Canada's practical educator

Andrew Smith founded country's first veterinary college, educating thousands
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Dr. Andrew Smith, founder of Canada's first veterinary school, was not without his critics.

Dr. Andrew Smith

In the 1860s, Dr. Smith established the private, two-year program that eventually evolved into the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. By 1908, when he turned over the college to the provincial government, it had produced more than 3,000 graduates.

"Controversy over the length and content of the curriculum and the easy admission and graduation requirements dogged Smith's college almost from its inception," wrote A. Margaret Evans, PhD, former chair of the University of Guelph Department of History, in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. "Nevertheless, he seems to have been justified in considering that his form of veterinary education was the practicable one to introduce into the young country."

'A store of persistence'

Born in Scotland in 1834, Dr. Smith attended parish school and worked on his family's farm before entering the Edinburgh Veterinary College at the age of 25. After graduating from the two-year program in 1861, he received an appointment as veterinary surgeon to the Board of Agriculture of Upper Canada with the purpose of heading a school to train veterinarians.

"He arrived in Toronto on 23 Sept. 1861, a short, solidly built young man, with dark hair and a beard, a serious, almost sombre countenance, a dignified manner, and, as it would turn out, a store of persistence and sound business judgement," Dr. Evans wrote.

In early 1862 and the next winter, Dr. Smith delivered lectures on veterinary subjects in conjunction with a winter course in agriculture that the board provided free to the public. In 1864, he began offering a regular course of study in veterinary science following the British model of two six-month sessions over two years, culminating in examinations.

"To the young profession practically no financial assistance was given by the State, and as a result Professor Smith had to depend upon tuition fees for the erection and maintenance of his school," wrote Dr. Charles A. Mitchell, a founder of the Canadian Journal of Comparative Medicine, in a 1938 article in that journal. "To induce a sufficient number of students to attend it was necessary to adopt low entrance requirements."

Dr. Smith had persuaded an Edinburgh classmate who also had moved to Canada, Dr. Duncan McNab McEachran, to teach at the Toronto school. Dr. McEachran left for Montreal to establish a rival program in 1866 that was three years long and had higher entrance requirements.

Dr. Smith's course proved to be much more popular, however. He moved the program from rental space to a new building, the Ontario Veterinary College, during the 1869-1870 session. He added another new building in 1889 as the number of students approached 400. His last addition was a new dissecting room in 1890.

"For 46 years, the college would reflect the views and management of Smith," Dr. Evans wrote. "As proprietor and administrator, he provided the facilities and paid the faculty ... as principal and professor, he determined the curriculum, and selected, taught, and disciplined the students."

'A benevolent despot'

To improve recognition of veterinarians, Dr. Smith promoted the creation of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association for "the mutual improvement of its members ... and the advancement of the position and interests of the Veterinary profession in the Province." He served as the association's president from its formation in 1874 until its incorporation in 1879.

Dr. Smith also was active outside the profession. He was a founder of the Toronto Hunt Club, Ontario Jockey Club, and Industrial Exhibition in Toronto. He served as honorary governor of the Toronto General Hospital and director of the Consumers' Gas Company.

"His name did not figure prominently in the veterinary literature of his day, but he was the most widely-known veterinarian in North America and he is referred to as one of ten men in Toronto whom nearly everyone recognized on the street," said past OVC librarian F. Eugene Gattinger in 1962, during an address for the college's centennial celebration, which was printed in the Canadian Veterinary Journal.

"He was conciliatory by instinct and practice but in matters of the practical needs of his day he was a benevolent despot typical of other great men of his time."

Dr. Smith resisted pressure to change at the OVC, Dr. Evans wrote. Dr. McEachran's rival program in Montreal closed in 1903, having produced far fewer graduates than the OVC, but a trend to longer veterinary courses was one indication that the OVC had fallen behind the times. The profession called for the Ontario government to take over the college.

In 1906, Dr. Smith announced that the OVC would extend its course to three years. In 1908, he leased the college buildings to the minister of agriculture, and the OVC became a provincial institution.

Dr. Smith retained an office at the college as a professor emeritus until his death in 1910.

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