ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
Tom Burgess, OAC’42
Interviewed by Ross Hay OAC’45
April 6, 1994
RH. This interview of Dr. T D Burgess, OAC’42, is being conducted by Ross Hay year 45 OAC for the University and the Guelph Alumni Association the alumni and actual constituent group. The date is April the 6th 1994. It is good to have you in our home Tom, for this interview. You must have been south for the cooler months of this year.
TB. Oh yes, I spent a fair amount of winter down in Florida, we do that each year, we travel in an air stream trailer and spend the time in an air stream park.
RH. Good, so you take your own trailer down?
TB. Yes, we take our trailer down, have our own spot in the park. And then a number of activities that will keep you more than busy.
RH. That is great. Tere is a lot of them go down. I know that.
TB. This was a good year to go too.
RH. It was really cool here for awhile. But we were very comfortable. We used to sit here and say well, my goodness isn’t that wonderful that you sit here and this is so comfortable. Well we must get on with our interview, where were you born Tom?
TB. Port Credit. Which is now part of Mississauga.
RH. Yes. Do you have any brothers or sisters.
TB. Well I have one brother left and one sister left but I’m from a family of seven, 6 boys and 1 girl. The ones who are left now is the oldest brother, myself and my sister in the middle.
RH. You're married?
TB. Oh, yes.
RH. Is your wife a graduate Guelph?
TB. No my wife is English
RH. She is an English girl?
TB. Yes, her maiden name was Snowball. She lived for some considerable time in Canada and at one time I was living right next door to her in Port Credit. And then her father died and she and her mother went back to Britain to a place near Carlisle. That was just before the war started, and during the war her home, her mothers home made a very good leave center for their five Burgess boys that were oversees.
RH. Wonderful . What's her first name?
TB. Mary, Mary Leslie Snowball was her maiden name, kind an interest, the Leslie plan next year is supposed to be holding a reunion, the first one in 905 years. If they do we think we will go .
RH. How many children are in your family?
TB. I have two sons.
RH. Where are they now:
TB. One is in Burlington. He graduated from McMaster as a nuclear chemist and he is now employed in Mississauga operating an activation analysis lab. The 2nd son is a graduate of OAC in Microbiology, he's in Brockville running his own insurance business.
RH. Yes, they get into everything, graduates as well. Why did you come to OAC now a part of the University of Guelph?
TB. Well there is no long story about that. I spent the summer working on a farm up near Brantfordand rather liked it, and also at that time you could get into OAC without junior metric. And skipping a year of high school seemed attractive plus the fact there were other people from Port Credit who were my neighbours who
were going in at the same time, so I made a decisions with my father’s blessings to attend OAC. I originally had hoped to be an agricultural chemist but wound up in animal husbandry.
RH. You have a PhD and perhaps I should call you Dr. Tom, I did that at the beginning but I have known you so long I’ll call you Tom. Did you obtain your masters before you obtained PhD?
TB. Oh yes I took my BSA here as well, I took my masters degree at Guelph and took my PhD and Nottingham in England.
RH. In England, wonderful, that would be a great experience, and what was your thesis about?
TB. Which one?
RH. I’m thinking of you doctorate thesis.
TB. I was working on the use of exogenous hormones to increase livestock production. We got into a variety of things such as using some of the stilbene derivatives to increase growth rate and try to change metabolic pattern sheep largely, with a thyroid hormones. That was totally unsuccessful. I also spent quiet a bit of time trying to find out how stilbesterol etc worked in increasing growth rate, more or less successful. And I got involved in Sir John Hammond’s program of trying to twin cattle, that was very successful.
RH. That was quite an experience.
TB. Sir John Harmon was the external, my external examiner at the time of my oral presentation of the thesis.
RH. You mentioned there, I can't even pronounce the word that at the beginning you did your, your thesis was what again?
TB. It concerned using exogenous hormones. From outside of the body and we put them in
RH. Oh, okay. From outside of the body and put them in. Thanks I learned something. Do you remember an initiation at OAC, or was there an initiation?
TB. Oh yes, there was an initiation alright. As soon as we arrived there was a frosh tie and a silly looking hat with your name on and that' stayed there until Christmas some times later a lot of time making sophomore beds, shining their shoes and taking physical exercise practically every morning outside on the campus.
RH. Was this type of thing worthwhile ?
TB. Yes, I think so because it certainly bound your year together and during the time that I was in the OAC the years were very much closer knit then they are now and most of us lived in residence and the initiation didn't do anybody any harm but it certainly brought the year together as a solid group.
RH. I've never thought of it that way before but I thought it was a great way to get to know other people in your year and so this is the same thing as your saying. But I guess, they now have a thing going up in the university on strategic planning, as you've probably read about and you were saying that the students don't seem to be as knit together as they used to be, that could be one of the reasons.
TB. Well it could be the plus the fact there are so many different faculties now than there were when I was in OAC. And so many students, and they are going in so many different direction but they tend to, I would think, get together with the people that are studying in the same faculty rather than the same year.
RH. Now this is not tricky in any way you may not want us to answer, if you don't want it you just say so but a lot of people have. Of all the profs that you had at OAC which one did you like the best?
TB. I can answer that quickly the, Professor G E Raithby.
RH. And which one was the worst?
TB. I really don't know .
RH. Okay, yes George Raithby was liked by many people. Were you in any extra curricular activities while you were at OAC?
TB. Well I was a member of swimming and diving team for 2 or 3 years, did some gymnastic work and of course there was the An Hub and so on.
RH. After your studies, did you go immediately into the services.
TB. Yes, as a matter of fact the, I’d gone through the COTC and I had joined the militia unit of the Lorne Scott’s in Brampton. Prior to writing my final exam the Colonel of the regiment came and took me out with Dr. Christy’s blessing and I went into the services. And on the day that the rest of my classmates were kneeling in front Sir William Mulock and having him put his hand on their head and saying in latin, ‘how the hell did you get here”, I was on a troop train going to Vancouver Island for officer training.
RH. So you didn't really write it but you got your degree.
TB. I have three degrees and attended one graduation.
RH. That maybe a record. Three degrees and one graduation and so, how long were your overseas Tom? And where were you? Were you in overseas?
TB. Oh, yes I had four and one half years in the Canadian forces active service. I spent time of course in Britain, I went up through Italy into France and when the hostilities ceased in Holland I was joined the staff of the number five repat depot and stayed there for a year or so moving troops back to Canada.
RH. So you were in Italy? And then France, then in Holland, Belgium well you were all over, you must have seen a great amount there. And then you returned from overseas that would be in 1945
TB. 1946, I was discharged in July of 46, fortunately my wife followed me up in August.
RH. Oh yes and while you were over there that's where you met your wife for the 2nd time.
TB. That’s right.
RH. You were married oversees
TB. We were married oversees in January 1946.
RH. Wonderful. Now when you came back in 46 you joined the Animal Science department?
TB. Well not quite that quickly, I contracted with a seed company when jobs were scarce and I dropped in just to say hello to the profs in the Animal Husbandry department one day and Professor Knox said I can place you in three places, one of them was with the staff of the Animal Husbandry department which I did and then stayed there for the next 37 years.
RH. But you already had your doctors degree by that time .
TB. No. I just had a BSA. I took my masters while I was teaching in the department on the various aspects of artificial insemination. Then I got an NRC scholarship and then two years from that I went to Britain to take my PhD a few years later,
RH. And of course that would be where your wifes people were living too.
TB. They had done but by that time my wife’s mother was the only person left and ahe had come over and lived with us.
RH. So you went to Nottingham and got your doctors degree there?
RH. So you joined the Animal Science department with a BSA degree,
TB. That's correct, as a lecturer.
RH. I would like to ask you a personal question and you don't have to answer, you don't need to worry about that being on tape, what was your starting salary?
TB. [laughs]2400 dollars a year.
RH. 200 dollars a month. That would really be good money at that time.
TB. There weren't many people in department that started at that level
RH. In 1946
TB. That's right.
RH. Now did your time as a student aid you in your future endeavours in OAC?
TB. No question about that. I found that the instruction you received, the experience you had and the people you met all played a part in the development too. By the time I left the college I had no idea whatsoever that I would be back there, certainly not on faculty.
RH. Well then you moved into the new building, you were in the new building for a while?
TB. Oh yes, that’s when my department ceased to be the Department of Animal Husbandry and became the Department of Animal Science. And later the Poultry department joined the Animal Science Department to form the Animal and Poultry Science Department.
RH. What year was that?
TB. It was 1965 I guess.
RH. You are retired now
RH. Enjoying life?
TB. Very much.
RH. Your look as though you are. Is there anything you would want to say that I have missed out Tom?
TB. Well you may want to put this on tape if you like that, in 1979 I had the opportunity at short notice to lead a group of Canadians to China on a beef information visit at the request of the Chinese. To be honest I think they probably took me because they couldn't find anybody else[laughs]but it was quiet an experience, and we had in that group Aubrey Chairman, an Agologist from Alberta, Ken Cooperthorn, a graduate from Alberta and Clare Mercly from the department in Ottawa. But anyhow we joined up the four of us in Japan, went from there to Beijing , spent a couple of days being shown the sites of Beijing, then flew to Harbin and spent the balance of the three weeks looking at the different communes and state farms and so on and ultimately presented a report to the Chinese people. It was a little difficult to find out exactly what they wanted, precisely what they intended to do in terms of beef production, but it was a very interesting time spent with them. It was busy and as most people do when they travel around like that in China one after another, the people got a respiratory infection of some sought. Fortunately I was the last one. I had to be the leader of the group simply because I was probably the oldest and had a doctors degree at that time.
RH. Well it must have been a wonderful experience. You traveled all over China?
TB. No, just in the Northern part. We went into Beijing and then up to Harbin and if you know the geography of Harbin, I guess about 1800 miles straight north and gets close to the Manchurian border and there is land up there it looks just like an Alberta short grass country. There were funny things that happened that you could tell stories about but you don’t really want those on this tape.
RH. Well that would be a wonderful trip.
TB. And when we rode in the airplanes we used to make book on how many times we would bounce when it came in to land.
RH. The pilots weren’t one of the best ever.
TB. I think they were right out of the airforce.
RH. Is there anything else you have on your mind Tom, you want to put on the tape?
TB. Well only that I had various responsibilities in the department, when Frank Wolf left, I was in charge of all the artificial insemination which was simply to introduce the technique to the livestock men in Ontario and I spent quite a bit of time with the performance testing program which started in the 50s and carried that to almost the time I retired.
RH. Was that in dairy and beef both?
TB. That's on beef cattle, the testing program. And now when the department was expanding you got involved in all sorts of things, like you had the job of assessing what equipment you needed in the new building. And when they put up the beef research station at Elora I was the chairman of the committee which eventually ground down to about one. I was Faculty liaison between the department of public works and the construction. I had the same situation when they built the new beef bull testing barn at Arkell.
RH. Yes I remember when that was. Is that still in operation?
TB. Up until this year. The bull testing has been privatized I guess that is what you call it and it will be handled by producers within Ontario that are not part of the red meat program.
RH. So the producers will have to operate it themselves?
TB. That's the idea. And we don't know at this time what is going to happen to the staff at Arkell. Probably because I haven't had enough time to speak to them since I came back. But it is in my understanding that the bull test station will be empty this summer and is a negotiation going on for a new group to make use of it. The staff may be on it.
RH. If they don’t they are unemployed, unless they can put them in somewhere in the university.
TB. Yes they would be absorbed within the university.
RH. Okay, I thank you for those remarks at the end because, that is something that I had known about but I forgotten and if you hadn't brought them in I wouldn't have known.
TB. The other thing that you know comes to mind when you think of it, in the OAC in the Department of Animal Husbandry, we sure had a lot of intimate contact with the livestock producers within the province. We attended all the breeders associations meetings. One time I even had the job of the looking after the shorthorn class selection as far as showing cattle was concerned and we spent a lot of time in extension work, quite apart from teaching and research we spent a lot of time in extension. That is very satisfying with the number of people meet and speak to. That was lacking in the latter years when I was at the university level.
RH. Yes well. I would think that people would be almost afraid, the average down- to-earth cattle man would be afraid to go into that building because he wouldn’t know where to go, but if their sons have been through the university and graduated from there then they would know exactly, wouldn't bother them a bit, and most of the older fellows I guess are going by the wayside.
TB. Well we are not getting any younger, but don't ever complain about growing old. Just think of the alternative.
RH. Yes[laughter] well you can't do anything about it anyway, so what’s the use of complaining? Well Tom if that's all you have to say we would just offer our firm thank you for coming here and thank you for giving us this interview of your life and your family and so on. We appreciate that very much.