ALUMNI- IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
DR. HARRY BRIGHTWELL, OVC’56
Interviewed by Dr. Ron Darling
July 15, 2007
D This is an interview with Dr. Harry Brightwell, OVC ’56 conducted by Dr. Ron Darling OVC ’60 on July 15th, 2007 for the University of Guelph Alumni Association Alumni-in-Action Oral History Project.
Harry where and when were you born?
B Born way up north near Timmins in a little town called Matheson – really I lived in Killington, but I was born in the Red Cross Hospital in Matheson, Ontario, in 1932.
D And where did you receive your primary and secondary education?
B Went to school in Killington until Grade eight, and then on to South Porcupine High School by bus – first people in the community to be bussed to high school, as a matter of fact, and graduated from South Porcupine High School.
D Did you have any agricultural background?
B We lived on a farm and that’s why I’m where I am now, it’s because I was on that farm and difficulties we had there.
D What were the influences that took you to OVC?
B In about 1940, my Mother inherited some money and my Dad was going to invest it. So, he went west and bought a carload of Western heifers, brought them home, put ‘em under a stack outside, which is I think, pretty good care, now, but one got sick and died, and then I think it was ten of our cows, or eleven of our cows and a bull died, and there was no veterinary service in the area, and my mother said, “Harry, it’d be a good idea if you were a veterinarian.” Of course, I went on to be a veterinarian and never went back. I never went home to practise, but that is how I came to go to veterinary school.
D In what year did you graduate?
B I graduated in 1956.
D As a student, what were the extra-curricular activities that you took part in?
B Well, there were three. I liked athletics and the one sport I really wanted to do was wrestling, and I did that for five years. And once I got my feet on the ground in the course, ‘cause I found it a real change to leave my home and my secluded little village
and to go to university – so once I was adjusted I started to play football, and then also got into student government in the athletic area.
D Were you a part of any clubs, other than sports
B Oh, I think there was a Christian Club then – or Christian Society or some such name like that, but I can’t really remember what I did, other than those areas. ‘Cause in wrestling we practiced every single night, and football all fall. So, pretty busy.
D Did you live on campus?
B Yep. Lived the first year in Admin, and well it was two years in Admin, and then off-campus in our third year and lived with Dr. Art Ferguson, who still lives in Guelph. He was a Poultry Specialist, and then back into Mills Hall, across from Creelman, anyway. I think it was Mills Hall, where I lived with a classmate who eventually became a Dean of the University, Bob Dunlop, Dean of two Universities in the States. He and I were roommates and we lived there for a couple of years.
D What were the accommodations like?
B Well, first year was just a room on the very top of Admin – a single bed. Met Ken Charleston a brand new person – never met him before – and we got along fine. He went on to do a PhD in Pathology and he was a rabies expert for many years. So, just pretty plain, but lots of good fellowship up there.
D Two to a room mostly I guess?
B Two to a room in all of ours, I think. I don’t think there’s any more than two to a room.
D What were the dining facilities like?
B Well, always in Creelman. Walked in – long tables – buffet type of meal – good food, as far as I was concerned – all the milk you could drink, and we drank lots of it. Food was good, guess sometimes we complained a bit if- I think it was something they put on toast – some creamy corn – something they put on toast, which I didn’t particularly like, but in later years, I came to like it. It was my favourite dish – one of my favourite dishes.
D Besides the organized activities, do you recall any interesting or unusual enterprises or events involving yourself or other students, which would help demonstrate student behaviour?
B Well, some of my memories – aren’t perhaps the best student behaviour, but certainly raiding the orchard up College Avenue for apples, was one of them. One classmate was a great cook. He came in with an advance degree in chemistry, but he was a good cook. He loved curry, and he used to raid the chickens someplace, and I think he took ‘em out of the Pathology lab sometimes and cooked them up. There was an incident with a jeep
that disappeared off the property and ended up behind the sheep barn that the owner of the jeep never found out about for twenty – twenty-five years, and I told him. Yeh. Lot of good memories.
D Can you remember roughly, the make-up of your class, such as how many foreign students and female students?
B Well, I think we were seventy-two – I think we graduated fifty-two in ’56, or maybe fifty-six in ’56. Of that seventy-two there were five women, and only three of those graduated and we had students from New England States, because the Veterinary College had an agreement with the New England States for that, and I think, probably, there were four or five – and then we had a lot of students from western Canada, ‘cause there was no Veterinary College in the west.
D I guess at that time OVC was the only English-speaking Veterinary College in Canada?
B That’s right. There was just the French one other than that.
D Were there any students or Faculty members, who had an influence on your career, or in the way it developed?
B Well, a lot of good friends of course. Wyn Geary a football friend of mine was always special to me, and Ollie Nielsen, who eventually became Dean of the University was another very special person. But these are just good friends and probably didn’t influence my decision of where to go. But Dr. Jack Cote, who was close to me, probably because he’s an athlete and football player, and I was a football player, eventually it was his advice that lead me to come to Stratford. He suggested two areas in Ontario that would be good to go to – one was Milton and the other was Stratford, because he felt they were under serviced. My first wife was from Palmerston, which is forty miles north of here, in Perth – just on the edge of Perth County, and that sort of directed me this way. Always thought that if I’d taken his advice for Milton, bought property in Milton, I probably would have been much richer than I am today, ‘cause property prices went up a lot more there than they did here.
D Was yours a mixed practice?
B Yes, and that was a mistake, but I made it deliberately – I wanted to be busy all year, rather than run off my feet in March, and in August as small animal practitioner. So, I went mixed and it wasn’t good. I had to buy equipment for both practices. I had to try and keep up with both sides of the practice. I would have been smarter, in retrospect to have chosen one, but it was a mixed practice. However, it got quite directed to swine, because it became a very heavy swine area, as well as dairy.
D What year did you set up in practice?
B When I graduated in ’56, I went to work with Dr. Frank Flowers Sudbury, and I did the large animal work, and of course I’m from Timmins – near Timmins, so Sudbury was in Northern Ontario. I stayed with him for a year and six months until I made the decision to go into practice here, and for two months I was just doing part time work with the government TB testing in Sudbury. And then in January of 1958, I came to Stratford in the middle of winter – couldn’t see my house for the snow banks, but I bought a house and set up practice.
D And later, did you have any Veterinary associates?
B Over the years we had a number of associates. We the one person – Dr. Larman – Leo Larman, who came with me in 1972, now is half owner of my practice and still practices at the same place I did when I left practice.
D Why did you leave practice?
B Well, I had an upset in my life with my wife – my first wife dying in 1981. I’d been practicing for twenty – guess it was twenty eight years, is it? Twenty – twenty-two years – anyway – from 1956 to 1981, and I wanted a change in life. I was looking for something else, and the riding here became open because of the Member of Parliament was retiring. I’d had a few aspirations politically, but always said, “Well, can’t do it now, because the kids are young, or can’t do it now for this reason or for that reason.” My friends came to me and said, “This would be a good thing for you to try.” And so, with the opportunity to pick up politics – something I wanted to try and the fact that I wanted a change – I left practice in 1984. I got the nomination in June – just after my second marriage, and practiced until July 10th, when the writ was dropped, and I was only back in my practice for one part day after that, ‘cause I won the election and never went back.
D Did you enjoy your days as an MP?
B I can’t say that I enjoyed my days, although there were people who did – people who are very natural politicians. They did. I found it a challenge. I found it tremendously interesting. I found it extremely hard work so from the challenge, the interest and the ability to do things, it was OK, but never really a fun thing, not really enjoyable in that sense.
D I heard you say you’re affiliated with the Liberals, what would you say were your greatest achievements?
B I don’t think you heard me say I was associated with the Liberals, but if you did, I was wrong. I was a Conservative.
D Beg your pardon.
B I went in ’84 in a sweep, when the Liberals were swept out of power, and it’s a bit of a paradox that we got that sweep because if Mr. Clark hadn’t been defeated in ’79, Mr.
Trudeau wouldn’t have got back in, or wouldn’t have built up the problems that any long term government gets into, and we wouldn’t have had the sweep. And I wouldn’t have been elected, as easily as I was in ’84. You know, as a back bencher, you don’t achieve much that you can write home about in Ottawa, but you do little things. I was faithful in my work. I was there when I was needed. I worked hard on things like the Broiler Egg Hatching Agency, Dreamstreet Holsteins, a lot of constituency stuff. Because I was in an area that I have agriculture, heavy, heavy agriculture – I have the second highest dairy area in Ontario, I think, and second highest pig, swine industry in Ontario. I worked in agriculture and because of the Festival Theatre, I worked in culture – so agriculture and culture were my interests. I became Chairman of the Standing Committee on Agriculture. I think I had that position for two years, probably maybe more – in Ottawa.
D Your involvement in aspects of Veterinary Medicine other than practice, are impressive. Could you numerate some fairly quickly?
B Well, I could talk a bit about starting up the Swine Practitioners’ Association in the area. I worked through that on the Pork Congress. I started up the local Large Animal Practitioners’ Association. I’m not sure I started, but I certainly was active in that – at the time. I wanted the contact with fellow Practitioners, so it was almost a selfish thing for me to get out and start things so that I could get a chance to talk to them, to see them, to know them and beyond that we’d talk I think, after a while on the other aspects – the Wholesale Company and the OVA and the Ontario Society of Ontario Veterinarians, but we’d talk about that later, I think.
D The Veterinary Wholesale Company must have seemed like a big gamble. Did you have any sleepless nights over that?
B No. I always found it fun and stimulating to work on things and as I evolved into the thinking on the Wholesale Company, I was challenged and interested in thinking and solving problems, so, no sleepless nights, but an awful lot of interesting time. That was started really because we were in practice, buying drugs from a whole group of dealers – people who bought from the main companies, added their mark-up on it and sold it to us – and when the farmer started to buy drugs from the Co-op – the Co-op was getting a special price, and they were buying cheaper from the Co-ops, than what we could buy from our dealers. It wasn’t the dealer’s fault, it was just that the whole system of selling that way was expensive. So we often got together as Veterinarians and bought say a hundred gallons of propylene glycol or maybe twelve dozen or twenty-four dozen bottles of penicillin. And we did this to try and bring our price down, but we had no central area and we had no easier way of doing it, so the idea was to set up a Company that would do that.
D And how did you reconcile running a practice and starting a company at the same time?
B Well, I was already essentially doing quite a bit of it, because we were trying to jointly buy some – so that thinking was already in place. I had two associates at the time Drs. Lorriman and Allen – both of whom – I think they were both there at that time – Dr.
Lorriman was and both of whom supported me in these roles so, it was a natural fit for it. There were difficulties in setting this up.
D The obvious success which the Veterinary Wholesale Company has achieved for these many years must of course be a source of considerable pride to you. Describe some of the major challenges and events leading up to the actual start-up.
B One of the major obstacles we had – first we had the need – so it was there – we had the pricing problem which was there – so there were an awful lot of people inclined toward this type of buying. But, there was a company set up with a group of Veterinarians in the north - as share-holders – to do the same thing, but a little different scenario than ours – and they’d gone bankrupt a few years before, and I’d been trying ever since you called to figure out – to remember what the name was – but it was around Orangeville. It’s a name in Veterinary History, but I can’t pull it back into my mind – and that soured an awful lot of the Veterinarians on what we were doing. So, when we started this, we got together – here – not here in this house, but in Stratford we talked it over and decided that we’d try to get share-holders within a limited area, that was easy to service. We didn’t envision the things that were going to happen – and we put together thirty-two people within say forty miles of here, and we asked them to put up five hundred dollars each. So we started with sixteen thousand dollars of capital, and it was about a week or so later, when a Veterinarian I knew, outside of our area called me up and said, “Why aren’t you letting me in on this?”, that I got a glimmer that we were going to be successful. I found out later, from a friend of mine how hard he had to talk to his partner- there were four of them I believe, in the practice – how hard he had to talk to them to get them to put up the five hundred dollars, cause they were dubious about how it was going to go. We set up an executive, created the company called Veterinary Wholesale Company. That’s no longer the name, anymore – it’s called Veterinary Purchasing Company, now. And we decided to hire a person – John Ginty, who was a PhD, I believe in – History, though I’m not sure of that, but he was selling drugs. He had been caught in the A. V. Rowe - Avro Arrow close down, and he was selling drugs in a job much below his training, and he knew a lot of the Veterinarians, so we hired him, and his philosophy and working out of my office for two months, eventually out of a little rented facility started the company. And the main issue, once we got that far, was the resistance of the drug companies who thought that we were going to be a hindrance to them. I didn’t realize and they didn’t realize that we were the greatest help that there could be for the companies, although we thought we were organizing for our own benefit – and we were, but the truth is we eventually helped them every bit as much or more than ourselves. Well, I’m wandering here likely, but we rented the building in town, set up shelves. We were told we couldn’t get vaccines, so I went out to an auction house and bought seven old fridges and we had vaccines going right away. If we had some resistance from a drug company that wouldn’t want to sell to us, well, we simply bought from somebody else, cause we found, once we were in this, there was an alternative for every single drug that you wanted – you could find somebody else someplace, selling the same thing. So, company resistance was important in the start-up of the business, which disappeared of course, now it’s gone.
D Originally you were set up in Stratford before the warehouse in St. Marys?
B We took a building that was empty for seven or eight years, and rented – I think three thousand square feet – bought shelves from a company that I knew was closing down through a friend of mine – bought carts from an old grocery store, eventually bought a vegetable cooler from the same grocery store, and we put it in this building – soon as they got activity in there, it hadn’t been for sale for seven years – it was sold, so we had to find a another place, and we went to St. Marys, to a small part of the present site, and it was available, I believe at sixty thousand dollars at the time, and it was I think a little bit bigger – maybe five thousand square feet, something like that – and we had to buy it – had no money, so we organized a “share” situation. My wife took two shares – a thousand dollars – and so down the road they got a set amount of interest. They were repaid as we could on a lottery system, so whosever’s number come up got repaid, and that’s how we financed the new building. Now, of course that new building is – I wouldn’t know, sixty or seventy thousand square feet over there, I think, now.
D Another of your many achievements would be the founding of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. Is that what it’s called?
B That’s what it’s called now, but it wasn’t then. We were looking for a name. What we were doing, our activities, was rightly called the Ontario Veterinary Association, but there was already an Ontario Veterinary Association, and so we looked for a name and we called it the Society of Ontario Veterinarians. And of course they changed the name when the College was set up and the other name became available, so it became the OVMA – the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association.
D Was it difficult to generate interest among Veterinarians in this project?
B No. I stole an idea there. I was on the OVA, the Ontario Veterinary Association – the Licensing Board – and we were trying to do two jobs. We were trying to govern Veterinarians for the public interest and we were trying to govern Veterinarians for Veterinarians’ interest, and there was a dichotomy of purpose there that simply couldn’t work. Harvey Grenn and Dr. Tom Sanderson were involved, and they both said there had to be a conflict of interest there. Get out of the conflict. We had to have a self serving organization, apart from licensing. So the idea was there, and all I did was gel it. So, once we gelled it, people picked it up. There was difficulty, because we were adding another layer of expense to license. But not that much.
D And you held Offices in the College of Veterinarians of Ontario? Do you remember?
B No, I never did, because it wasn’t called that when I held office. It was called the Ontario Veterinary Association and I was the representative from this area at the time. In fact that happened kind of strangely. A guy I knew and respected had been sitting on the Board and he decided to step down. I’d already been working with our local Veterinarians as we talked about earlier, with the Pork Practitioners – Swine Practitioners and the Large Animal Practitioners, and that was what we were in this area. So I went to him – Archie McKinnon – and I said, “Are you going to run?” He said,” No”, so, I put my name up and
in the meantime he decided to run and sadly, really, I beat him. I was happy to win, but I beat him, and became the Member from here, and eventually became Vice-President of that organization, but didn’t go on and run to take any more offices in that area.
D And the Ontario Swine Practitioners Association- you were the founder?
B I understand that I was and yet you know I don’t remember doing that, but it’s quite possibly I did because I pushed to organize for the reasons I already said, where I wanted to have contact with these people. I wanted to see them, and I think it was a benefit to us all to do that.
D And the Ontario Department of Agriculture Committee on Antibiotics in Agriculture – you were affiliated there, too?
B I was asked to sit on there as a Veterinarian Practitioner, and I got a lesson in how these committees work. The main man – I forget his name right now – was highly trained, and really he was doing the report. All we were doing – the rest of us in the committee – was helping him to come to his conclusions – cause we didn’t have much power, and I brought to him the Veterinarians’ – the Practitioners’ viewpoint on the drugs. And I think I helped shape the report, to be better than it might have been if I hadn’t been there. But I certainly wasn’t – I found that I wasn’t much of a part of writing the report per se.
D Following your political career, what next? You continued to work?
B Well, I ran in 1984, and as I said, I was in Parliament for just a little bit over nine years and from 1993, when the Conservative Government was turfed out – just like the Liberal Government had been before, because every government has its time and every government builds up its animosity – and I have to say that I believe our major issue was too many changes when we were in Ottawa – GST and Capital Punishment and Free Trade – just too darn much happening, and a whole pile of people developed dislike for all those various reasons, and I was one of the ones that was fired on that particular issue. Only two Conservatives got back into the “House” - Mr. Charest and the lady from the East Coast. So, after that I took a Securities Course – I went into a Financial Advisor’s role on a part-time basis, really working largely half a day. Bit of success. I stayed there until about seven years ago, when I retired from business.
D You ran your own business then?
B I worked with a company that was in the Security business.
D Before we stop, please describe a very important part of your life here, your wife and family.
B Well, I was married – I mentioned earlier, I was married to a girl from Palmerston or Palmerston depending where you live, and how you say that, and her parents were farmers. She died in 1981, and we had four children. In 1984, just before I ran for
Parliament, I re-married – my present wife Dorelle, and she had three children, and so, we now have combined family of seven, fifteen grandkids.- the oldest in university at the present time, in fact third year university. Two more are going off to university. I have to tell you, one of them is following in the path of her father, who was my son, my – Wayne went on to be an Olympic Wrestler, after my university wrestling times. And now, Emma, his daughter is off to South America in three days to wrestle in the Pan Am Games, as a I guess a cadet in the Women’s Wrestling. So that heritage is carrying on a little bit that way.
D Well, you must be very proud of them. That would account for all the photographs I see on the mantle I would think.
B Yeh. We try to get one every year, but sometimes the cards get – the frames get a little full there and it’s tough to keep up with them.
D Is there anything you would like to add?
B Yeh. I’ve thought over the years about how people contribute. I had two classmates who were Deans of universities Bob Dunlop and Ollie Neilson - Bob Dunlop, for two universities in the States. A lot of my other classmates went on to advanced degrees - Ken Charlton in Pathology and he became a rabies expert. And they all lead and contributed to the profession. And I’ve often thought that perhaps some of the things that I’ve done – particularly the Wholesale Company, which I feel is the best achievement I’ve contributed to the life of Veterinarians directly in a very beneficial way, and maybe I come a little closer to what my brighter colleagues did in their scholastic activities by doing these practical things here on the ground. I’ve never tried to balance that out, but I keep thinking about the success over there. That Veterinary Wholesale Company this year will be - as well as last year – is over two hundred million dollars in sales starting from zero in 1972.
D That’s fairly big business.
B It’s big business. They ship all over – of course we mentioned before we kept it in a little area, here, so we could do it easily, but now they have, I think, eight or ten bays, trucks going in every direction – shipping every day – all over Ontario and we never envisioned that. We had no idea of that.
D Well, thank you for your co-operation and for donating your time Dr. Brightwell. Your interview has been interesting and provided new and useful information for our Oral History Project.
B Well, thank you Ron. I’ve enjoyed doing it.