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Ontario Agricultural College celebrates 150th anniversary

Celebrating 150 years of history, the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), one of the three founding colleges of the University of Guelph, first opened its doors in May 1874.

Today, OAC is a global leader in research and education in food, agriculture, communities and the environment, fulfilling its original ambition to become a world-class higher education institution.

From May until the end of the year, the OAC will celebrate its 150-year history with a series of events, projects and activities that reflect its achievements and vision for the future.

A full list of events can be found here. They include campus history tours, Food Day Canada celebrations and a capstone celebration during Alumni Reunion Weekend in June. The OAC community – alumni, faculty, staff, students and industry partners – is invited to reconnect and share memories over the next twelve months of celebrations.

“The entire University of Guelph community is pleased to celebrate this important milestone in our history,” said Dr. Charlotte Yates, President and Vice-Chancellor of the U of G. “OAC has a proud and rich legacy in the field of developing leaders and cultivating innovation in the global agri-food sector.”

With its first graduating class of just 28 diploma students, held on a 550-hectare farm purchased by the province, OAC has grown to more than 3,300 students across two campuses, Guelph and Ridgetown, and now leverages the network of research centers that are owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO) which covers the province.

Black and white photo of Moreton Lodge in 1900. The building is tower-like, covered in greenery, surrounded by trees

‘A proud and rich legacy’

Throughout its history, OAC has always been a leader in innovation, research and education in support of the agri-food sector, as Dr. John Cranfield, Acting Dean of OAC, reflects:

“Today, OAC’s influence extends far beyond agriculture, helping to strengthen the backbone of our global agri-food system,” he says. “OAC is a beacon of support for those committed to caring for the land, supporting our communities and protecting the environment for future generations.”

“With strategic partnerships across sectors, including government and organizations advocating for agriculture, food, the environment and rural communities, OAC is poised to continue its important mission.”

OAC was originally called the Ontario School of Agriculture and Experimental Farm and changed its name in 1880 to better reflect its purpose and ambitions.

Moreton Lodge, 1900

Amid a world being transformed by rapid scientific discoveries, the Ontario government intended for the college to secure its place on the world stage. In 1874, it was one of the first schools in Canada to integrate scientific research into agricultural practices, modernizing agriculture across the country.

This commitment continues today as the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, the collaboration between the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the U of G. Through the Alliance, the province invests in research and innovation that contributes to the success of the province’s agri-food sector and promotes the economic development of rural areas, including those marked with an asterisk

Students pull rope during the College Royal tug-of-war on a snowy field, 2004

Milestones along the way

  • In 150 years, OAC has seen the world change in fundamental ways, and the stories throughout its history tell us how OAC became the innovation education powerhouse it is today:In 1903
  • marked the establishment of the Macdonald Institute on the OAC campus an important gateway for women to the community and higher education. Initially, women at the Macdonald Institute only provided home economics education, but as societal attitudes changed, women at the Macdonald Institute gained greater access to a range of programs and roles in the agricultural sector.More than two world wars
  • OAC professors taught military leaders who fed soldiers how to efficiently use wartime rations.In 1946
  • OAC welcomed the first international students from India who enrolled to learn the latest innovations in animal husbandry, beekeeping and soil biology.In 1964
  • OAC became a founding member of U of G, marking a new phase of growth that would help it meet international standards.In 1997

OAC innovations throughout history

OAC has championed numerous developments and has influenced Canadian agriculture and global practices for more than a century. Here are just a few highlights:

Yukon Gold potatoes

Now a household name in Canada and the US, the Yukon Gold potato is the most recognized plant variety developed through U of G’s breeding programs.

In 1980, Gary Johnston of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada crossed a typical white North American potato with a wild, Peruvian ‘golden egg’ to create the yellow-fleshed Yukon Gold.

The Yukon Gold has remained a favorite among professional chefs and home cooks, and its genetics are being used to create dozens of new varieties.

Guelph Millennium Asparagus*

Before the introduction of the Guelph Millennium more than twenty years ago, growers struggled to keep fields producing high quality asparagus every year.

The Millennium was bred to perform well in colder climates, to adapt to multiple soil types and to thrive in new regions.

Now that the industry standard for Ontario growers accounts for more than 80 percent of asparagus acreage, the variety has also spread to many parts of the Northeastern U.S., Northern Europe and even the Pacific Northwest.

Omega-3 eggs*

In the 1990s, poultry scientist Dr. Steve Leeson focuses on enriching commonly eaten foods with nutrients. His discovery with eggs came at a time when they had fallen out of public favor due to their high cholesterol content.

This breakthrough involved changing the diet of chickens by including large amounts of ground flaxseed. The result was that eggs were significantly richer in omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for brain development and heart activity. This innovation was necessary to meet consumer demand for functional foods that support health beyond basic nutrition and support the improvement of the egg market in the market.

Ice cream course

The Department of Dairying (now the Department of Food Science), founded in 1885, paved the way for the three-month OAC Dairy School for dairy companies.

The two-week ice cream short course was a great success, and by 1914 there was enough interest from commercial ice cream manufacturers to offer the course as a standalone program.

Ice Cream Technology is now the longest running course at the U of G and the only one of its kind in Canada. It ultimately led to the industrialization of ice cream development and has trained over 3,000 people worldwide over its history. Bachelor of Indigenous Environmental Science and Practice

The Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation approached the university to create an environmental and resource management program that would train students to support Indigenous communities in ethical and meaningful ways. OAC then introduced Canada’s first bachelor’s degree combining Indigenous knowledge with environmental sciences in 2021.

Today, the four-year interdisciplinary Bachelor of Indigenous Environmental Science and Practice, with teaching from First Nations, Inuit and Métis Elders and knowledge holders, offers on-land instruction and participation in discussion circles and ceremonies.

Canadian Food Safety Research Institute

Since 2002, the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety (CRIFS) has been fostering connections between researchers, the food industry, consumer groups and regulatory agencies to increase food safety. It provides scientific and technical support to companies that need to carry out food safety and quality assessments.

In addition to collaborations that benefit both industry and consumers, CRIFS is on a mission to train the next generation of food scientists and increase food safety for the entire planet.

Soils in Guelph

Soils at Guelph was launched in 2018 with a major donation from citizen activists passionate about soil care and conservation and was later amplified by OMAFRA through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.

The initiative shares soil research and knowledge with farmers, the public and government to enable greater accessibility to practices designed to improve soil health and biodiversity.

Just as a doctor uses medical tests to diagnose a person’s health, current researchers are exploring soil technologies to improve decision-making about soil health and sustainability.

Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF)

Scientists at CESRF conduct research into the purpose of growing plants and crops in space and other closed environments. In 2022, researchers sent barley seeds into space that could withstand the harsh conditions of space.

The research conducted at the facility has contributed to the development of a wide range of applications in the terrestrial agri-food sector, including the phytopharmaceutical sector.

Regional and Rural Broadband (R2B2)

Many people in rural, agricultural areas do not have access to reliable internet service, or pay significantly higher amounts for services – a significant problem in an era of hybrid work.

Since 2006, rural development professor Dr. Helen Hambly’s Regional and Rural Broadband (R2B2) Canadian research project, working with municipalities in southwestern Ontario to drive broader broadband investments in underserved areas, increase connectivity and promote a stronger economy.

Annual agricultural land survey*

Since 2016, Dr. Brady Deaton conducts an annual survey open to all Ontario farmers who own or rent farmland to better understand farmland values ​​and rents.

Once all data has been collected, the results will be made public. This ensures market transparency, promotes effective investment decisions and financial planning and will ultimately allow the team to compare current prices with historical trends.

Black and white photo of nearly two dozen members of the 1953 OAC intramural football team posing on a field

Discover 150 years of memories by visiting OAC’s anniversary photo collection.