CREELMAN, GEORGE CHRISTIE, educator and office holder; b. 9 May 1869 in Collingwood, Ont., son of James Rutherford Creelman and Isabella Christina Patterson; m. 8 Sept. 1892 Ada Ross Mills, daughter of James Mills, in Guelph, Ont., and they had two daughters and three sons; d. 18 April 1929 near Beamsville, Ont.
Descendants of northern Irish settlers in Nova Scotia, George Creelman’s parents moved to New Brunswick and then, in the 1860s, to Ontario. Creelman would spend most of his life in the service of agricultural education, but he was not born on a farm – his father was a music teacher in Collingwood. By the time he was nine, however, the family had moved to a fruit farm in nearby Grey County. Educated at Collingwood’s collegiate institute, from 1885 to 1888 George attended the Ontario Agricultural College and Experimental Farm in Guelph, through which he earned a bachelor of agricultural science degree.
Like many early graduates, Creelman found better job opportunities in the United States. He became an assistant professor of biology at the Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1889 and a full professor in 1892, a position he would hold until 1899. During these years he continued his own education, obtaining an msc from his Mississippi college and doing summer studies at Cornell and Wisconsin universities and the Michigan State Agricultural College. He served as vice-president of the teachers’ association in Mississippi in 1892–93, and was largely responsible for botany being taught in its public schools.
By the late 1890s the job situation in Canada for OAC graduates had changed, as new positions were created. When Ontario’s superintendent of Farmers’ Institutes, Frederick W. Hodson, became the first federal livestock commissioner in 1899, Creelman returned to Ontario and took over the superintendency, which led to other connections. His association with the Women’s Institutes, for which he compiled a handbook in 1902, would involve him in the drive for female education. He served as well as superintendent of the province’s agricultural societies branch from 1902 and as secretary of the Fruit Growers’ Association of Ontario. When James Mills retired in early 1904 from the presidency of the OAC, the Liberal minister of agriculture, John Dryden*, chose Creelman as his successor.
Creelman inherited a strong staff, a structure for education by extension, and some respect from farmers for the college. According to the O.A.C. Review, he “had the strength of youth and the fire of enthusiasm on his side, as well as known ability for organisation and management.” As president, he built on Mills’s policies that the college had to be taken to the farmer and that agricultural education should be fundamentally practical in nature. Creelman’s past work with the Farmers’ Institutes and his teaching experience facilitated his enlargement of the college’s extension program. With the aid of the deputy minister, Charles Canniff James, he helped establish the agricultural representatives system, which placed OAC graduates in various counties to coordinate year-round educational services to farmers, in ways that the simpler Farmers’ Institutes could not. Creelman also promoted extension by trying to attract farmers and their sons to the OAC for short courses, if not for its full program, and by showing how the work of the Women’s Institutes blended with that of the Macdonald Institute of Home Economics at the college. “Our farm girls must be taught systematically, either in their own homes or somewhere else, the science and practice of homemaking,” he said in the Farming World and Canadian Farm and Home (Toronto). By 1919 he was working with the federal Soldiers Settlement Board and the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment, which sponsored short courses at the OAC for veterans interested in farming.
During his 16 years in Guelph, Creelman’s contributions were not restricted to the OAC. He gave speeches in the United States and travelled extensively. One trip to Australia and the Far East took five months and in 1908 he was a delegate to investigate agricultural methods in Europe. For some time he was a secretary of the American Association of Farmers’ Institutes and in 1905 he became its president. A senator of the University of Toronto, he was awarded an lld in 1910 by McMaster University, then in Toronto. During his tenure (1917–19) as Ontario’s commissioner of agriculture, an advisory position created primarily to counter food shortages, he supported the wartime initiatives of acting minister of agriculture and Conservative premier Sir William Howard Hearst*, and in 1918 he went to England and France to assess shortages there.
Despite its progress, the OAC had not outgrown the problem of being plagued by partisan politics. Creelman’s Liberal affiliations, and his appointment by the Conservatives in 1917, may have caused concern in some quarters, especially after the election two years later of a United Farmers’ government. In 1920 its man, Joseph Benson Reynolds, replaced Creelman, who was shunted to England as Ontario’s agent general. He lasted for only a year because of ill health.
Back in Canada, Creelman took up the job of general manager of the Niagara Peninsula Fruit Growers’ Association – he had farms in the region, near Beamsville and Vineland – but by May 1921 his health had forced him to resign. After some months’ rest he found the energy to become active again in veterans’ rehabilitation and agrarian promotion. Elected president of the Canadian Society of Technical Agriculturists in 1926, he undertook a study of agriculture for the Province of New Brunswick the following year. A Presbyterian and ardent lawn-bowler, this ever-optimistic champion of the land found innumerable ways to demonstrate his simple philosophy of life: to be happy and make others happy. He died suddenly in 1929 at his Beamsville farm and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Guelph. In his funeral tribute the Reverend Henry John Cody*, a former minister of education who knew Creelman well as a “constructive pilgrim,” said that he had always been influenced by the conviction that “agriculture was the great basis industry of this country. He believed in the dignity of the farmer’s career, and he knew his difficulties and his problems. No man better understood the points of contact between the town and the country.”
Creelman’s reports as president of the Ontario Agricultural College and Experimental Farm from 1905 to 1920 appear in Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers. Other addresses and papers by Creelman published there include the following: 1902, no.22: 137–38; 1905, no.22: 205–7; 1906, no.21: 18–20; no.22: 33–37; 1907, no.21: 35–38; 1908, no.21: 174–76; 1912, no.38: 159–65; and 1917, no.37: 70–76.
AO, RG 22-235, no.6161; RG 80-5-0-200, no.12780.
NA, RG 31, C1, 1871, Collingwood, Ont.: 50.
Univ. of Guelph Library, Arch. and Special Coll. (Guelph, Ont.), G. C. Creelman papers; RE1, OAC A0679 (Creelman scrapbook materials).
Beamsville Express (Beamsville, Ont.), 24 April 1929.
Canadian annual rev., 1920: 520; 1921: 564.
Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912).
Farming World and Canadian Farm and Home (Toronto), 1 Feb. 1904: 94–95; 1 Sept. 1904: 610; 15 Nov. 1905: 818; 15 Oct. 1907: 979.
D. A. Lawr, “Development of agricultural education in Ontario, 1870–1910” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1972).
O.A.C. Rev. (Guelph), April 1897; January 1903; February, October, December 1904; December 1906; January, April 1908; November 1909; June 1910; June 1912; January, December 1913; January, December 1915; December 1916; January 1918; July 1924; June, September 1928.
A. M. Ross, The college on the hill: a history of the Ontario Agricultural College, 1874–1974 (Vancouver [and Guelph], 1974).
A. M. Ross and T. [A.] Crowley, The college on the hill: a new history of the Ontario Agricultural College, 1874–1999 (2nd ed., Toronto, 1999)