about a year, or so in Canada, here. I was shipped out to British Columbia there, which was nice – that time, but then I finally got posted overseas and our daughter wasn’t born yet. So it was a year and a half, I guess before the war was over.
H Did you have any other children?
M Yes. We had a boy since that. He’s a contractor here in town. Our daughter is here now. She’s up for a visit in her old car
H Well, is there anything else you wished to say, that I have omitted in my questions to you?
M Well, no, a comment I can make, is that I really enjoyed old OAC life. As I say, I took part in some athletics.
H I would say, what you enjoyed most was meeting all the other fellows.
M Ah, well, that’s it exactly. The atmosphere there, you see, was so much better than at Kingston, because of the fact that there we lived – or maybe two of us lived in one home…But, it was in a private home. It wasn’t the same as at the Administration Building, there.
H I’m sure many others would agree with you on that.
H Well, I want to say this at the end that as I mentioned to you earlier, you were the instigator of my going to Guelph.
M Well, it must have been pretty indirect, because I don’t recall any thing like that.
H Because, you had met my brother when you went to Queens, the first year, and he failed as well, as you did, in his first year and then at a later date, you met me at the Royal Winter Fair. I was down there, helping show cattle for Armstrong Brothers and you told my brother that the place for me to go was to OAC.
M Oh, I see.
H Well, I was at home working with my father so that Bruce could go. There wasn’t that much money in the family, so that he could go to Queens, and he was bound and bent that I would go to some University, when he got out of Queens.
H And that happened, but it happened to be Guelph, because of you…
and because of my desire to learn agriculture.
M Well, I hope then, that if I had anything to do with it, that you’re quite satisfied you went there.
H Oh,very,very much so, John.
M I think you and I went there at a good time. I go back up there now, once in a while, not too often, because it’s so jammed with buildings and stuff. You know. It was nice and open then.
M Oh, yeh, It was a good place for a fellow like myself, who - I had a bit of an inferiority complex – I was pretty short, you know, and took a lot of ribbing. But it was a good place for me to go.
H Yes. After I’d graduated from there for a few years, I met this
man who was pretty much up in the Holstein business , in fact they had sales, and he said, “Ross, I want to send my son to someplace. Now where would you recommend? Now,” he says, “don’t recommend a place where he’s going to go and then leave the farm and get a job, like you have”
H He says, “ Don’t recommend that, because I want him back here on the farm.”
M Oh, yes.
H I said, “Well. You’ll have no trouble bringing him back to the farm.” And he said “ Oh. Why are you so sure of that?” “Because,” I said, “I know that he owns cattle that are in the barn, there. – that you’ve already given him cattle, and that will bring him back to the farm.”
H “You think so?” I said, “I’m positive of it.” And so things went on, and I said, “Well, the only place for him to go…” oh he said, “My problem is that I cannot talk to millionaires. Once I know a man is a millionaire, or is got money. I’m tongue-tied. I just can’t speak to him.
H He said, “I want my son to go someplace where he will learn, and be able to talk to millionaires as well as he can talk to a dirt farmer.” I said, “Well the place is Guelph. That’s the only place to go.
M You’re quite right there.
H So he sent his son there. At the end of the first semester, at Christmas, after that I visited with him and he said, “You know something. I can see a difference already, in my son.”
H He said,” Ross, you’re right. That was the place to send him.”
M Yes. It was the type of atmosphere that lots of people maybe should have gone there, and they would have enjoyed it, maybe more than they did at other places.
H Yes. I’m sure. Well thank you very much, John. It’s been a pleasure sitting here in your beautiful surroundings to tape this this morning.
M Well, I’m sure you’re welcome.
( End of recording)