Oral History - McCague, James


Tape 1 of 1
Interviewed by Ross R. Hay
September 19, 1990
H This is an interview with James Ashford McCague, of year 1940, that’s being recorded by Ross Hay for the University of Guelph, Oral History Committee of Alumni-in-Action, which is a group of the Alumni of the University of Guelph.
H Jim, has Alliston always been your home?
McC No, I was born in Victoria Square on the family farm, and when my oldest brother was married, my Mother (nee, Margaret Gee), and two sisters and I moved to Toronto and I went to high school there, and then because my brother George (George Anderson Gee McCague) was graduated in 1928 and J.J. E. (John) was graduated in 1921, I was convinced that O.A.C. was the only place to go, so I started in 1936 at Guelph, in the Animal Husbandry course, and graduated in 1940.
H Good. And you have a beautiful farm here at R.R. 2, Alliston. I noted on the way in, I should have known before, that it’s called Lodestar. I don’t know where the name came from. You been noted in Holstein Friesian circles for many years. How many acres do you farm here with your boys?
McC Well I started with a hundred acres, but now the boys are operating it and they’re operating about a thousand. We own four hundred, and my son owns two hundred, so really the whole unit owns six hundred.
H How did you get started in farming?
McC Well, when I was in prison camp I wrote a letter home saying farming wouldn’t look so bad after the war, so this farm came up for sale, and so my brother bought it, with the understanding that I could buy it through the “Veterans’ Land Act” after I got home, so that’s how it started with a hundred acres, but there was no hydro. We didn’t have hydro for a year and a half.
H Well the “Veterans’ Land Act” helped a lot of people...
McC It did. Five percent loans were attractive.
H I’ll say! Now you and your wife Janet (nee, James) have two boys?
McC We have three boys and one girl. Peter and Jamie are the two working with the farm. The other two are in Toronto - Scott and Carol. Altogether we have twelve grandchildren.
H Wonderful. How many purebred Holsteins are kept on the farm, now? - approximately?
McC A bit over three hundred - we’ve about one hundred and thirty milking.
H Great. A big operation. I presume you are using A.I.?
McC Yes, we’ve always used A.I.
H So that would be when you came back, what, 1946 or so?
McC Yes, we really started farming in ‘46.
H Jim I think you’ve already told us what brought you to O.A.C. was that your two brothers had gone there?
McC Yeah. Well, my Father (George) died when I was three, so really my brothers were more or less fathers to me.
H Right. Well they were great people. Now we’ll get back to OAC life when you went there. You would have hazing?
McC Yes
H You have any comments on that? Can you remember any of the things about hazing?
McC No, I think what they did - the second year took us out to the farm - the jail farm - somebody went in a car before - the group was running behind them and they drove back home and we had to get back in time for breakfast at the residence. So I was in better physical condition by the time the hazing was over than I have been since, I think.
H Great. What was campus life like in 1936, when you started to Guelph? Of course
there wouldn’t be the buildings that are there today.
McC No, but I really enjoyed it. And it was a new experience really - for everybody, of course, in the group, but -
H Was everybody in residence at that time?
McC Just about all in residence, yeah, excepting the people that lived in town.
H How many students were in your year?
McC A bit less than a hundred. I can’t remember the exact number, you know.
H You know there’s about eleven thousand, well that’s not right, twelve thousand, three hundred and twelve, I think are now going to the university - maybe more than that, but I think it’s around there. What was the cost for your room and board at the time when you went there?
McC Something less than five hundred dollars a year as I recall it.
H Isn’t that amazing. What about the food?
McC Well the food was pure and wholesome, but not that exciting, I mean, but the milk was terrific, you know, because it was ice cold
H Right. I remember that myself. They had that song, “They feed us fish on Friday, that’s been six months out to sea, and then at dinner boys there’s no tea”.
McC As I recall it, we sat right at the table and were waited on completely.
H That would be correct. It was in my year, but I was in residence where we (inaudible)...and big platters of meat and big dishes of potatoes and vegetables and half a loaf of bread and...
McC Oysters
H Half a pound of butter
McC ...wonderful oyster stew
H Yeah. Couldn’t ‘ve been any better. Now you enjoyed O.A.C. and got some knowledge there. How did that fit you for your future life?
McC Well, I think the residence life was one of the most important things. You got to know people and how to get along with people, and if you didn’t get along with them, you were in trouble of course if you didn’t, and when I graduated I went to work for Donovan Publishing. They published three farm papers in Toronto.
H What were they?
McC They were “The Canadian Poultry Review”, and “The Canadian Silver Fox and Fur”, and “The Holstein Friesian Journal”, so I sold advertising at first for them.
H Good. That would be interesting.
McC But many of our classmates were joining - or had joined the Army - the military of some kind - so I checked the enlistment office. It was just a block or two away from where I worked, so I joined the Air Force in November of that year – of 1940.
H And how long were you in the Air Force?
McC ‘Til the end of the war.
H Yeah, you were a prisoner of war.
McC Yes, for three and a half years. I was shot down in my first operation and prisoner of war from then on.
H Were you a pilot or gunner?
McC I was a fighter pilot.
H A fighter pilot. And what was it like being a prisoner of war?
McC We were treated... They stuck by the rules pretty well, excepting when the “Great Escape” happened, when the tunnel that we built - well, two hundred or so were supposed to get out, but seventy-eight, I think got out.
H Were you in that camp when the tunnel was built?
McC Yes, I was on the carpenter supply gang (Chuckle) ...to find boards to shore the tunnel up with...
H There was a show about that?
McC Yes, “The Great Escape”.
H And that must have been a thrilling experience - a nervous-making experience?
McC Yeah, I roomed with one of the fellows that did escape, and I’ve seen him a couple of times since.
H (Inaudble) I’m glad you mentioned that. That’s very interesting - very interesting. Now,
Jim since you came back from the war in ‘46, you came to this farm, but I also know you were a member of a lot of different organizations that you’ve worked in to help agriculture - and I know you were president of the “Holstein Friesian Association”. That’s a huge organization and it’s a real achievement to be president of that group.
You’re also a director of the “Milk Marketing Board”, “The Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario”, you’re president of “The Dairy Farmers of Canada”, you were on “VIDO” which is the “Veterinary Infectious Diseases Organization”. I think that is that stationed in Saskatoon?
McC Yeah, at the University of Saskatchewan
H Then you were awarded a “Centennial Medal” by the University of Guelph - and you were also given a “Fellowship Award” by the Agriculture Institute of Canada, at their National Convention when it was held in Montreal. I want to read to you if I may Jim, that citation from the Agriculture Institute. “McCague, a well-known breeder of Holstein cattle and member of the Huronia Branch of the Ontario Institute of Agrologists, received this honour that is the Fellowship Award of the Agriculture Institute of Canada, for his involvement in the dairy industry and the notable Lodestar Holstein herd which he established in 1946. In addition, he has been a very active member and leader in numerous community, provincial and national organizations, some of which we have mentioned. Jim is recognized as a leader in agriculture, not just in Ontario, but across Canada. He has been willing to set an example and show his abilities in many phases of agriculture. Some of his most notable accomplishments include the “Master Breeder Shield” from the Holstein Friesian Association of Canada, in 1968, the “Ontario Agricultural Centennial Medal”, in 1974, and the Ontario Institute of Agrologists’, “Distinguished Agrologist Award”, in 1979. McCague’s nomination for the Fellowship was supported by the Huronia Branch of the Ontario Institute of Agrologists, of which McCague is a charter member”.
Now I also have before me here, and excuse me for reading all of this. Jim was awarded an O.A.C. “Centennial Medal” in 1974 and if I may Jim, I’ll Just read this inscription out of this .
“Following the end of World War II, he began farming near Alliston, a one hundred acre
farm, to which he later added two hundred additional acres. Lodestar Farms, an outstanding dairy farm operation, visited regularly by many export buyers. He was awarded the “Master Breeder Shield” by the Holstein Friesian Association of Canada, in 1968. He was the Director of the Holstein Friesian Association for fifteen years, and served as President in 1973. He is a Director of the Simcoe County Holstein Club and of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. He is first vice-president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, a member of the Dairy Food Science Bureau, and of the Canadian Council of Milk Recording (?). He is Chairman of the Joint Dairy Breeds Committee. Since 1970, Mr. McCague has been a member of the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario. In addition, he has found time to serve as President of the Alliston Lions Club, the Alliston High School Board and the Essa Township Planning Board. It is fitting that an O.A.C. “Centennial Medal” be awarded to James McCague for his efforts on behalf of dairy farmers and the dairy industry, and for his continued interest in this campus.”
That’s wonderful, Jim. It’s a real achievement in your life.
McC Thanks, Ross.
H Is there anything more that you would like to tell us about yourself?
Jim, I just about forgot, that in talking with Rosemary Clark this morning, she told me about you and your wife Janet going on a cruise trip - on a trip to China. How did you enjoy that?
McC We enjoyed it very much. Luckily we were there the fall before the Tiananmen Square Riots happened, so I think we saw it when it was better than it will be for some time.
H Would you go on a trip like that again?
McC Yes. We’re thinking of.... well we’ve signed up to go to Africa - in January. Hopefully, Rosemary will be going too - a good tour director
H When Rosemary hears this, she’ll really appreciate it.
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