ontario agricultural college history

Last Updated on August 28, 2023

Each year the Ontario Agricultural College would gather its students and faculty together for a photograph of the entire running. These photos were used to document progress and for general information purposes. The early photos were captured in Allandale, however each year thereafter an individual photographer would be hired to capture the groups.

Ontario farmers increasingly demanded more information on the best farming techniques which led to farm magazines and agricultural fairs. In 1868 the assembly created an agricultural museum, which morphed into the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph in 1874.[1] Its first building was Moreton Lodge, located where Johnston Hall now stands, which included classrooms, residences, a library, and a dining room. (Several buildings constructed during this time period are still a part of campus life today, including President’s Residence, Raithby House, and Day Hall.)

The War Memorial Hall is a landmark building built in June 1924 as a lecture hall or theatre at the Ontario Agricultural College to honour students who had enlisted and died in the First World War, and in the Second World War. Two bronze tablets in the Memorial Chapel remembers alumni who have died during these wars.[2]

Subsequently, the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) became one of three founding colleges of the University of Guelph in 1964. (The other two were the Ontario Veterinary College and the Macdonald Institute.)

The OAC opened on May 1, 1874, with an enrollment of 28 students. The OAC administration was housed in Moreton Lodge until 1931, when the building was torn down to make way for Johnston Hall. The OAC’s offices have resided in Johnston Hall ever since.

Black and white photo of children petting beef cattle being led by instructors

The Ontario School of Agriculture and Experimental Farm opened its doors in May 1874, with academic oversight by the University of Toronto. To open the school the provincial agriculture ministry purchased a 550-acre farm from William Stone in the south end of Guelph. The first class was made up of twenty diploma students. 

In 1880, the name was changed to the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) and Experimental Farm and in 1887 Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree programs began, which were granted through the University of Toronto (U of T). In 1926, U of T began also granting graduate degrees at OAC.

OAC, the Ontario Veterinary College and the Macdonald Institute are the three founding colleges of the University of Guelph, which was established in 1964.

The Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree program began in 1965 and the Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Environmental Science programs began in 1988. 

In 1997, the provincial government amalgamated agriculture education across the province under U of G and OAC. OAC now offers programs and conducts research on two campuses: Guelph and Ridgetown.

In 2006, the Bachelor of Bio-Resource Management began. In 2014, the College celebrated it’s 140th anniversary with a special project called “140 Faces of OAC”, capturing many of its current and historical figures through an online database of people profiles. View the 140 Faces of OAC project here.

For more information on the history of the college, read The College on the Hill: New History of the Ontario Agricultural College, 1874 to 1999 (Google eBook)

oac school

Black and white photo of cannon in front of Johnston Hall

Black and white photo of cannon in front of Johnston Hall
The Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) of the University of Guelph is internationally renowned for its research, teaching and knowledge extension in the broad areas of food, agriculture, communities and the environment.

The OAC community includes 3,700 diploma, undergraduate and graduate students, 35,000 alumni, 140 faculty and 600 staff members. Our community also has a strong sense of shared purpose: To Improve Life by inspiring leaders, generating knowledge and creating innovative solutions for food, agriculture, communities and the environment.

Established in 1874, OAC is a founding college of the University of Guelph. Today, it includes two campuses located in Guelph, and Ridgetown, Ontario as well as a province-wide network of campuses, field stations and research facilities. It is comprised of six academic units:

Department of Animal Biosciences
Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics
Department of Food Science
Department of Plant Agriculture
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
School of Environmental Sciences

Our certificate, diploma, undergraduate and graduate programs focus on preparing students to become industry and policy leaders through a multi-disciplinary approach, with an emphasis on experiential learning. More than 3,000 students are enrolled in OAC’s diploma, undergraduate and graduate programs led by award-winning faculty. OAC faculty and staff continually strive to improve the educational experiences of OAC students. OAC strengthens its programs through international opportunities including field courses, study aboard options and research abroad options. Professional development and skills training are provided through short courses, continuing education and distance education options.

OAC’s research activities span a broad range of topics across our communities of interest, from food safety and biotechnology through international development and animal welfare. OAC hosts regional, national and international Research Centres and Institutes, and Canada Research Chairs. OAC comprises more than 40% of the research funding at the University of Guelph, totalling more than $50 million annually.

Under the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, OAC is a primary contributor in the delivery of research, education and laboratory services. This partnership boasts an annual economic impact that exceeds $1.15 billion. As part of the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, OAC assists in the management of a province-wide network of 15 research stations.

Ridgetown Campus
Founded in 1951, it became a University of Guelph campus in 1997. The campus is 450 acres and located in the small town of Ridgetown, ON. The campus delivers certificate and associate diploma education and is utlized for agri-food research and graduate studies. For more information on the campus, visit the Ridgetown Campus website.

Our Four Areas of Focus
Environmental programs are wide-ranging, encompassing both natural and built environments in rural and urban settings. Broad research themes include biophysical research, environmental protection and improvement, resource economics, landscape architecture and regional planning. The landscape architecture and the planning programs are accredited by leading professional associations, both national and international. The School of Environmental Sciences, within OAC, focuses on a true integration of the life and physical sciences to address important environmental problems in forest, aquatic and agro-ecosystems.

Agriculture programs focus on the science and business of agriculture, from plant and animal biology and production techniques to business management and marketing. Our agricultural science research is ranked above all other universities in Canada for impact, and includes strengths such as breeding of soybeans corn, and specialty crops, and livestock nutrition. OAC is actively engaged in applying its established strengths in the areas of bioinformatics, plant and animal breeding, and genetics to the development of new, environmentally friendly solutions to meet industrial and societal needs. Other focus areas include urban agriculture, turf science, organic agriculture and animal welfare.

Food research programs are focused on food quality and safety, the development of value-added products, and innovative technologies for the manufacture of both traditional and new food products. OAC hosts the Advanced Food & Materials Network (a National Centre of Excellence), the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety and three Canada Research Chairs in the area of Food Science. Focus areas include improved technologies for food preservation, risk analysis and management, functional foods and nutraceuticals, and effective intervention strategies to improve food quality.

Programs are focused on improving the economic, social and environmental conditions of rural communities across Canada, including in Northern communities, and around the world. Priority areas are community empowerment, communication and development, and economic well-being. Community outreach programs in areas such as Russia, Bolivia, Brazil, India, Egypt, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal and Cameroon examine issues related to rural quality of life, agricultural extension practices, communication technology and distance education.

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The Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) of the University of Guelph is internationally renowned for its research, teaching and knowledge extension. Our community has a strong sense of shared purpose: To Improve Life by inspiring leaders, generating knowledge and creating innovative solutions for food, agriculture, communities and the environment.

Ontario Agricultural College
University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, Canada, N1G 2W1

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