Campus News

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News Release

November 30, 1998

Restoring a jewel in the crown

"Great memories" and a sense of having been "very fortunate" to attend the University of Guelph's Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) were the inspiration for OAC (51) grad and Bobcaygeon resident Don Rutherford's gift of $256,000 to his alma mater.

The money will be put to good use. It represents the funding needed to see the restoration of a historic conservatory greenhouse that once was the centre of U of G campus life and a popular stop for undergraduates strolling with their dates on a Saturday night.

"I had a wonderful time as a student at OAC," says Rutherford, "and on behalf of fellow alumni and the Rutherford family I hope this gift will commemorate the experiences and education we acquired while at Guelph...At the moment, the University doesn't have a "front door". Once fully restored to its previous glory, the conservatory greenhouse will be an ideal greeting and welcome spot for visitors and newcomers to the University, as well as old friends renewing their acquaintance."

Rutherford's leadership gift is part of an ambitious $1-million project to restore U of G's conservatory greenhouse to its former glory and transform the surrounding grounds into a series of gardens. At the heart of the Conservatory Renovation and Gardens Development Project is the conservatory greenhouse, a rare architectural treasure built in 1931 and once the campus centrepiece.

Rutherford began his career as Agricultural Representative in Dundas and later Kent Counties, with what is now the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. He went on to become Executive Vice-President of the Fertilizer Institute of Ontario, Executive Secretary of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, and co-owner of Sylvite Sales Inc. Retired since 1986, he now owns his own small investment company and manages to golf through the year.

After a long and distinguished career, Rutherford highly treasures the memories of being an OAC student, of his professors and fellow students, and good times like digging the basement for the campus' Massey Hall. In the intervening years, time was less kind to the conservatory greenhouse and gardens.

When it was first built in the 1930s, it was a working showpiece, designed for the study and investigation of floriculture, an important industry at the time. The greenhouse was bordered by elms and ornamental gardens, and there was a pond lined with willows and scattered with lily-pads. Older alumni also recall it as a popular spot at which to meet for moonlit rendezvous - with more than one marriage proposal having been uttered in its midst. Time passed and the conservatory greenhouse did not age gracefully. The glass, cypress wood and steel structure became so dilapidated that at one point in the early 1990s its future was uncertain.

Then in the early 1990s a group of alumni, faculty and staff got together to save the greenhouse. Tenacious like a clinging vine, the conservatory had survived the bad times - just.

Designed by Lord and Burnham of St. Catharines, the conservatory is one of the few remaining pagoda-like glass structures left in North America. At one point threatened with demolition, the conservatory greenhouse and gardens will soon be set to enter the next millennium better than ever, thanks to a preservation committee of alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the University.

Surrounding the conservatory will be six thematic gardens - spring, summer, fall, winter, water and woodland - walkways, and soon tree-shaded seating areas. Four of the gardens are complete, the water and woodland gardens will be finished in early 1999 at the same time as the finishing touches are put to the conservatory greenhouse. Each garden is named in honour of its chief supporters. Their names are: Water Garden - OAC 49; Autumn Garden - OAC 51; Spring Garden - OAC 53; Summer Garden - OAC 55; Winter Garden - OAC 65; and the Woodland Garden, made possible through the generosity of the family and friends of the late Douglas M. Robinson, BSA 53, for whom the garden is named.

Thanks to the time and donations of Don Rutherford and others, the University of Guelph and its alumni have guaranteed a piece of the past for future generations, something that Mr. Rutherford can point to with pride to his three children and six grandchildren, and in future years their own children. His granddaughter Bonnie Speed currently attends the University of Guelph.

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