Walter describes studying agriculture in Ayr and the challenges of his time working on a farm. He explains what happened when he got into a fight there.
W.G: I was doing a year’s practical farming which was compulsory in order to get study at the West of Scotland Agriculture and get a degree in agriculture and anyway, I was on the farm; it was on an approved farm in Ayrshire. It was only thirty miles away and I lived there.
I came back home for my father’s funeral which was a terrible, terrible experience which affected me for some time and led me to do a lot of things that I’ve done and then I went back to the farm, finished up.
It was 1950, remember, and the interesting thing was that the State of Israel had only been established for two years and Jews were always considered to be cowards – nobody fought and you know, Jews just gave in and did a lot of praying.
And the guys on the farm, the farmer himself and his wife, were very strong Presbyterians, and were actually pro-Jewish and they believed the State of Israel was terrific and what a deal! What we, as Presbyterians, have been waiting for because this is the return of World Jewry to the Holy Land. They were definitely pro-Jewish, though in a different sort of way, if you could imagine, and quite knowledgeable about the Bible and the Old Testament, as it is called, particularly the Torah. Just to give you a very good example of that, Mr Baird was considered one of the foremost farmers in the area, well that’s why the University of Glasgow approved him for students to go there, that’s why I was there.
So anyway I was on the farm and it was kind of tough to start with. First I was young. There were three hired men. I lived in the farmhouse; they lived in a bothy. You guys know what a bothy is? (A simple farm building.)
WG: Anyway I was sort of privileged and Mrs Baird, they didn’t have any children. They both died through polio. Mrs Baird’s nephew, Billy Smith, who was a real rear-end, a former policeman, a London policeman. He had a really narrow attitude. Definitely, he was just anti-me. I don’t think he was anti-Jewish; he was just anti-me. He didn’t like it because he realised that I was going to end up with a better job than him because I was there as a student and there to get an education and he sort of resented the fact that I was living in the farmhouse as he was.
So one day he managed to get me into a fight with one of the hired men. They are not among the most intelligent of people but I got on with all these guys very well, but anyway I got beaten to a pulp, as a matter of fact. The other guys were actually on my side but there was nothing much they could do with Billy Smith who was the manager of the farm or managed it for his uncle. And when I got up. It was a Sunday and Billy had a white shirt on and the other guy was lying down so was I.
I decided that I had to get up and I guess I had a bleeding nose among other things and I couldn’t get my head straight and I was standing there. He was a bit taller than me and also I had my head down and I saw Billy’s fist.
I went up to Billy and I said, ‘Why don’t you…?’ – I realised I had lost my temper and that’s why I fought this guy and during the fight I regained my temper and when I stood up I was really cool and I said… I walked up to Billy really close. I guess I was swaying a little bit, and I said ‘Why don’t you hit me now, Billy?’ And Billy clenched his fists and I was waiting. Well hit me, I’m sore, so it didn’t matter anyway, and he walked away. But what happened was, I guess I touched his shirt.
So when it came after everybody went to church; I didn’t to church. It was Sunday lunch, Mrs Baird, the farmer’s wife, Billy’s auntie, said, ‘Oh Billy, you’ve got a little blood on your shirt’ and it was obvious where it came from because I wasn’t looking too sunny and I was sitting at the table too.
‘Did you cut yourself, Billy?’ Yeah, anyway, Billy didn’t have to bother answering that one but after that I had no trouble with Billy Smith.
Not that I took advantage of the situation but any time that he said something that came remotely… I just was about to say, ‘Why don’t you hit me now, Billy?’ You know, he was just. Well, fine. And the other guys, they were so much on my side it was almost embarrassing. You know they didn’t eat in the farmhouse, they ate in the bothy; you know it was a class structure thing but I sort of bridged the class structure through this. I learnt a lot about practical farming and I sure learnt a lot about how to get on with people.
It was a help when I started in Canada: you know with the company I worked for was Canada Packers. They were very strict on credit. You have to know when to draw the line and how to be fair, but you have to know when to draw the line when you can’t put up with any more and just say fine whatever, and so this whole thing, my education in Scotland at school, I want to absolutely emphasis that I did not suffer at all. I mean to say that I was a victim is completely WRONG. It was a very good education and a lot of the kids… How do they learn? How do they learn and strive a little bit, and how do they learn to get along with people regardless?
INT-2: Can I just ask you a question? Could you talk a little bit more about your father’s business?
W.G: Well, yes, he imported different feed ingredients for livestock; I mean he knew about livestock nutrition, which was what I ended up specialising in. I specialised in livestock nutrition and dairy bacteriology. People ask me why I didn’t go into the dairy business and my answer to that one is that I learnt too much about the dairy business. It is a 24 hour, oh sorry, a 16 hour business, 7 days a week and so even if you get time off you still have got the worries.
So anyway, his business was selling, importing, grains and selling to either to manufacturers or directly to farmers or whatever and that is almost exactly what I ended up doing. Though I didn’t do importing. I worked for feed companies that made feed and I sold the livestock feeds, designed the livestock buildings, mainly; and that was what I studied feeding, breeding and management. How to feed the feed and what kind of livestock to feed them to; how to breed the animals; how to design the buildings that they were housed in.
INT-2: And this was what you learnt in Scotland?
WG: And that was what my Dad did.
INT: So you finished your year of farming, practical farming. Did you go into your father’s business?
WG: No, it was my mother; my mother sold it. My mother, when my Dad passed away, she had a bit of thinking to do, and the first thing she decided is that she did not know anything about the business and as such to try to keep it warm for me, it was not possible for her. And to get a good manager do so, it was only possible if he took a share of it, in which case he may as well have owned the whole thing. In which case, I would after four years of University and one year of practical – five years – goodness knows what things would look like. Why should she tie me down to do something, which had been planned, which I might not want to do into the bargain?
Walter’s mother changes jobs and becomes interested in social work
W.G: Then my mother went to work. My mother went to work for crippled children and adults in Glasgow, and she worked in the office there and she worked with the social workers and quite a few of the people that worked there. She helped train people that were partly disabled to work in the office and she liked being a social worker. She always wanted to be a social worker. She was not really interested in the needle trade.
So when she came to Canada in 1959, I came in 1957, all right I had been there for 2 years.
Oh you want to know how I came to Canada.
Anyway to finish with my mother – when my mother came to Canada, sure enough she came to Winnipeg as I was stationed, not in Winnipeg but that was where the office was which I reported to was. I was in the country.
She got a job as a manger with crippled children and adults. She got a really good job there; she became assistant office manager. And the reason I know she had a very good job was because I was going out with one of the social workers and periodically I looked in there. Well, it was a source of Jewish girls and my mother was in charge of the expense accounts of the social workers and the job became vacant because nobody could stand the job and so my mother before she took the job, she was told what her work would be, and since she had a bit of experience,
she realised that there might be a problem here; why she got the job so quickly, and she so asked, ‘In the event that there are complaints from the social workers because I will make them stick to the rules, are you going to go over my head or do I have complete authority.’