Oral History - Rennie, Clare


Cathy Fletcher (00:00:00):
This is an interview with Clare Rennie from OAC47, uh, conducted by Cathy Fletcher on October the 15th 2009 for the University of Guelph alumni association, alumni in action oral history project. Thank you Clare for, uh, allowing us to do this interview with you today. Uh, first of all, uh, can you start by telling us a little bit about where you came from, your family and the area in which, in which you grew up in Sunderland?

Clare Rennie (00:00:32):
Well, Cathy, I'm pleased to do this. I'll try to, um, move it rapidly so it doesn't get boring. However, I was born on the, the home farm, uh which was, uh, south of the now called town of Sunderland. Our actual address was Blackwater Junction because that, at that time, uh, that's where the railway took a divide, one went east and one went west out from Toronto. But that no longer exists.

Clare Rennie (00:01:02):
The farm, uh, I was born on was, uh, started by my grandfather in 1849. Uh, he and, uh, his wife and, at that time, seven children, came from Scotland, Aberdeen, Scotland, Aberdeen Shire in uh, 1847. Um, stayed with friends the best of my knowledge in the Whitby area and then moved straight north to Brock Township which is that's about 30 miles north of Whitby before he started the farm in 1849. So that's where I was born and raised and that's, uh, just uh four miles south of the town of Sunderland now. So that's where I started.

Cathy Fletcher (00:01:45):
And can you tell us a bit about the, the farm and your family?

Clare Rennie (00:01:48):
Well the, um, my father was the, um, eldest of a family of seven. And he didn't, he had, um, I'm not sure he even finished public school, being the oldest. And but my grandfather, um, he was, which I don't remember at all 'cause he had died. I knew my grandmother a little bit. But, uh, my grandfather was a great stock man, being Scottish. And he, um, was in pedigreed, uh, Clydesdale horses and short horn cattle. Uh, but it was a mixed farm, um, so it, I got exposed to uh, everything from chickens, pigs all the way through, sheep, we had them all.

Clare Rennie (00:02:32):
But, um, when I was a young boy, they had a total of 400 acres of land which is a fair piece. But 100 of that was in fact, uh, bush and remained in bush and still is in bush because most of it is more the, um, swamp with just, uh, hills there here and there in the 100 acres of, uh that grew high wood. Tell you about that at some point. So, uh, that's the type of farm. And, uh just had the one brother. He was seven years older than me.

Cathy Fletcher (00:03:07):
That would be Ivan.

Clare Rennie (00:03:10):
Yeah, my brother Ivan. Um, there was a, we went to school, both of us, um, uh right on our concession, second concession of Brock Township which was, as the schools were in those days in the rural areas, all grades in one room with one teacher covering probably, looking at back some of the old pictures, I guess 30 kids at list. Um, and uh, it was a mile and a half that we walked from school or bicycled, uh, when we had a bicycle as we got older.

Clare Rennie (00:03:41):
High school, um, we had to go to, uh, Sunderland which was five and a half miles from the farm. And it was a what they call a continuation schools. They didn't have grade 13. So, um, my brother he, he finished, uh, continuation school, started uh, to do um, grade 13, but he had to room and board in Lindsay which was about 20 miles away. But that was at the, the recession was still on at that time. And so my father, um, and mother were having difficulty with the farm, almost lost it a couple of times during the recession.

Clare Rennie (00:04:23):
I can remember as a young boy, uh, the somebody from the mortgage company, uh, whatever it was, I don't have a record of that, were there and took an inventory of everything. And so that's how close, uh, they were of actually losing the farm a couple times. So my brother, he, I think he only lasted a couple of weeks in grade 13. They said that's, uh, I was needed more at home. Um, all though my father was still a healthy man, but, um, so then, um, so he stayed home. And then continued to, uh, manage the farm all his life.

Clare Rennie (00:05:02):
Uh, when I got up to that age, um, I didn't wanna do grade 13. This was now when, uh, the war was on, 1943. Um, I didn't wanna go to grade 13 and room and board in Lindsay which was still have to do that. And, uh, it, uh, um, I wanted to go to OAC. And because during the war, um, they were still, the college was still operating, of course. But, uh, course anybody that was old enough, uh, went into the services. And my birthday being in September, actually I finished, uh, grade 12 when I was 16. And so I applied anyway and was accepted into, uh the OAC, uh, and actually arrived uh when I was 16. But turned 17 very shortly thereafter.

Clare Rennie (00:05:54):
That, uh, in itself, uh, I thought it was smart to be able to get into college at 16 but I paid for it in terms of being, um, very short in knowledge in algebra, geometry, trade, physics.

Cathy Fletcher (00:06:09):

Clare Rennie (00:06:10):
And some of the science subjects. Which meant a pretty tough going, uh, both in OAC and again in graduate school later on. So, that's a bit of a background. Um, why, why OAC? The neighbor boy, uh, he graduated, it was Dill McKnowan and he was in the class of '44 or '45, I'm not sure which. Um, that was one thing that inter, interested me in going to OAC. The other, uh, all though mother and dad didn't think much about it at the time, my father, uh, went to a short course and I have a picture of him, um.

Cathy Fletcher (00:06:54):

Clare Rennie (00:06:54):
Out there in the hall outside of what's uh, uh now called the bull pin. Uh, in 1908 my father attended a short course. 'Cause they ran short courses back then. So both mother and dad didn't do about OAC without any question. But the other thing too is I was in 4H. I'd been 4H, that's the grain club, swine club, I don't think I was ever in a calf club. But anyway, the ag rep by the name of Fred Campbell, stationed in Oxbridge, that's where the county office, uh for the department of ag coaching. He, he was a great coach, great hunter and encouraged me to go on as well. So a combination of those things was why I made the application. I was just fortunate to get accepted at that time.

Cathy Fletcher (00:07:46):
Very good. And, um, can you tell us a little bit about student life at OAC?

Clare Rennie (00:07:47):
Well it was, uh, unique when I started there because, see, in 1943 the war was on big time. Uh, all of OAC, I shouldn't say all of it, but all of the main campus, the dormitories and so on, it was a wireless school. We moved into residence in January of '45. So this made life quite different, so-

Cathy Fletcher (00:08:09):
Yeah, what do you be, mean wireless?

Clare Rennie (00:08:11):
Uh, they were training for the air force.

Cathy Fletcher (00:08:15):

Clare Rennie (00:08:15):
Uh, they were training in wireless navigators. And most, a lot of them were there, well the service men came from New Zealand and Australia, the majority of them were Aussies and, and so, um, we had to live off campus for a year and a half. And so that made life quite different to you. You didn't, uh, we didn't have much in the way of socializing really.

Cathy Fletcher (00:08:38):
So you would board with people in town?

Clare Rennie (00:08:38):

Cathy Fletcher (00:08:40):

Clare Rennie (00:08:41):
Yeah, uh I met up with a classmate of mine, uh, Murray Cletus. He came from, uh, Chatsworth. Um, we ended up, uh, getting a room together up at which is now corner of Edinburgh Road and Suffix Street. And, uh, we've had room and board there. Uh, but um, there were a few clubs organized. I know the, the there was a live stock animal science, now the animal husbandry club it's called. And um, there was a film mark society. Some of us thought we could sing, but not very well.

Cathy Fletcher (00:09:15):
But you had fun trying.

Clare Rennie (00:09:16):
But we had fun trying, that's right. There was really nothing in the way of sports at, at that time. So life was quite different.

Cathy Fletcher (00:09:24):
What would the room and board have cost? Do you remember?

Clare Rennie (00:09:27):
Oh, well, I'll tell you a little story about that. My father didn't think he could afford me to go to college. My mother was the one that had the education. Um, AMTC in music, allowed her to teach piano. I told me father that I could, um, go to college for four years, uh, work at home on the farm in the summers, and it wouldn't cost more than $2,000 for four years. So finally uh, he agreed and, uh, so that's the way it went. And I kept a pretty good record and it ended up costing $2200. So, um, oh the room and board. I should have got that little book at 'cause I have a record of it.

Clare Rennie (00:10:05):
Uh, oh your talking like, uh, $100 a semester and that kind of stuff. But then, um, we um, we moved into residence in January of '45. And uh, the uh, air force people, they just moved out. And so the, uh the funny part about that one was that they had removed all the doors and this was Johnson Hall. Um, all the doors, uh, had been taken off and stored. Uh, I guess for the Army, why uh, that was, I guess kind of standard. Um, and so uh, that was a great uh, invitation, uh, for pranks on classmates.

Clare Rennie (00:10:42):
So, uh, when somebody came in late or the bed was upset. So that was a common prank that was played at that time. So I lived in, uh, Johnson Hall, in uh the winter semester '45. Then I was over at Mills Hall in '46 and then my following year '47, the year we graduated, why I was back in Johnson. I was what they called student deans and you looked after a floor, couple of us. And, uh, the rest of the students, uh, would be freshmen.

Clare Rennie (00:11:15):
And, now that's uh, freshmen or in the last year, uh, there were a lot of return men who were coming back. And of course, the rules and regulations that they had for regular beginning students, it didn't hold much water when it came to the service men who had been overseas for all the way from one year to five years, you know.

Cathy Fletcher (00:11:39):
Right, so there were some older students that were coming in with the younger students.

Clare Rennie (00:11:43):
Oh, very much. Actually, um, we ended up with a class in '47, 50% of our class were returning. These were students that had started with classes of year '42, '43, um, and had a couple years completed and then gone into the service. Um, so these people, you see were a good four or five years older than the majority of people like myself. But it was a good mix, uh, really because they had many stories to tell.

Clare Rennie (00:12:15):
So, uh, by that time, the campus was starting to get back to being a campus the time we graduated. So it's quite different than today. And we still had orientation. I remember as a freshman. Course now these were all younger people because the older one's were in the service. And so, um, I remember when, oh we had tomatoes thrown at us, and all this kinda of stuff. And I remember that we smelled so badly after one night we took the bus downtown but when the students all got on, everybody else got off. And the bus drove us downtown and dumped us in the square.

Cathy Fletcher (00:12:51):

Clare Rennie (00:12:53):
And because we smelled pretty strong from the stuff we had to crawl through. Modest pranks, um, it wasn't that much but one thing we did do as a class was, uh, uh we had a dean, dean overall, um, dean of men it was called. We did have a few ladies in our class. They survived.

Cathy Fletcher (00:13:13):
Now where would they have stayed?

Clare Rennie (00:13:14):
Well, the first, you know the first year and a half, they lived downtown. So, and then, uh, they were over in, uh, McDonald and Sue down hall, uh, along with the diploma students, came back for household science. And the dean of business, man by the name of Hector Larue. And so, he wasn't a bad sower, but uh, we carried his car up the steps of, uh, Creelman Hall, and set it up there, uh, up on the flat area just as you go in the door. I don't think we got, uh, disciplined or punished for that.

Clare Rennie (00:13:48):
So, uh, campus life too, um, uh, livestock judging and the animal husbandry area was a big thing back then.

Cathy Fletcher (00:13:56):
Was college royal going on?

Clare Rennie (00:13:58):
Yes, it was. Yes, it was. 'Cause I remember showing. We found more of that. And, uh, I know uh, the one lady at, her name was uh, um, Margaret Beardmore. Her father was a successful business man at the tattery in Acton was Beardmore Tanner.

Cathy Fletcher (00:14:22):
Which is now the Acton High House? Or is that the same or?

Clare Rennie (00:14:25):
It would be, yeah same thing.

Cathy Fletcher (00:14:26):

Clare Rennie (00:14:27):
Uh, Margaret's father and mother, uh, had a farm up in Model Mills and they, he had a herd of short horn cattle, pedigree short horn cattle. So I um, remember showing in the same class with Margaret during a college oil. I'm not quite sure which it may have started and I don't have a record of that, in '46 probably it was probably about the first year they had that. It was right after the war.

Clare Rennie (00:14:55):
But the judging teams, uh, they started, we may have been the, no I think we started the judging teams that competed down in the US. Both um, it was both the dairy judging team and beef cattle, or uh, what they call livestock judging team, that went to the uh, winter fair in Chicago. So I was fortunate enough to get on the dairy team even though I came from a farm that had, uh, well what was called back, well they were short horns there. What my grandfather had were, they were called Durhams, they were the dual purpose type of animal, um, supplied the milk and the, uh, and meat as well.

Clare Rennie (00:15:34):
But my father, um, 30, I think it was '39, '38 or '39, the um, TB test, the national Canada white program came through and um, father lost all the animals in the whole farm without TB except one. So um, he got rid of it but all the rest is take them all. And so my father had gone, um, west and brought down a car load of short horns, replacing the old Durhams. And, um, but unfortunately that was a bad mistake on his part because they were western short horns or a bigger frame of animal and they weren't, um, they uh, weren't accepted very well in, um, here in certain parts of Canada.

Clare Rennie (00:16:24):
Um, my father kept on with them but he did have pigs fortunately. And that was the, the main thing. And uh, the pigs were the real winners of, uh, for our family at that time in the uh late '30s and right through, um, uh, um because they had the skim milk from the Durham, the milking cattle. And uh, uh, and so that made the hog business very profitable. But, um, then I, after my experience at OAC I don't know why I changed to dairy except a classmate of mine, uh, by the name of Andy Stewart, uh, he'd been associated with ayrshire cattle. And so I got sort of interested in the dairy cattle.

Clare Rennie (00:17:07):
And it just so happened, I think it was more luck than anything really, that on the um, dairy cattle judging team to Waterloo, Iowa. That's where the college competition was. Well I scored the highest in judging jersey cattle. I think more luck, I said had a good day. As a team we didn't do too bad. But, um, because of that, uh, the uh, head of the animal husbandry department, George Rigsby, he was a great friend of uh, BH Bull and Sons of Brampton. They had, back in those days they were the breeding herd candidate of jersey cattle.

Clare Rennie (00:17:41):
So because of a fact that I had scored high in jerseys why, um, I became a friend of jersey cattle breeding association. And Bartley Bull was one of two brothers that ran the Brampton Jersey farm where we did a lot of our training down there too. When I decided later on, and we'll come to that, to go ahead and do the, uh, graduate studies by, um, Bartley Bull um, offered me a scholarship of $1500. Now $1500 in 19 this time it was 1949, was a lot of money. Um, um, so uh, my association with jerseys and with the breed association paid off big time. I did my research work uh, for my master's degree, uh with jersey cattle.

Clare Rennie (00:18:31):
So, um, that's sort of a bit about life on campus. I did work at home during the summers except in my third year. I uh, worked at, I got a, a scholarship to uh, take a two week program in the, in Michigan which was sponsored by Ralston Purina company. Uh, really sponsored by one of the founders of the Ralston Purina company by the name of Danforth and these were called the Danforth scholarships. Um, it was on youth development, leadership development, we talk about it today. Um, so I was away for all total, I guess it was three weeks in the summer. But at that time, my father didn't mind. Uh, but anyway, um so those are some of the things that.

Clare Rennie (00:19:17):
Uh, there weren't the pranks that in those days, uh, just because of the situation that, uh, students do now. So that's uh, sort of a when at OAC. Uh, I think because of background, I became very interested in genetics. And we would, in animal husbandry we would study pedigrees and uh, that was one thing that some of the professors, like well I called him Doc Stables. He didn't have his doctor's degree but he taught, uh, pedigrees and breed history. And I was interested in this as well because, with my father and grandfather, um, my grandfather showed cattle in Chicago. Uh, pictures there on the wall, taken here in Guelph in 1905 of my father and grandfather, uh, showing fat stock, called them fat stock.

Clare Rennie (00:20:12):
The, these were the old Durham cattle, as they called them. And I remember as a young boy, um, playing with and going through boxes of old ribbons, uh, so forth from Chicago and well, London. And so, um, I, I think that's maybe one of the reasons I developed an interest in genetics and animal breeding and so on.

Cathy Fletcher (00:20:34):
You didn't get into the showing much yourself?

Clare Rennie (00:20:36):
Uh, no.

Cathy Fletcher (00:20:37):

Clare Rennie (00:20:37):
No, no I never did. And my, no my father, I think after, uh, my grandfather died, I think he was so busy just keeping the farm going.

Cathy Fletcher (00:20:50):
Sure, yeah.

Clare Rennie (00:20:51):
That, uh, he didn't show himself at all.

Cathy Fletcher (00:20:54):

Clare Rennie (00:20:55):
Um, and my brother, he didn't have any interest in that aspect either. But one thing that, uh, my father did start though, uh was what was called a beef ring. And uh, and that's uh was operated from our home farm for 50 years. What it was, it was made up of oh I think about 30 farm family. And the, the agreement was that each family would, uh, during, let's see if they had 30, we killed one beef a week. Course, see there was no refrigeration. I'm talking back in the 30s and see hydro didn't come through til the late '30s.

Clare Rennie (00:21:36):
So they didn't have refrigerators other than ice. They didn't have freezers at all. And so, um, it was started in, I don't know just where it started. But it ran for at least five months. And so each family that had what you'd call share, uh, which was 20 pounds of product a week. And you're talking about net, big big eaters.

Cathy Fletcher (00:22:04):

Clare Rennie (00:22:05):
Um, and so my father, uh, would help and I got involved as I got older too. Carrying the beefs, my father would get up the next morning, they were left to cool off over night.

Cathy Fletcher (00:22:17):

Clare Rennie (00:22:18):
Uh, then he would cut it all up into, uh, lots of 20 pounds. And so that was, that would work out, uh, I think it was, so you'd be talking some families only want half a share. And so I think some big families, you see would take the full 20 pounds. And uh, you would get one slice of steak, you would get, uh, and over the, the five months period, you'd end, end up eating parts of the whole cattle. And uh, and so that carried on for, uh, 50 years. Uh, my brother carried it on I think only one or two years after, uh, my father retired.

Clare Rennie (00:22:59):
But, um, and so that was the way they, uh, they handled as far as beef was concerned. Another parts the illustrator. That was when electricity came. Creameries started having lockers. A farmer, uh, could, uh buy a locker or rent a locker. And that's where they would kill their own beef, they'd put it all in there or part or hog. Uh, and so that's, um, but beef rings were quite common.

Cathy Fletcher (00:23:26):
Okay, I've never heard of them. Yeah, that's interesting, right.

Clare Rennie (00:23:29):
I think that, uh, interested me in, in biology a bit too, uh, because you know, had the opportunity as a young kid to examine every part of the animal. And um, they did their own inspection. There weren't um, uh any government inspectors uh, um but um, my father and and he would call in if there was suspicion, I can recall discussions of one animal that, when they looked at the lungs and they looked at the liver, uh, this animal wasn't healthy. And so it had to be disposed of.

Clare Rennie (00:24:06):
And, so I think that was what intrigued me in going further in study too.

Cathy Fletcher (00:24:13):
And you had mentioned earlier about the hardwood bush.

Clare Rennie (00:24:15):
Oh yeah, we used to tap trees well because we had the. Oh, we would produce more than we needed as a family so uh, my uh mother and father would sell solid oils up in a big cast iron kettle. So that was always exciting. I might mention too, that, um, with the bush my father was, uh, and mother were deeply in debt. They survived the recession uh, but then in it was see I started in the fall of '43. I guess it was that winter, uh, that um, my father and he had a hired man who was a real bushman, they logged out hardwoods pine, some other maple, mostly maple and pine.

Clare Rennie (00:25:05):
And then in the spring 'cause I just came home from college, why he um, there was a portable sawmill with the big steam engine. They uh, moved into the farm and set the uh, sawmill up and sawed all the logs that they had uh, hauled out during the winter. And then the sale of that wood, uh, was something, um, so yeah he sold that wood in the '44, '45, '46 period in there. Then he put them on his feet.

Clare Rennie (00:25:37):
As soon as the war was over, why everything picked up. But, um, I remember that sawmill 'cause I had, uh, the job of moving, piling the slabs that were left over after they sawed all the cords. My brother, he was stacking the lumber. I'm not sure who was bringing the logs in. Um, I never worked so hard in my life.

Clare Rennie (00:26:01):
Anyway, plus there always had to be a sawing bee. Back in those days too, we had one of the few sows around and course it's sow filling time, farmers get together and fill sows. So it's a great life really. Because uh, one of the reasons I went to OAC was because of the ag, ag rep at Campbell. Why I went to college with one objective and that was to be an ag rep. And that was, uh, all though my mother and father both wanted me to come home and work on the farm with my brother, I didn't want to do it right at the beginning. So, um, that's why I applied for, and course in those days, why job offers were a dime a dozen. And uh, so I went right into the extension service for two years.

Cathy Fletcher (00:26:50):
And what kinds of things did you do in extension?

Clare Rennie (00:26:52):
Well that was, uh, mostly 4H work. Um, and it was interesting, I worked the two counties Peel and Halton. Of course that was for Halton County and Peel County you had some of the best farms in the counties were south of what is now the [inaudible]. Of course now, there's a farm the 401 and the lake, um, in that area. Uh, but then they moved me after 11 months up to Huron County.

Clare Rennie (00:27:24):
And that really in one way was a turning point in my life in that after working in Huron County for six months and Henrietta County's a big county and it has just about everything, cash crops, vegetables. Um, uh, and as you move further north, why you got into poultry, you got into dairy, and further north you went you got into beef. And there was a lot of flax production in the Seaforth area. And, uh, I just woke up one day and I said I can't be an expert in everything.

Cathy Fletcher (00:27:56):

Clare Rennie (00:27:57):
You can't possibly answer questions on cauliflower all the way to wheat and beef cattle. And that's where, uh, that plus my interest in genetics encouraged to think about graduate. And, uh, then I had one professor in animal science by the name of Art Runyons. And he was a real mitter. And he'd talk about the influence that, um, teachers and, and university professors, as they're called, can have on students. Um, Art Runyons was a kind person. Small man, small man.

Clare Rennie (00:28:39):
He kept telling us too, he said small like I am physically you got to be just that much better mentally and other attributes. Uh, he was our class president, honorary president for our year. Uh, and so in that class he had an influence on the whole class. But, um, uh, George Rigsby, uh was chair of the department, head as they called it then. And he, um, uh learned from him and influenced me too 'cause he was, uh, known quite well nationally for his abilities. And so it gave me the, uh, opportunity to learn more about things outside of our own little household.

Clare Rennie (00:29:24):
And, and so, um, but professor Runyons was the kind of guy that he encouraged me and he helped me, uh, seek out where was the best place to go. And he felt that Iowa was a place to go for animal genetics. And he, uh Doctor Lush, who at that time was an outstanding international livestock geneticist. And so, uh, the encouragement in him plus my discouragement in not being able to be an expert of 1000 different commodities, encouraged me to do that work.

Clare Rennie (00:30:02):
And so it was really the, the um, professors that had the influence on that.

Clare Rennie (00:30:11):
Coming back to, um, professor Runyons, he took our judging team to Waterloo, Iowa for the competition. And, uh, we went by train. There were four of us on the team plus himself. And that was a real experience, just by traveling by train. Course I used the train to travel back and forth to Guelph but as a student, not very much. Uh, hitch hiked most of the time.

Clare Rennie (00:30:34):
Well back during the war you see it uh, that was uh, the way you traveled with the serviceman.

Cathy Fletcher (00:30:40):

Clare Rennie (00:30:41):
That, uh, what I remember about the professors, um, often good professors are, they, they're a, um, different type of character. I mean they're, they're, uh they have to be different. If they're a little bit different, they're recognized and remembered by students whether it's the way they teach and so on, um, but um, professor Blackwood in physics. When he was teaching physics, he would demonstrate himself how certain things work and, and uh, you remember that kind of thing.

Clare Rennie (00:31:20):
And they were good teachers.

Cathy Fletcher (00:31:23):
What kinds of things would he demonstrate?

Clare Rennie (00:31:25):
Oh some of the laws of physics. He'd demonstrate force, uh, by trying to push on a desk and uh how force the angle when the uh, approach to it, how some of them are for more effective than others. We had a professor I felt sorry for at Hard coach, name was Joe. They called him Um Jones because as he lectured it was um, um. Terrible lecturer really so the students took advantage of him, unfortunately. And I felt sorry for him even though he was a good teacher as far as horticultural topics and all, you know, he turned his back to uh, write something on the blackboard, why there was always something in the air heading towards the blackboard.

Clare Rennie (00:32:09):
Professor Snyder in poultry, very knowledgeable pow, person. And a very kind, kind person but a terrible lecturer. It was monotone, but it was uh, of course he was made fun of as well. But he taught you, he taught you well. And so, but these are different people. This Doc Staples uh, and animal husbandry, he was a character. And uh, but that's um, why you remembered them and why students liked them because they were different and they also, um, they had knowledge to pass on. And so it became bit more of mentors.

Clare Rennie (00:32:48):
And that's why I wonder now in, and compared to lecturing today, which so much of it is already on the web, the lecture notes are there. And some courses, I mean, yes I believe are, you hardly ever see a professor. And I, I think that's where students are gonna miss out on learning how to interact with people, um, because back 60 plus years ago, why, um, you got to know them. They got to know you too.

Cathy Fletcher (00:33:18):
Right, you were a name, not just a number.

Clare Rennie (00:33:20):
Right, that's of course the numbers were very small. When I came back on campus in 1952, there were 1500 students on campus.

Cathy Fletcher (00:33:29):
As compared to now when there's-

Clare Rennie (00:33:33):
20,000. So, um, those were great years.

Cathy Fletcher (00:33:37):
And what brought you back? You said you, you left and went to Iowa.

Clare Rennie (00:33:40):
Yeah, well I, I left this nice scholarship that Bartley Bull, uh, arranged for me to win. Well I um, that got me through my master's degree.

Cathy Fletcher (00:33:51):
And you did your master's at Iowa.

Clare Rennie (00:33:52):
Yes. And um, I planned to do that in a year, uh, which I did. Which is probably not common practice now at all. And then it was, um, what am I gonna do? I could have come back and worked for the department of agriculture as an ag rep, system ag rep at the same salary that I left. They didn't, um, master's degree didn't mean anything at that time and in that extensive service. Uh, they didn't consider that it was of any value really. So that, that was a fall back position.

Clare Rennie (00:34:25):
I had an opportunity, an invitation to um, for a position in Louisiana. And, uh, it was um, it was a pretty good offer. But that was, um, just when course I was engaged then to my wife Shirley. And, um, she said I'm not going to Louisiana with all the snakes, hot weather and all that. I'm not going to, so you got your mind, you got to make a decision. It's me or Louisiana. So uh, fortunately Doctor Lush, who I studied under for uh, my master's, he offered me a research assistantship of uh, $80 a month. So I decided that's what I'd do, carry on.

Clare Rennie (00:35:11):
And so when we got married and went to Iowa, Shirley got a job in the Ann Weisser department there as a secretary to um, uh one of the leading swine nutritionists at that time, Doctor Kassen. And, uh, she was quite a novelty, our English, uh Canadian words and writing for things like check and so on so forth. But anyway, she had a salary of $120 a month. So that gave us $200 a month to live on.

Clare Rennie (00:35:41):
And, uh, it's the one good thing about not having any money grad school is that, um, almost everybody else was in the same boat. So you didn't go have pub nights or anything like that, uh. Um, so you hardly ever had a drink or anything. Uh, often the grad students would, um, get together at the end of a semester and have a little party but that was about it.

Clare Rennie (00:36:05):
We did run short of money occasionally by we I mean grad students in general. So there were a group of us in animal science that uh, oh about once a quarter, why, uh, we'd somebody would have a car and a bunch of us would go to Des Moines, Iowa. See, uh, I should mention I was studying in Ames, Iowa. Des Moines was about 25 miles away, 30. But we'd go down there to what was a army hospital, they needed blood and we'd, uh donate blood for $25.

Clare Rennie (00:36:39):
So that, uh, that kept us going for another month. Yeah, but we had a lot of fun in grad school.

Cathy Fletcher (00:36:47):
Lot of lifelong friends met there?

Clare Rennie (00:36:49):
That's right. So that's why I decided to stay on for a PhD and not come back. And, uh, I really didn't want to go back into the extension service because I knew it would be all the same. And much in all as I enjoyed extension work, it was great, why I wanted, I still had an inquiring mind and I um, I enjoyed the research. I, uh, learned something at Iowa, which um, I reflect, I reflected on many times and I've used that in, uh, many speeches that I've given over the years. And it's on the topic of, uh, useless knowledge.

Clare Rennie (00:37:27):
As a student uh, at OAC, I uh was on the executive of the student counsel. Think that's what we called it then. And had the opportunity, this was in my fourth year because, you see, OAC was affiliated academically with University of Charlton, and so I had the opportunity, needlessly invited being on the counsel, to go to a graduation down at UFT. So I went down and the speaker at the time, and I never, I didn't write it down but, uh, his name. But his topic was useless knowledge. And, you know, when you study things, so many students have the attitude that, oh, I'll never use this. Never use that, this is useless stuff.

Clare Rennie (00:38:18):
He said, the speaker said, just tuck that away. It may be useless at that moment, but you never know. So that stuck with me and, and, um, working on my thesis for now both my master's and um doctors degree, I had, I made a professor, course I was studying in the area of population genetics where you had to study big volumes of, of data. So back in the, we're talking now 1950, 51, they had data processing machines and IBM was the I guess probably about the only maker at that time.

Clare Rennie (00:39:00):
And we had the punch cards, uh to put data into the card. Um, so I met the professor, I said, I'm gonna make a deal with, uh, you grad students. I will pay for all the supplies if you wanna do your research using these data processing machines. Plus you're gonna have to use that during the midnight shift, uh, which you meant into the data processing lab at midnight. You came out at 7, you went to 8 o'clock classes. So we didn't have much choice really and the main professor says this is what I'm offering.

Clare Rennie (00:39:38):
So, all of us put down that, uh, this is useless knowledge. Never use this stuff back anywhere. And but anyway, that's what we did. And so I learned how to wire these boards and run the machines and so on. So then after coming back to OAC in '52, I wasn't here six months when our professor, George Rigsby, said, uh, if I recall correctly, he said you learned to process a lot of data and you know what kind of equipment to use? Yes I do. Do you know how to work that kind of equipment? Yes, I do. He said, can you set up a data processing lab? Yes.

Clare Rennie (00:40:20):
And, um, said well the department of agriculture, they have some money. The livestock breeders, the Halston Association particularly wanted to set up some system of processing cattle records so that we can get, um, knowledge of the genetics of the bulls that are going into artificial insemination, to an ARI was just starting. Wanted to start it back in the 40s but it was just now becoming a little more popular. And so what I learned through useless knowledge, within six months of being back on faculty at OAC, I set up a computing lab and that was my research lab for 13, 14 years.

Clare Rennie (00:41:02):
And was really the thing gave, that gave my career, uh, a real kick. So I've never forgotten that speech I heard at UFT as a student, uh, on useless knowledge.

Cathy Fletcher (00:41:14):
And, and just for information too, how big was this data processing machine?

Clare Rennie (00:41:19):
Well, they brought them in on a flatbed truck and we had to have a crane to, um, lift them off the, uh, truck and put them in the building.

Cathy Fletcher (00:41:30):
And now we have little data processing machines right in the palm of our hand.

Clare Rennie (00:41:33):
And probably 100 times more powerful then that big one.

Cathy Fletcher (00:41:37):
So you were at the beginning of the computer age.

Clare Rennie (00:41:39):
Well it was and, um, it was a wonderful opportunity 'cause there wasn't any data processing on campus. When I came back, um, in '52, there were only two calculators on campus, desk calc. And, and these were pretty heavy machines, you know they were just like a big, big manual typewriter. And so, uh, that's what I used in my research lab and that's what got me involved in, um, uh processing livestock records and setting up breeding in vexes and so on so forth.

Clare Rennie (00:42:12):
So it wasn't long once we got started then the faculty in other departments and, uh, alumni records and the registrars office all became interested. How can we use these machines in our other areas of work?

Cathy Fletcher (00:42:27):
And did you give them the night shift?

Clare Rennie (00:42:32):
Uh, yes as a matter of fact. Uh, some of them we did. So, following along on the, the computer stuff, the beginning, the beginning equipment we set this lab up and, uh, the IBM people were very helpful. We said we needed it in a hurry, and so we dragged out every old relic they could find available. At that time, uh, you didn't write a program like you do know and writing software packages. You wired a board like the old switch board in telephone offices to tell the, uh, data processing machine that you wanna add these columns, you want to multiply, divide or whatever. And so you had to become an expert in wiring these boards.

Clare Rennie (00:43:13):
I carried a long back, uh, and we got into indexing the AI bulls and the dairy bulls for milk yield and predicting genetic values and so on. So that caught on fairly rapidly. And within OAC, uh, other departments, uh, became very interested. And so, um, we started the lab in 1953, and then in 1965, which was 12 years, I had used it as my research lab. Other departments got interested and that's when I became a head of the department in animal science, animal husbandry.

Clare Rennie (00:43:52):
And at that time we decided that that computing lab should now become a part of the college or that time or now the university, 1964, 65. So we turned that computing lab into the institute of computing science within the university which 'cause I had moved into administration, I didn't have time. And, uh, but it was, um, very very very interesting and very helpful.

Clare Rennie (00:44:19):
And I just comment being faculty member as I was for 22 years, probably lived through a period of time, uh, where there was more change brought about on the campus and within OAC then there had ever been. Because within the university coming in place and being on faculty, we had numerous, numerous committees 'cause you were setting up a whole new structure of how a not university operates. We didn't have tenure at that time, that kind of stuff. We didn't have, uh, sabbaticals. That was not a part of, of OAC, uh, previously when it was, uh, department of agriculture.

Clare Rennie (00:45:03):
And so, I found being a, a faculty member during that and uh by that time I was more or less considered a senior member 'cause I was full professor. I'd been on, been on, um, faculty for 12, 13 years. That you had a part creating a whole new university system within the old structure. And, um, that was, to me, very, very challenging and very satisfying. And, um, trying to incorporate or to integrate, uh, faculties of social science and humanities and so on, uh, into the structure, it was a dynamic time, really as far as I was concerned.

Clare Rennie (00:45:48):
That was one of my highlights I think in my professional career with that experience along with the, uh, the computing laboratory and introducing computers to agriculture probably the most important. But then when I finished seven years as chair of the department, I was 48 years of age, and so I said what am I gonna do with myself for the next 50, what am I gonna do? Can I still, um, go back, uh, into teaching? 'Cause as head of the department, I didn't teach that much.

Clare Rennie (00:46:21):
Continued to handle the senior seminar courses like that. But, um, I, I was looking for something different. And knowing full well that I could have been quite happy, uh, in the faculty at OAC, uh, because, um, you had a good salary, you had a good pension. You have a lot of fine people to work with. Students are always enjoyable and, uh, what we brought in, there was the opportunity now to do consulting work. So I was doing a bit of work in several countries.

Clare Rennie (00:46:52):
And so, really, professional life, social life was, uh, good. And so I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do. And knowing full well that I could continue to have a very fulfilling life within OAC because OAC, uh, hasn't had, over the decades become so well known internationally that, uh, it was an actual place to work. But just, uh, some of these hap, things happen by chance. I, um, I knew that this, uh, ADMs position within the department of agriculture was available because I knew, uh, quite well, socially, and professionally and the chap who had just retired from the position, Don Huntley, he had been head of the crop science department.

Clare Rennie (00:47:42):
And, uh, fellow had switched over and worked for the department of agriculture as the director of the research institute. And, uh, he had retired and they were looking for somebody to take on that position. And I, I looked at it, I thought about it. But nothing really spurred me on. But I happened to be in Toronto and it teaches you something about the way things can happen. Uh, I was in a conference in Toronto speaking at a, I think it was a meat packers counsel kind of, and I met a chap who had been the ag rep in Huron County when I was assistant ag rep uh going to the event and he was an ADM.

Clare Rennie (00:48:25):
So, um, we sat down and were just visiting because we hadn't seen one another for a while. And, uh, he said we're having a terrible time finding somebody to fill this position. It was left by Don Huntley with his retirement. And he said, um, can you think of anybody who might fill this position or who might be good for this position? And I don't know whatever prompted me, uh, 'cause it wasn't my nature. But I said, yes Gordon, I know. I have the right person for you. And he said, well let's sit down, and he said who? I said me.

Clare Rennie (00:49:02):
And he said you're serious? And I said well, I'm not sure I'm serious know. Well, I said I thought about it, position was open, it was the work that Don Huntley was doing and, uh, he said well are you really serious about this? And I said, well, I'd like to know more about it. He said, well are you prepared to come down and talk to the deputy administrator? And I said, sure I'll come down.

Clare Rennie (00:49:22):
So within a week, I was down having a discussion about the position. And, um, and they said well will you formally apply? All right, I will. So I did and within another week I was down for an interview. And within another week I had the job. So, um, seeing how these things happen. And as much in all as I, uh, hated to leave the, um, university, uh, I needed a new challenge and this gave me a broad, broader opportunity. So I have no regrets for the next 17 years I spent with the department of agriculture. It was great.

Clare Rennie (00:50:00):
It's the way these things, some of these things happen. So the life end, it was quite different but, uh, fortunately in that position with the department of agriculture, why the contract for education and research in agriculture fell under that position which meant that I was actually still closely tied to the college. And I was on campus four months of those 17 years that I worked in Toronto, I was on campus I would say at least one day a week. 'Cause I kept my ties very closely, yeah. And it made it very interesting.

Cathy Fletcher (00:50:36):
And then after you were done that job?

Clare Rennie (00:50:39):
Well, you know I, I, during the last, well during like the whole time I was at Toronto, I, uh, became constantly involved with the federal government, Ag Canada as it was called at that time. And, um, worked on the Canadian agriculture research counsel but I was the Ontario representative on the Canadian counsel. And, um, they had decided that what they need to do, that we wanted a strategy, uh, on agriculture research across Canada. And so when I decided to retire in 1991, why, um, I started immediately with Ag Canada or with the Canadian Agriculture research counsel and worked there for two years on an agriculture research and extension strategy and also on a dairy, uh, dairy, uh industry strategy as well.

Clare Rennie (00:51:37):
Um, which took me across Canada and all the provinces. I enjoyed that very, very much and very challenging and, uh, I was able to work out from home. And um, then during that period though, I'm talking now, 1992, 93, I was um, going on a speaking engagement in Australia for a month and I got a call from CINEX, the genetics company on Still Road. Well they're actually out of Gincor, north city at that time. And, uh, they had been working on a agricultural development project in China, working with the, uh, federal government through the, uh, Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA it's called.

Clare Rennie (00:52:29):
And, uh, actually, um, CINEX had been working on a potential dairy cattle project in China. Oh goes back to 1985, actually. And it was almost put in place in, uh, in 1988 when Tienanmen Square happened so it happened. And so everything was put on ice. All negotiations were stopped, uh, between the two countries. And then in '92 they were starting back talking about this dairy cattle improvement project that, uh, the two countries had agreed on and were about ready to launch.

Clare Rennie (00:53:12):
And so, CINEX invited me if I'd be interested in directing that project for them. So after looking at it, I said yes. And so I just finished the work with the Canadian Agriculture Research Counsel and finished my speaking tour in Australia, and um, started immediately on this what was called the Integrated Dairy Cattle Breeding Project China. It was a bilateral between the two countries at the national level which meant the each country contributed 50%. So that was how that one came about. It was very fascinating when I think about it.

Clare Rennie (00:53:51):
But, uh, after some 30 years of moving from out teaching dairy cattle production and so on, you go on through administration and other programs, um, both at OAC and with the department of agriculture, find yourself back doing in another country what you did back in Ontario 35 years before. Which was a bit of a relief.

Cathy Fletcher (00:54:14):
It was easier the second time around?

Clare Rennie (00:54:16):
That is correct. And so that started off as a five year project, $35 million project over five years. Half of that from Canada, half from China. And, um, so I managed that project for five years and it was extended for another five and then another two. Uh, so that project was some variation in it. Uh, covered a 12 year period.

Cathy Fletcher (00:54:41):
And how many trips to China in that 12 years?

Clare Rennie (00:54:43):
Well, I had people in China, Canadians full time. And so, uh, I traveled back and forth, uh, two, three times a year. So I had about 35 or more trips to China.

Cathy Fletcher (00:54:56):

Clare Rennie (00:54:56):
Uh, but that also was equally exciting.

Cathy Fletcher (00:54:59):
Both for you and for them, I'm sure.

Clare Rennie (00:55:02):
Well, it was the dairy industry has certainly changed in China. It's um, in many ways. Not only in their involvement in milk production and milk quality, um, but in the, uh, the how the people have changed. See they've never been, or they didn't used to be big consumers of dairy product. The average consumption in China, when we started the project in 1993 was four liters per person per year.

Cathy Fletcher (00:55:34):
Four liters?

Clare Rennie (00:55:34):
Four liters. Um, uh, because, um, the average Chinese didn't drink milk. They um, didn't use butter. They didn't eat cheese. Um, they did have a yogurt type of food.

Cathy Fletcher (00:55:51):
Okay, I was gonna say what would they use for their calcium intake?

Clare Rennie (00:55:52):
And, well they, um, they did use a lot of skim milk product, but um, but that wasn't good to have either in a sense in that the water quality that they had to mix with the powder was pretty poor. And so, uh, so there was a whole cultural change had to take place. And that the story goes, I've never seen this written but, it's the general belief that, uh, what really kicked this thing off and to spur the dairy industry was that the Chinese had done some health studies. And they found that 50% of their children were calcium.

Clare Rennie (00:56:32):
And so, being the type of government they are, uh, they were able to say well we got to change this so there will be milk. We'll help, we'll start a school milk program and so on and so forth. And so the first two, two years of our project was pretty tough going 'cause, um, the Chinese people there are a better crop producers then they are a livestock managers. They really didn't know how to manage cattle properly or feed them. And they didn't understand milk quality. So that changed. From then on it just bloomed.

Clare Rennie (00:57:09):
And now the average consumption, I haven't seen the I can check the last year but it's up around, uh, 20 liters per person per year on the average costs of $1.2 billion. Um, and of course your urban areas are much higher. So that was a very fascinating experience.

Cathy Fletcher (00:57:29):
And at the end of your time over there, you were given a significant award.

Clare Rennie (00:57:34):
Yeah, they call it the, uh, friendship award, friend of China. And, um, they do this every year. China have managed some of their progress quite well and, an area, whole area of science, why they, they don't restrict themselves to one particular country. Uh they, they work around the world trying to seek out new ideas, new technology. And so what they do, um, they recognize upwards to 48 scientists or people a year, uh, with their fellowship award or fellow award as they call it. Uh, and it's for people that, uh, they consider have made a significant contribution to the development of, uh, their society.

Clare Rennie (00:58:25):
So, uh, they had felt I guess, uh, it was the dairy association of China that had put my name forward and, uh, because of the project and the work that I did there. That was very humbling and very, very significant.

Cathy Fletcher (00:58:39):
And what year was that?

Clare Rennie (00:58:39):
2005 or 2006, one or the other.

Cathy Fletcher (00:58:44):
And have you, are there been other awards that you've received for other things that you've been involved with?

Clare Rennie (00:58:49):
Well I think, uh, one that, uh, I cherish very much is being inducted into the Canadian Agriculture Hall of Fame. That, um, is greatly appreciated. And, um, the University of Guelph gave me a fellow, I'm a fellow of the university. And I think another one that I really appreciate too is the honorary degree from, uh, Dalhousie which is through the Chur, Churl Agricultural College that I, over the years I've done a lot of work in the Maritimes. So, so those are some of the things that are really appreciated.

Cathy Fletcher (00:59:24):
For sure.

Clare Rennie (00:59:25):

Cathy Fletcher (00:59:26):
Yeah, you've, you really contributed to many people around the world. You improved their lives.

Clare Rennie (00:59:31):
Well it's been challenging but it's been very, very rewarding.

Cathy Fletcher (00:59:34):
That's good. Um, a bit about your family. Family is very important to you.

Clare Rennie (00:59:35):
Well, it's um, Shirley, uh, my wife has uh, she's been tremendous support. She um, it had to be a big shock to her to leave Guelph, um, and uh, take the train to Iowa when we started our master's, my master's.

Cathy Fletcher (00:59:56):
And you've been there how long at that point?

Clare Rennie (00:59:58):
Couple weeks. So basically she helped me through grad school for two years down there, writing my thesis. And being at the college, uh, back at OAC, uh, she's always been very much a part of uh, college life. We've enjoyed, uh, she did too, the students and her involvement in college royal and judging teams and all that, uh. And, um, I've traveled a lot. And uh, Shirley has traveled with me considerably over the years.

Clare Rennie (01:00:32):
And, uh, has gone to I'm sure far more banquets and conferences then, uh, she would have liked to but, uh, she's never complained. And so that's, that's real support. Particularly, uh like on the China project, I, you know being away a fair bit. But two or three trips a year. And so, she did not have the desire to travel and when you're traveling and working, uh, particularly in a country where you don't know the language, there's not much point of her leaving a comfortable home, turning into a hotel room in Beijing where you don't know anybody or talk to or how to talk to.

Clare Rennie (01:01:13):
So to, uh, tolerate with that kind of life, uh, means a lot, uh and allow you to go ahead and get the job done. And, uh, she has, the fact that she has never worked away from the home has been something, think very important as far as, as the family's concerned. 'Cause she was always here for the two kids. And um, not, does, doesn't seem to be the way today with, uh, most members of a family working.

Clare Rennie (01:01:45):
But in the older generation like we're in now, why, uh that was part of the standard. But that did mean a lot to, to me really and really appreciated it. And there was always somebody here for the kids. And, uh, so she has certainly pulled her weight many times over in that aspect of family life.

Clare Rennie (01:02:12):
Now both our children, I guess, they travel a bit, fair bit now too so maybe they got some of the genes from me. But, take some of the direction, I don't know. When our, uh, children were smaller, we did travel with them a lot dairy science meetings in the states. We did have one good sabbatical, uh, in Florida while I was still at the University in England and, uh, Don was at the age where you have bicycles and hitch hike and traveled by bus, train, you name it. Along with couple of his buddies from high school.

Clare Rennie (01:02:48):
How we let them, gave them so much freedom, I don't know. But, anyway he survived and uh, that was good. Cindy was much younger and so she stayed with us. Uh, but, um that was a great experience in life too. So life has been pretty good.

Cathy Fletcher (01:03:04):
That's good. And you have one granddaughter who is carrying on in the agricultural tradition.

Clare Rennie (01:03:11):
Well, not at the moment. Sally Ann's out at Olde's College, hopes to get her degree from the University of Guelph. I don't know whether that'll be within OAC or not, uh, well the degree will be from the university. I would expect it's still would come under OAC and the master. So OAC has meant a lot, um, to me and actually to the family. And go back, really, uh, couple of generations. Uh, and when I think of it, that, uh, see that's just about 100 years ago that my father attended a short course here.

Clare Rennie (01:03:48):
And, um, I don't know whether I mentioned, but, uh the one picture I have of my father and grandfather uh, showing fat stock down at the Guelph winter fair, 1905 I think it was. So we've had, um, we've been close to the college for a long time.

Cathy Fletcher (01:04:05):
For a long time.

Clare Rennie (01:04:07):

Cathy Fletcher (01:04:07):
Well thank you very much for your time today. And, it's been wonderful to hear these stories. So from small town black stock station to-

Clare Rennie (01:04:16):

Cathy Fletcher (01:04:16):
Blackwater Station, sorry. To Guelph many years later, you've you've done a lot, contributed a lot, and accomplished a lot and I thank you for that.

Clare Rennie (01:04:24):
Well thanks for the opportunity. It's not easy to talk about yourself really.

Cathy Fletcher (01:04:28):
You've done a fine job.