Oral History - Presant, Fred


By Harvey Pettit
August 18, 1987
HP:This is an interview with Fred Presant by Harvey Pettit, on August 18th, 1987, for the University of Guelph Alumni Association, Alumni in Action Group. Fred is being interviewed in his home, located on Glengrove Ave W., in Toronto. This has been the family home for the past 44 years. Fred is now a widower, and lives alone, since the death of his wife Nora in 1982. 177 Glengrove Ave. is now a home away from home for his son and daughter and the grandchildren. Fred celebrated his 90th birthday this year. It is my pleasure to interview Fred, and to record those eventful 90 years.
I understand Fred, that the name Presant represents an Ontario pioneer family dating back to the 1840s.
FP: That's right, Harvey. My grandfather, James Presant, returned to Guelph in 1847, from St. George, Ontario, where he had been running a mill for his father in law, and he came back to Guelph to take over from his father-in-law and a brother-in-law who had been running the Guelph Victoria Flour Mills. My father eventually followed his father and ran the business until 1914. He had sold it previously, about 1909.
HP: It might be of interest, Fred, as to where the mill was located in Guelph.
FP: Well, I can best describe that by saying it is where Wyndham Street runs down to the river and there the mill used to be located on the west side of the road that crosses the river, and initially when it was first started, the power was obtained from the use of the water in the river, and that necessitated the building of a dam across and a mill race to bring the water down to the water wheels. In later years, of course, the water supply had deteriorated and steam had to be used as the mainstay of the power for the mill.
HP: Did your father have much land at that time?
FP: Yes, the land which belonged to the mill and to the family was quite extensive, both running towards the south and running toward the east. There was a whole block between the extension of Wyndham Street and Neeve Street, the main intersection just east of it, and this block was pasture field for the horses of the mill, as it ran along the bank of the river. And our home, which my father bought in the early 1880s, was on the corner of Surrey and Neeve Streets, and we lived there until we left, the end of February, 1914.
HP: How many brothers and sisters did you have, Fred?
FP: There were 3 sisters. All of them were born before a son was born to my parents. And then there were three of us. I was the youngest of the group, and my two older
brothers both had gone as students to the Ontario Agricultural College. John, the eldest, was in Class ‘11, and Harold, who was about five and a half years older than I was, graduated in 1913.
HP: So, the Ontario Agricultural College was well known to you as a boy.
FP: It certainly was. It was very much in my life. I also had two brothers-in-law. One had been in the English Department before he proceeded on to Queens and became a Presbyterian minister. He married my oldest sister, and then a classmate of my brother Harold married another sister. And so we had people from OAC when my brothers were students, and my sisters’ friends, coming and going all the time, and as a youngster, I was taken up there once if not twice by a student, and had a meal with them in the old dining room in the old original building.
HP: That would be Johnston Hall.
FP: Yes. So it was quite natural for me to have it within my ambitions to return to Guelph some time and become a student there, as I did. After I returned from overseas in 1919, I became one of the freshmen who joined the class that graduated in 1923.
HP: It might be of interest to the people to know that you left Guelph in 1914. I think you mentioned that. And your father bought a farm near Blenheim. Is that correct?
FP: Yes, that is correct. My oldest brother had been roaming around the world for a few years, and he came home in the summer of 1913, and by the way, I had been working that summer for the first time at the OAC, helping to look after the grounds up there, which involved getting up at a very early hour, having breakfast, making my lunch and bicycling up to begin my work at 7:00, and working through to 6:00 at night. It left me with very little time to do the chores that had befallen to me to look after - all of the lawn grass cutting, and a large garden which we operated after my father's retirement from the milling business, and things had gotten a little out of hand, and I was delighted when my oldest brother returned to help me with my chores. My father realized that if Jack were going to be content to stay at home, that it would be much better to have him satisfied with the prospects of going farming on a farm of his own. And this also worked out very satisfactorily for my other brother, who was then serving as the Assistant Agricultural Representative down in Welland County, and I was very much for it too as a teenager. It sounded pretty attractive to me. So this is what happened in the fall of 1913, they looked over many prospective farms that were offered, and finally found one two miles out of Blenheim, Ontario, which lies south of Chatham. And we moved down to take over this farm on the first of March, 1914. The family - my mother and father - decided that they would come too, and look after us boys, and it was a very happy circumstance for all of us, I think, when we made this move, because it was a splendid farm, an excellent home, and something that became a very good business for the brothers that stayed and ran the farm.
HP: Now, during the First World War, you enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. Now I believe there is some significance to the name there . . .
FP: Yes, it is hard for people at this time in my life to realize that up to 1915, there had never been any aerial warfare conducted. It was a first effort, and in those earlier years it was simply a pilot going up in a little old plane with a shotgun or rifle, and trying to do some damage to somebody that might be trying to do damage to him.
And that was how the aerial fighting started in the First World War, and there were two sections - two divisions. One was the Royal Naval Air Service, and the other was the Royal Air Force, and it wasn't until later on in 1918... I was wrong there, it was the Royal Flying Corps, and it wasn't until 1918, that it became the Royal Air Force, which was a combination of the Naval Air Service and The Royal Flying Corps.
HP: So, actually the Canadian Air Force didn't start until the end of the war?
FP: No, it didn't start even then. It was formed later, some time after the Armistice, either a year or two after.
HP: So all your training in the Air Force was in England?
FP: No, we did our boot camp work here, up at Camp Borden.
HP: Oh, I see.
FP: And then we had the School of Aeronautics, which took over a good part of the University of Toronto - all of Hart House, and all of some of the residences down there, and others of the School of Science buildings, and it was quite a comprehensive school for us, to get the technical training that we needed. To have some idea of what we were going to be doing, they had areas within Hart House, within the gymnasium floor, where they simulated territory that was being occupied in France by the armies on the ground, and when they were engaged in trench warfare for so long, and we were supposed to be training to go help them with our bombing efforts, and artillery observation, and also in keeping the skies clear of enemy aircraft. We actually took our flying, or at least I was fortunate enough to be able to do so, down in Texas. There were two camps here where they did have flying instruction, one up at Armour Heights, which lies just above Wilson Avenue, and 401 goes right through it now, and the other was over in Leaside, but winter flying in open cockpit planes was so difficult and students could only stay in the air for a few minutes before they were paralyzed with cold. There was no heating, and the clothes that you wore were not impervious to the cold that you had to suffer, so it was a very slow process, and it was possible to speed it up and get the training work done through making use of the American camps down in Texas.
HP: Now, you were demobilized from the Air Force in 1919, and it was at that time, or prior to that time I suppose, that you enrolled in the OAC class of '23?
FP: That's right. I made my application from England, and had acknowledgement of it, and planned to enroll in September. I had returned in July from England, and took on a job that kept me busily occupied until September, when I came back as a freshman in the Class of '23.
HP: Now, when you enrolled as a freshman, the President of OAC was Dr. George C.
Creelman. He resigned at the end of your first year, and for the last three years you were on campus, the President was Dr. J.B. Reynolds.
FP: That's right Harvey, and I'm glad we got to know both those gentlemen in their positions as President. Having lived in Guelph prior to leaving it in 1914, we had known both the Creelman family and the Reynolds family. We knew the Reynolds family better, because they belonged to our church, and Dr. Reynolds was then with the English Department. But each was a very much an individual person, and handled his responsibilities and duties in a very different manner to the other. I got to know Dr. Reynolds first, when he attended a welcoming reception which was held over in the Macdonald Institute, and all of the students in each of the years was to be introduced to Dr. Reynolds and his wife, and our class, as freshmen, had been the largest class that had ever assembled at Guelph. There were about 310 of us, and a very large proportion of them were returned men from overseas. And we were such a large group that we had to be split up into two divisions, the A division and the B division. They did it alphabetically - made the split - and you didn't get to know some of the fellows in your opposing division. I was in B Division, and I didn't know all of the people, a lot of them not very well, in A, and in 1920 I was
acting as the president of our class. So at this reception I had to get one of the classmates from the A Division to stand behind me and tell me when I gave him the signal that I wasn't too sure of what this classmate of mine's name was, so I could introduce him to Dr. Reynolds.
HP: As you mentioned, it was a large year in comparison to previous years, and I guess that was because there was a large number of veterans in the group.
FP: That's right. They made up the majority of the class. Well, there was a lot of attrition that took place, a lot of the fellows that had come back weren't at all sure what they wanted to do, and if they had enlisted before they were 18, they were given the first year of tuition at a College or a University, it was paid for by the government. And those who had enlisted at 18 or over didn't have such grants made, and it was felt that we lost a lot of those younger chaps, and some of the others too, who just came up there for something to do. And by the time we were ready to enter our second year, were down somewhere in the neighbourhood of a little over 200 students. The class actually graduated about 144 students, as I recall.
HP: Were there any women in your class?
FP: No, but there were two I believe at the time, one of whom graduated with Class '21, and there was a women member of Class '22.
HP: Did you stay in residence?
FP: Yes, we were given priority, who had been overseas, and I first stayed in what we called the Old Residence, it was part of the original Administration building.
HP: That's Johnston Hall.
FP: And that is where the President of the College lived, looking out over that lawn that lies between the dining hall and the President's residence building. And his quarters were there, and they were very comfortable. I might just say that in my first year
when President Creelman was there, it was learned that he kept a cellar with some... good refreshment material, and somebody had discovered that by crawling along the heating pipes in the entrance that you could get into it. And I think there were one or two times when Dr. Creelman "missed" some of his liquid refreshment that he kept in his basement. And there was quite a little to do about that. No one was ever apprehended, it seemed to be that it was something that had been done very quietly, and not much publicity given to it, but nevertheless, the Doctor let it be know that if any individual could be located that had taken part in that, that he would be given a quick exit from any further attendance at OAC.
HP: Now, I believe that Mills Hall was built at the time that you were there on campus.
FP: Yes, that's true, and we too were able to occupy it, given the first opportunity, and it was very largely with the returned men from both Classes 1923 and 1922, who occupied Mills Hall.
HP: Memorial Hall was another building that was started then, and I think that you have memories of how that building got its start.
FP: I certainly do. That was quite a matter that the returned men were particularly interested in. They had been anxious to see some record, and something done to perpetuate the memory of the large number of people who had enlisted as students from the Ontario Agricultural College and who had never returned. It might be well to recall that there were several batteries that were organized and developed in Guelph, and one of them was in fact I believe called the OAC Battery. I didn't have anything to do with that part of it, I wasn't living in Guelph at that time, but I knew of it going on, and during the years that followed our return, there used to be reunions held, and a number of my friends who had served in these batteries would take part in these reunions. Well, the idea of putting up this Memorial Hall was accepted, and the government was supposed to be doing something about it. There was a little delay at one time, because the sight that had been chosen was also where a very fine big old pine tree was growing, and this was rather an unusual one, and very much admired by the Head of the Horticultural Department, Professor Crow. He said it was the only one of its kind within a hundred miles about, it was supposed to have been removed, cut down, but he objected to this, and that stalled the beginning of this Memorial Hall for quite a while. However, you never can tell what's going to happen, and much to the surprise of most people, one morning that pine tree was lying down on the ground. It had been cut down during the night, and there it was, and it couldn't be put back in place again. So with that gone, it gave us an opportunity of getting the foundation dug for this Memorial Hall. The site had been laid, and the dimensions were known and so on, so the students themselves undertook to dig this basement area and get it ready for putting in the proper foundations. We thought that if that were done, that the powers that be were not going to hold back much longer, that they'd get busy and try and fill in that hole for the purpose for which it was designed. So this is what happened. Everybody got out there that fall, and we had teams with scrapers and things from the farm department, they co-operated, and we had wheelbarrows and many shovels, and we removed that great quantity of dirt, and made the foundation, so that it could be used for the proper building.
HP: I expect the students were suspect as far as being the culprits that cut the tree down .
FP: Well, I think probably that would be a point well taken, I don't think there was a question. I don't think anyone else but someone who was very much a part of the campus group would have done it.
HP: Was there any penalties over the tree cutting?
FP: Oh, no, just a sadness on the part of Professor Crow, and a few of them who liked the old tree, but they knew it was going to be for a good purpose.
HP: You hear many stories about meals at colleges like OAC. I wonder if you have any thought on whether you thought they were good or bad?
FP: Well, one thing I'm sure of, and as I went along and learned later in life about good nutrition and what is required to keep you in the best of condition. I used to feel that those meals on the whole were much too high in carbohydrates, and I could see, it was quite evident at times with some of the young ladies from Macdonald College, who came down there in their freshman year looking slim and svelte, and would be leaving with quite a number of pounds added, which embarrassed them a little bit. Yes, the meals were... I shouldn't say that they were poor. You got a lot of good food, and we used to sit at the tables then, tables that held 12 I think it was, and they would be served soup for example, would be served in a great big tureen, somebody would have to ladle it out, and that was a job that when you were elected to do that, it was one of the table chores, you weren't too popular, because you couldn't divide it up evenly, and somebody would be left.
HP: Somebody would be short.
FP: Yes!
HP: In other words, it paid not to be late.
FP: Yes, it did, and it paid to go a little shy on the first ones you dished up.
HP: You mentioned Professor Crow, in the Horticulture, and I believe he resigned in '22 I believe, and the man who came in as Head of Hort was A.H. MacClennan.
FP: Yes, and during the college years, I was very fortunate in getting a job which kept me occupied, and through which I had to do a great deal of traveling, and once I was away from Headquarters, which was Toronto, my traveling expenses and meals and lodging were all looked after. So I could save some money and have enough to come back and put me through the next year, at college. Well, Prof. MacClennan, whose headquarters were down at Queen's Park, in Toronto, was the Ontario man in charge of this plant disease inspection work that I had to do, which took me all over the province of Ontario, up in the north, and down through the southern part of Ontario, and when I had finished my third year- by the way, we were required to present a thesis, so-called, before we started our final year, and it was in the final year, the fourth year, that we pretty much specialized in what we had hoped to be our specialty when we graduated. It didn't always work out that way. I had decided, because I was traveling around so much through the province, and very interested too, it was a time when the co-operative effort was being developed in connection
with agriculture. We had some representative farm co-operative associations, marketing associations, already established in Ontario, and we had had some very interesting people on the campus who had come from the United States, and they were pretty well established over there, and they were telling us about their programs, and how successful they'd been. And I was quite interested in it. So our Farm Management people with Archie Leach heading the group there was beginning to develop a very useful course in farm management in various aspects, so I directed my thesis to them, and it was a study of representative Farm Marketing Associations which were located in Ontario. Now, getting back to Professor MacClennan, he had been Vegetable Extension Specialist for Ontario, and he told me when I was starting in as a student in my third year, that if I would change my option, and take Horticulture as my option, that I would be assured of a job the next spring, that he would see to it that I became a Vegetable Extension Specialist. Well, I had to put first things first, because jobs were very hard to get in those days, and so I did that.
HP: You mentioned that you changed your mind. What was your choice going to be in the first place? Animal Science rather than Hort.?
FP: Well, I was interested in all of it. I had been particularly interested and had some experience in Poultry. Now I ran one of the few commercial poultry operations that had developed in that time. I took over in the spring, and changed the breed or the strain of chicken that this man was using for his laying flock, and brought in a whole lot of new ideas that he had not known of, and which I had gained through a short course with Professor Graham at the Poultry Department. I'd always been interested in poultry, and as a youngster growing up I had raised pigeons for squabs, and knew something about it before I ever went to the farm with my brothers, and there I looked after poultry as well as horses and other parts of our livestock.
HP: I think we were talking about Dr. MacClennan, you worked during the summer while you were going to college? Was the work involved with horticulture?
FP: It was involved with going round and anyone who was growing potatoes could, through his Agricultural Representative, ask that he have an inspection made of his crop, and preparing himself for what was being developed and became known as providing Certified Seed Potatoes. Now we would go round and inspect these certified seed potatoes, and point out to the growers what the diseases were, how to recognize them, how to treat against them if that were known at that time, and how to "rogue" them, as we called it, pulling them out before they developed, so that they wouldn't be producing potatoes at the end of the crop that would perpetuate these diseases. And we talked about a lot of other things too, while we were with them, and it was a very broadening experience as far as I was concerned, in meeting all of these different people in the various sections of this big province who were growing potatoes. And naturally, it put me in touch with that part of the horticultural effort. I had, on our own farm, a good deal of intensive training and experience in production of tender fruits - strawberries, raspberries, sweet cherries, orchard fruits, pears, apples, peaches, and the growing of early tomatoes, canning factory tomatoes, so I'd had a rather broad background in horticultural as well as poultry and swine husbandry.
HP: Well, after you graduated in 1923, and as you mentioned you received an appointment as a vegetable extension specialist, were your headquarters in Toronto, or were you at Guelph?
FP: I was at Guelph, and I also had to take on certain responsibilities with the Horticulture Department, and I used to teach freshman classes, and had something to do with the graduating classes too, but it was primarily in the judging of vegetables and work that many of them would get into right away and some of them had experience, as I had. During these various summers I had a good deal of experience in judging the 4H club exhibits and so on at fall fairs. The Agricultural Representatives just grabbed on to anybody they felt could help them out, and particularly if he had had experience and was from OAC, he got put into these various jobs, so I could pass some of that information along to the students who hadn't had too much of that to do, in various forms and ways, and I had a lot of extension work to do, when I was with that Hort department. The Agricultural Representatives, all of them used to carry on winter short courses, and they would have me go and talk about landscaping and improvement of the farm home surroundings, and something about if they were in a fruit growing area, I used to often take a class out and do pruning work, where we could get an orchardist that would trust his trees to us, and a variety of extension work of that sort, but more or less related to horticulture.
HP: Well, I believe after 3 years, 1926, there was a change. You changed your line of work.
FP: Yes, I did indeed Harvey. I learned that the newly started Western Ontario Experimental Farm at Ridgetown was thriving under the direction of a well known leader, W.R. Reek, and was expanding a little, and they were going to take on an assistant to Mr. Reek, so I thought now there's an opportunity for me to improve my situation, I want to get married, I'm earning the minimal salary here at Guelph and I could do a little better by going down to Ridgetown, and so I went down and interviewed Mr. Reek, and was recommended, by him, that I become his assistant. And this took place on the first of March, 1926. And one of the primary reasons, I guess, for my going down there at that time was they had been talking about having a new type of school for students who were going to be returning and living in their same community in which they had been raised, for rural living. I had my first class coming to the school, and we all started from scratch. Fortunately I had asked for two greenhouses to be added to the buildings that were then part of the farm, because I knew that the students would be much happier if they could get into situations where they were doing something that was growing, and could be followed through to its final use. And this whole exercise was a very interesting one to me. There was no prescribed course. We had to make it up as we went. We were trying to give them, in addition to what they learned about agricultural subjects, information that would help them as citizens in the community itself, as well as some help in the matter of the business management of their farms. I had decided in my own mind, after the second year I was down there, that I should be going ahead with some postgraduate work if I were going to remain in this type of operation, and had made tentative plans about going over to the University of Michigan. But in the
meantime, I had met an interesting man who had been born in Ridgetown and lived there until his late teens, then had left and gone out to western Canada. He had returned here to open the first office of the Canadian Wheat Board in Toronto. His name was Gordon C. Leach, and he had married a Ridgetown girl, and she used to bring her son and herself back to spend some holiday time in Ridgetown, and Gordon would come down and spend some time there, and my wife and I met them both socially, and I learned from him that he was planning on starting a business in Toronto which would involve the handling of grain and would need grain handling equipment on the waterfront at Toronto. And Gordon also mentioned that he had in mind, in the development that he could foresee, that we should have an operation which would make formula feeds for poultry and livestock. And the outcome of it was that he invited me to join with him in this undertaking and take the gamble, and to come down and initiate the development of a formula feed business as a part of the overall operation of what he was undertaking. And this became Master Feeds, and I was the first manager, and had to formulate all the feeds and look after the operation and development of that part of our agricultural business.
HP: What was the year that you became manager of the feed division?
FP: That was December of 1928.
HP: And form then on, you'd be responsible for looking after all the sales and service, and the organization of the feed division.
FP: Yes, it all grew from a very small beginning, and I was fortunate in having good people join me. I was very partial, and whenever possible tried to get OAC graduates who had had farming experience and shown some interest in this type of operation. I also made great use of the departments at Guelph which could help me with the knowledge that was becoming available through research and experimental work that was going on, not only at the OAC but throughout the United States and elsewhere. And one of my people that I depended on very much was Professor Graham of the Poultry Department, and later on George Raithby and Bill Knox of the Animal Husbandry Department. Then too, one of my classmates had gone over to Cornell University, Dr. Fred B. Hutt, and he was in charge of their poultry operations over there, and was one of the ones at Cornell who was instrumental in establishing a Nutrition Conference held at Cornell University. And that was a great thing for me - I was one of the first to attend that, and a charter member, and received later on a plaque showing my attendance for 20 years, although I had a brief interval when I couldn't go to some of the meetings that they had, but it was a great thing for anyone who was interested in nutrition, because they would have the people there who had contributed to that field from all over the United States and Canada, and you'd get the latest information that was available.
HP: I believe you also promoted and helped to establish the Ontario Feed Manufacturer's Association in 1929?
FP: That's right, there were a few of us that used to meet who were involved in this similar type of business, and we decided that it would be very helpful, if and when we needed to ask for some help or change in the regulations which had to do with the feeding stuffs act, if we could approach Ottawa with one voice, instead of going
down there as individuals. It was also going to be of interest and help to us to get to know each other better, and if we could meet once in a while and talk about what progress was being made and what was needed, it would be of benefit to all of us. And this is what occurred, and in our group we started out in Ontario, and pretty soon the people in Quebec said that they would like to join us, then the Maritime people indicated that they would like to become members too, and by this time we had decided that we had better change the name to the Canadian Feed Manufacturer's Association.
HP: Now, you got involved in another committee, and this followed a challenge by Professor Graham, whom you have already mentioned, in 1935. The challenge was "No-one can bring producers of poultry products and those who sell those products together with their feet under the same table to discuss and solve their common problems". As a result of that challenge, the Poultry Industry Committee of Ontario was formed in 1936. And I think you were involved in that original committee.
FP: That's right, Harvey. And Professor Graham was certainly the catalyst that brought this about, and gave it his support and encouragement, and backed us up in every way. There were two or three people that I should mention who played a very strong part in that, and one was Harry Donovan, who was the editor of the Poultry Review, and it was well known as a Canadian publication and could express our ideas. And the other one was Ford Wiggins, who was head of the Poultry Department at Canada Packers, and there were others too who were there. Fred Bray, a hatchery-man, some of the poultry breeders at the time, everybody got together, and we were quite representative of the industry, and I should perhaps mention right here that I heard Professor Graham make the statement at one time that the representatives of the feed manufacturers who were visiting and doing extension work amongst the poultry-men, were the best means of getting the best information, the latest information to these poultry-men. They were OAC graduates as far as our firm was concerned, for the most part, and they were well trained and very responsible in their positions, and I think that we did a good job in extension work at that time.
HP: You were Chairman of that committee for two years?
FP: Well, I guess so, but we had to keep it going, and it was quite a thing, because we didn't have a big group to start with, and we used to try and get out a little publication, and between our firm and Canada Packers we would take turns getting this letter our, and Harry Donovan through the poultry publication that he put out would try and keep the fires burning, and it took two or three years before we began to be a cohesive unit. But here we had all these different parts of the industry, and I think you will remember when, as a result of this poultry industry committee there was a group that sort of sprang off from it, the Poultry Products Institute. And that did a terrifically fine job of popularizing poultry - turkeys and chickens - as meat. Up to that time, there hadn't been any concerted effort done, and they were able, through the co-operation of the people in business, to get a lot of advertising, which didn't cost us too much, but was very effective, advancing the sale of poultry meat.
HP: Well, the original members of the committee must have done a pretty good job, because later it became the Ontario Poultry Council.
FP: Yes, and when it was that, I haven't had personal contact with it since it changed.
HP: When the Second World War started in 1939, your career with Toronto Elevators was interrupted. Possibly you could tell us something about what happened at that time.
FP: Well, it would have been in the fall of 1940 - you'll remember the war started in August of '39.
HP: And your part starts in '40, '41.
FP: In 1940, I'll go back to that. The government saw fit - they were being to pressed to send greater and increasingly larger amounts of meat, milk and eggs over to England to help the growing need over there with the extension of the forces, and getting our farmers to try and upgrade their production, and in order to do this, Ottawa decided to make the production of feed grain more attractive by the government assuming freight charges on the movement of the grain from the west to the east, and to the Maritimes. And so they went through a sort of experimental stage starting in 1940 which didn't work out very well, and we who were in the feed business saw the thing, and saw that it was not going in the right direction, and thought that we had a much better program that we could offer the government, and we went down to see the then Minister of Agriculture, and I was elected to be the spokesman. And we told him of what we of course had seen, of what the effort up to date had been doing, and it wasn't working the way it should, and we offered our plan. And as a result of that I think, quite early in September I was approached to go down to Ottawa, and to take over the organization of this free freight for grain program. So my firm felt that it was within the war effort that they supported, and let me go down. And so I found that it was entire chaos when I got down there, as far as the Treasury Department was concerned, and the firms which had been selling the grain, and bringing it down, had assumed the freight charges, of course, and had made application to be reimbursed by the government, but there just wasn't any action coming there at all, they had flooded the Treasury Department to such an extent that they were completely boxed in, and I was able to get six or seven of the chief accountants from the trade, and get them to come down to Ottawa, and they worked for some weeks, and broke this log jam, and got things rolling and showed the department how to handle it, and how to deal with it and keep it up to date, and did a very excellent job. In the meantime, we were informed that the appointment of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board was developed, and they didn't make the announcement until the day before it happened, and on October the 11th, all prices and salaries and wages and everything else were frozen across the country, and so in addition to my job looking after the free freight they told me that I was to be, under the Wartime Price and Trade Board, the Administrator for Flour, Feed and Grain. And this brought on a new activity, as far as I was concerned, which had to be dealt with very quickly. It involved quite a variety of operations, and I had to appoint people in various parts of Canada to work within my division and set up an office group in Ottawa to handle it from the headquarters. But we had great co-operation, I must say, throughout the whole trade. It was just amazing to me how much everybody showed their willingness to enter into this thing when it was explained to them, and the part that
they could play, and it was a very successful operation and we got it running smoothly until October of 1943, I had felt that I could leave it in other hands, with people who had been working with me, and returned to my own company, which I did.
HP: Well, when you returned to Toronto Elevators, as you did, you became a Vice President of the Feed Division, and later your duties were increased, and you became Vice President of Industrial Research and Development, Toronto Elevators.
FP: Yes, Toronto Elevators was growing. The people who had been left to take over my immediate responsibilities in continuing with the development of the formula feed business had done a very good job, and I could foresee the need of expansion and development in other areas. For example, we got into the farm seed business, and we established new feed plants throughout Eastern Canada, and our seed business grew, and became quite an important adjunct to our other things that I helped to develop. In the oil seed processing, we had used what was know as the expeller system, for getting the oil out of flax, and soybeans, and I made a trip over to Britain and to the continent to look over the newest developments that there had been in solvent processing for the extraction of the oil from these seeds, and I came back and we built both a new solvent plant and a refinery for the improvement of the oil, among other purposes. And so I remained with the company until I had reached retirement age, 65, and retired in February 1962.
HP: Now, over the years, you received several awards for your contribution to agriculture, and one of those awards was the Member of the Order of the British Empire.
FP: Yes, that was actually, I attended a ceremony where the award was made, along with a lot of other people, in 1946, and this was presumably for the war effort, during the wartime years. Prior to that, I had been made a Fellow of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, no, not prior to it but following that, in 1949, is when I was named a fellow. And in 1986, the Canadian Feed Manufacturers Association honoured me by sponsoring me as a member of the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, and my portrait was made and hangs there.
HP: I believe you were in the first group, were you not, that was honoured?
FP: The first one that the Canadian Feed Manufacturers Association honoured, yes.
HP: I see. Now, Fred, I know that at the present time, that you golf in the summertime, you curl in the wintertime. I believe that over your whole life you have been interested in athletics.
FP: Well, yes, that's true, and I think it had been a great part of my life, and it's helpfulness, to have kept me in good health during my years of employment, and helped me to maintain interest and be active in general.
HP: Did you participate when you were a student at the OAC?
FP: Yes, I did. My first year I went out for football, but unfortunately, I tore ligaments in my knee, and I couldn't do much that year, but something helped hold it together,
and I played later, but I didn't make the first team by any means. But what I did do was quite a bit of boxing, and when I had that bad knee I, along with a couple other fellows, undertook to give lessons to other fellows, but I tell you we got in with big fellows like Ted Wildman, and Hank Claus, with a greater reach, and a lot more weight, and you were at your wit's end, to keep from coming up on the wrong end of the receiving end with those boys. However, I kept doing whatever I could manage. Tennis, too I liked to play after I graduated, on that court behind the President's house it used to be.
HP: Following graduating from OAC, you have maintained an interest in the welfare of the College, particularly the idea of a Board to act between the College and the government. Over the years, there were many frustrations, lack of support by the politicians, governments unwilling to make any changes in the organization of the Ontario Agricultural College. But I don't believe that you ever gave up in your thoughts that possibly sometime in the future, from the time you graduated, there would be changes at the OAC.
FP: No, and I think perhaps I was influenced after I graduated, and I was very happy to belong to the OAC Alumni Association, such as it was in those days, it was not very well organized, and wasn't very active, but there were some staunch supporters of it, like Sam Todd, Jeff Tisdale, Ernie Hampson and Jack Baker, Professor Jack Baker. And we had a day when we met up there, and decided things. Well, two of those older fellows, Todd and Tisdale had for a long time been talking about the need of having some kind of a buffer between the administration at the OAC and the Minister of Agriculture. All of the funds that we used were provided through the Ministry of Agriculture, at OAC and Macdonald and Ontario Vet College. And it was very difficult for the President of OAC, for example, to go down there and put up his case as it should have been put up, and object to things if they were to be objected to, and we felt that if we had - we used to call it a Board of Governors, but that was because we didn't know very much about what a Board of Governors was, we just wanted a body in there. And we had tried through various Ministers of Agriculture, one of them was Mike Dewan, in the Hepburn government. Mike was made Minister of Agriculture, and he had been a student up there in '22, we all knew him, and he just couldn't do it at all, he couldn't give us any help. It wasn't until Colonel Tom Kennedy was Minister of Agriculture and Cliff Graham became Deputy Minister, and Cliff was an active member in the OAC Alumni Association, and I guess what triggered it all was when Dr Christie left as President, they named W.R. Reek acting President, he did very well. He did something that had been long needed, he organized a plan to send incumbents in office up there away for grad work on an orderly basis. This was one of the things what we as alumni had noticed too, that we were becoming too ingrown.
HP: We were talking about the original committee that was formed, called the Advisory Committee, which was started in 1950.
FP: Yes. We in the alumni had this appointment with Colonel Kennedy, which Cliff had arranged for us the Sunday afternoon, and we went out and told Colonel Kennedy that the rumour that we had heard, people who were being considered for the Presidency of the OAC were not, in our opinion, very satisfactory. And we told him
that we thought that there were better people on the campus than those who had been named in these rumours. So, the outcome of it was that he said "Bring your committee of your Board together on the following day" and when we met he said that he would appoint a small committee from the group to go up to Guelph, and have interviews with these people, and make a recommendation and bring it back to him, and that would be it, the person who was named as President. And that was done. And we brought back the name of Dr. McLachlan, as the man that we had chosen as the one most capable, and his years that he served afterwards proved our good choice. Now, as to the matter of having the committee, we talked to the Minister about that, that we thought there should be somebody between the administration at Guelph and the Minister, who could speak on behalf of the administration. He said "Ok, I'm going to appoint a committee, an Advisory Committee, we'll call it", and he said to me that I want you to be President of it, when it was starting. So this is what happened, and that was the beginning of the years that we spent leading up to the Legislation which brought about the advent of the University of Guelph, in 1964.
HP: I believe that committee was just OAC?
FP: Yes.
HP: And then OVC had an advisory committee, and then MacDonald Institute.
FP: Yes, they quickly felt that it would be advantageous for them to follow as was being done in the OAC. And then when those three separate committees were operating, it became advisable to have a sort of "over-committee", formed which would be representative of all three, and it would be that group that would make the presentations of what had been decided upon by the three founding committees.
HP: I believe you were Chairman of that joint committee.
FP: Yes, I was, and that led to the idea that we should have one central administration up there, and the three founding administrations became the Federated Colleges, and they included OAC, OVC and Macdonald Institute, and we had a Board of Regents, which acted on behalf of the Federated Colleges, and dealt with matters that had to be brought to the attention of the Minister. And I happened to be Chairman of that committee, and it was during those latter periods that we were advised that we should be turning our thoughts towards the Federated Colleges becoming a University, and it was because of that that we led up to a great deal of discussion and planning which was very very advantageous when the Legislation was passed, and in 1964 the University of Guelph was founded.
HP: And there was also a Board of Governors that was formed at that time, and I believe that you were asked to be Chairman of that Board of Governors.
FP: Yes, but I had felt that I had been associated there for many, many years, and also I had been retired for two years, and I had no facilities such as an office or a base, or secretarial help, which would have been very necessary for one assuming the Chairmanship of an important post such as that. And I was very happy to see that T.A. McEwan became the Chairman and I was Vice Chairman for a while, but then we got involved with a campaign to raise seven and a half million dollars, our share
for the capital expenditure that were planned, and I retired as Vice Chairman and just became an ordinary member of the Board, when I served for 2 three-year terms, and in 1970 retired after 20 years of very interesting and very worthwhile association with the University of Guelph.
HP: Well, you certainly made a very big contribution to the University. Thank you Fred for your memoirs. It has been said that Fred Presant could be termed Canada's Poultry Industry Ambassador, in business, government, and academic circles. A well deserved tribute for an outstanding career. We wish you good health in the future, Fred, and may you continue to enjoy your retirement.