DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

RUTHERFORD, JOHN GUNION, veterinarian, horse breeder, office holder, editor, politician, and civil servant; b. 25 Dec. 1857 in Mountain Cross, Scotland, son of Robert Rutherford, a United Presbyterian minister, and Agnes Gunion; m. 1887 Edith Boultbee of Ancaster, Ont., and they had three daughters and a son; d. 24 July 1923 in Ottawa.

As a boy, John G. Rutherford attended the parish school in Mountain Cross and the high school in Glasgow. Apprenticed to a bookseller there, he preferred farming. He gained practical experience in the counties of East Lothian and Selkirk, where some of Scotland’s best farmers and stockmen could be found; he also studied agriculture at Haddington and Philiphaugh, and later under a private tutor in Edinburgh. After coming to Ontario in September 1875 to join the Hopes, a farming family near Brantford, he continued his agricultural education in 1875–76 at the Ontario School of Agriculture and Experimental Farm in Guelph [see William Johnston*], where he won the prize for practical agriculture. Through John Hope, the manager of George Brown*’s Bow Park estate near Brantford, Rutherford was able to find work there over part of this time; he experienced first-hand the presence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle. His interest in this problem would last a lifetime. Drawn to animal science and care, he graduated with honours in 1879 from the Ontario Veterinary College in Toronto.

Rutherford began practising veterinary medicine in Woodstock, where he became involved as well in rearing and selling horses. He shipped many to Britain and imported fine stock for breeding purposes. As a veterinarian, he travelled a great deal: he attended lectures in Europe and the United States, set up Mexico’s first veterinary school, and seems to have practised for periods in New York State, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

After returning to Canada in 1884, Rutherford settled in Portage la Prairie, Man. He built up a large veterinary practice and continued in the horse business, with a particular interest in remounts for the British army. In 1885, a year after the Manitoba government had appointed him veterinary inspector, he served in the North-West rebellion as a veterinary officer with the North-West Field Force under Major-General Frederick Dobson Middleton*. While living in Portage la Prairie, he held a number of other positions. He was president of the Veterinary Association of Manitoba (which he had been instrumental in establishing in 1890), the Horse Breeders’ Association of Manitoba and the North West Territories, the Manitoba and Lakeside Agricultural Society, the Island Park Racing Association, and the local St Andrew’s Society. In addition, he was chairman of the Portage la Prairie General Hospital and edited the Nor’-West Farmer (Winnipeg) from 1890 to 1894 and the Weekly Manitoba Liberal (Portage la Prairie) from 1896 to 1900.

In 1892 Rutherford was elected as a Liberal for the provincial riding of Lakeside. In the legislature he became chairman of the committee on agriculture. Returned in January 1896, he served for only one session because of his decision to enter dominion politics. He was defeated in the general election in June for the seat of Macdonald, but won there in a by-election in April 1897. During his three years in the House of Commons, he advocated a federal board of railway commissioners and was reported by the Agricultural Gazette of Canada (Ottawa) to have been “virtually the author” of the Manitoba Grain Act of 1900. He was defeated in the election of 1900.

In 1901 Rutherford accepted the position offered to him by Canada’s chief veterinary inspector, Duncan McNab McEachran, to inspect Canadian cattle landed in Glasgow. While there he visited many famous cattle operations in Great Britain. On 1 Feb. 1902 he took over from McEachran and agreed to devote all of his time to the inspectorship – McEachran, who ran a veterinary college in Montreal, had served on a part-time basis. With characteristic energy, Rutherford set to work to revitalize the veterinary service of the Department of Agriculture, of which Sydney Arthur Fisher was minister. After reorganizing the health of animals branch, on 19 April 1904 he was named veterinary director-general. In this capacity he established a pathological division and a biological laboratory. From evidence contained in his official reports, Rutherford’s scientific grasp of problems was sound, though, like other veterinarians, he could be sceptical of pure bacteriology divorced from commonsensical observation. When he also took over the livestock branch and became dominion livestock commissioner, on 1 July 1906, he was in a position where he could begin to control the spread of animal plagues.

Rutherford was concerned with the containment of such diseases as hog cholera, anthrax, rabies, sheep scab, tuberculosis and contagious abortion in cattle, mange in sheep and cattle, and dourine and glanders in horses. He was successful in stopping the constant infection of Ontario pigs with cholera from the United States. He enforced the use of mallein for the testing of glanders, had reactors slaughtered, and compensated horse owners. In 1904, to get rid of dourine, he set up a program for the quarantine of stock from the United States and for the slaughter of diseased animals. By 1913 both of these horse diseases were under better control as a result of his policies.

But it is Rutherford’s work on the eradication of bovine tuberculosis that was his most important contribution. The threat to humans, not cattle, had focused attention on this disease and brought veterinarians into the realm of medical doctors and bacteriologists. (Rutherford claimed to have known of the interrelationship between bovine and human tuberculosis before its announcement in 1882 by Robert Koch, discoverer of the tuberculosis bacilli and the tuberculin for testing.) Rutherford’s personal concern, which dated back to his days at Bow Park, had been reinforced when his son died as an infant from tuberculosis contracted from contaminated milk, before the family left Portage la Prairie. His attack was three-pronged, the major thrust being his attempt to control the disease within the nation’s herds, as a program initiated by McEachran. It had become apparent by the late 1890s that the testing of general herds, the slaughter of infected cattle, and compensation were simply not feasible in Canada. Programs of this nature had been set up in various American states but had failed and all cost more than the Canadian government could afford. In 1894 McEachran established compulsory testing for imported pure-bred breeding cattle, which were considered the primary vectors. Such stock had to undergo quarantine at government stations; cattle that reacted were destroyed without compensation. Breeders opposed this program. Bovine tuberculosis and its transmission were still not well understood, the test gave ambiguous results, McEachran had acted in an autocratic way, and slaughter caused huge financial hardship. As a result the pure-bred cattle associations repeatedly demanded the cessation of testing. When Koch, in a controversial turnabout in 1901, claimed (wrongly) that the bovine form was not contagious to man, breeders became even more adamant.

Remarkably, Rutherford was able to fashion a climate that allowed for an effective campaign against bovine tuberculosis in pure-bred herds. Socially outgoing and possessed of “friendly democratic ways,” he was well known to and popular with breeders in Canada and abroad. Pleased when he took over, cattlemen hoped for some relief from testing. Rutherford, however, was just as anxious as McEachran had been to eradicate the disease, so the regulations were not removed. In 1903 he met with the Dominion Cattle Breeders’ Association. The cattlemen accepted the testing of imported stock and the slaughter, without compensation, of reactors that displayed clinical symptoms. In return, Rutherford agreed to let breeders keep reactors with no outward signs of the disease, but it would be made clear that the animals potentially were infected: they were required to have a large T punched in the right ear. Later in 1903 a regulation was adopted prohibiting the export of cattle so marked. Rutherford’s program was brilliant: it focused the mind of the farming community on the problem as a national issue rather than a matter of personal loss.

The second prong of his attack on bovine tuberculosis was the administration of meat inspection. Tactfully he gained the support of the packing industry in 1907 for a national meat-inspection program though it related only to exports and interprovincial trade. Thirdly, he pressed for tighter municipal standards for milk, but, in part because they were beyond his jurisdiction, he was careful to do so indirectly. “The sale of milk from cows not known to be free of tuberculosis is a crime against society,” he stated simply in 1910, “and any community that permits the sale of such milk is an accessory to the crime.” Cooperation was the way to success. “The best law ever framed can be made an utter failure by stupid or injurious administration,” he reasoned in 1912, “while, on the other hand, the most drastic legislation can be rendered acceptable if enforced with reasonable tact and diplomacy.” Federal assistance for municipal control would not become possible until 1914, by which time Rutherford had left the department.

Rutherford’s professional standing and his campaign against bovine tuberculosis were considerably enhanced in 1908, when he was appointed an honorary associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, went twice to Rome as Canada’s delegate to the International Institute of Agriculture, and attended the International Congress on Tuberculosis in Washington, D.C. But it was his presidency of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1908–9 – an office held by few Canadians – that he recognized as providing a unique opportunity to promote international controls. In 1909, with the support of his future presidential successor, who headed the American Bureau of Animal Husbandry, he was able through the AVMA to set up a Canadian-American commission on bovine tuberculosis. Through this work, if not before, Rutherford undoubtedly became aware of the pioneering research and regulatory organization that had been undertaken by Leonard Pearson of the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school.

A practising and devoted veterinarian, Rutherford was understandably concerned with the status of his profession. Veterinary medicine had gained much respectability through its attention to bovine tuberculosis and human health. Central to its reputation was the state of professional education. Andrew Smith*, head of the Ontario Veterinary College (by mid 1903 the only veterinary school in Canada after McEachran’s had collapsed), had persistently refused to lengthen and enrich the training given there. At the meeting of the Ontario Veterinary Association in Ottawa in 1903, it was agreed that some action should be taken. Two years later Rutherford, as the head of a committee on curriculum revision, drafted proposals for change that included Ontario’s takeover of veterinary education and, in the belief that human and animal illnesses were often interconnected, a publicly funded faculty of comparative medicine at the University of Toronto. With characteristic diplomacy, he suggested that Smith be made dean. Although the reforms were not immediately established, the move to upgrade veterinary education and increase government control would gather momentum.

Within his department in Ottawa Rutherford continued his work of administration and promotion. In addition, he wrote at least two bulletins, The cattle trade of western Canada . . . (1909) and Horse breeding and rearing of colts (1911). He was president of the Civil Service Association of Ottawa from 1909 to 1911. Beyond the civil service, he was a member of the local St Andrew’s Society and several recreational clubs, among them the Royal Ottawa Golf Club; he also belonged to the freemasons and the Ancient Order United Workmen. Created a cmg in 1910, he resigned from his departmental positions in May 1911, though at the government’s request he continued until 31 March 1912. It is not clear why he stepped down – friction within the Department of Agriculture was put forward in Farm and Dairy (Peterborough, Ont.) as a possible reason – but the reaction of the farming community was entirely evident. Praise for his work and dismay at his retirement poured into Ottawa. His service to the livestock industry, however, was certainly not over.

Almost immediately after he had resigned, Sir Thomas George Shaughnessy of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which had just formed a department of natural resources with an animal husbandry branch, hired him to campaign for the improvement of livestock and the extension of mixed farming in the prairie provinces. Rutherford again became a western resident, settling in Edmonton and then Calgary. In 1913 he took full control of the agricultural operations of the CPR when he was appointed its superintendent of agriculture and animal industry. In this position, which he would hold until 1918, he helped the company carry out work on its experimental farms. His activities, however, were not restricted to the CPR; at times he seemed to be constantly on the move, travelling from one meeting or conference to another. From 1913 to 1919 he was president of the Western Canada Live-Stock Union, an organization he had been instrumental in creating. In addition, he was a president of the Alberta Horse Breeders’ Association; a member of Saskatchewan’s commission on agricultural and industrial education in 1915, its livestock commission of 1915–18, and the dominion agricultural production commission of 1915–18; chairman of the Manitoba Council of Commerce and Agriculture in 1916; and a vice-chairman of Alberta’s Board of Agricultural Education. In 1917, during the wartime conscription crisis, he took a lead in organizing western Liberal support for Sir Robert Laird Borden*. Reputedly he was offered the agriculture portfolio in Borden’s Union government but refused on the grounds of ill health. At the end of World War I, he was held in such esteem that cattlemen in Canada had his portrait painted and donated it to the Saddle and Sirloin Club of Chicago for its collection of paintings of luminaries in the livestock world.

Rutherford returned to public service at age 56, when he was appointed on 8 Nov. 1918 to the federal Board of Railway Commissioners. In February he moved back to Ottawa to assume his duties, which would make heavy demands on his grasp of railway operations and his diplomatic skills. His bent for cooperation left him disgusted at times with the self-serving attitudes of applicants to the board as it navigated through complex arguments on post-war rate changes and shipping disputes. Characteristically, he took on other work, including the presidency of the Canadian National Live Stock Association in 1919. That same year he was named to two federal royal commissions, one on the commercial development of muskox and reindeer herds in the north, the other on horse racing, which he saw as a proven means to control and promote breeding. In recognition of his achievements, the University of Toronto conferred a dvs on him in 1920.

Dr John G. Rutherford died suddenly from Bright’s disease at St Luke’s Hospital in Ottawa in July 1923. His wife, who was living at their farm near Chilliwack, B.C., was unable to reach the capital in time for his burial in Beechwood Cemetery. More than any other person, Rutherford should be credited with the establishment of a workable program for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis in Canada. The regulations were seemingly limited, with a focus on the international movement of pure-bred stock, virtually no compensation for loss, little interference with general herds, restricted meat inspection, and localized and poorly controlled milk inspection, but they produced results. Rutherford’s system represented an effective plan to contain the disease, a plan that could later be augmented. The program eventually received the full support of the farming community, and triggered changes in the public mind about the need for the better regulation of both meat and milk. Although, at Rutherford’s death, the tide against bovine tuberculosis had barely started to turn, Canada’s position on the disease was one of the most advanced in the world. In direct contrast was Britain, which made no effort to control the disease until well into the 20th century.

Margaret Derry

Reports and addresses by John Gunion Rutherford appear in Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1904, no.15, app.15: 69–92; 1905, no.15: 49–78; 1906, no.15a; 1909, no.15a(2); 1910, no.15, app.17: 103–23; 1911, no.15b; 1912, no.15b; 1913, no.15b, esp.1–34, 106–14, 295–98, 335–47; and in Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers, 1904, no.23: 45–47, 183–88; 1907, no.22: 45–48; 1918, no.39: 67–69.

LAC, RG 17, A I, 957, no.142157; 966, no.146882; 1031, no.183471; 1052, no.190827; 1063, nos.192940, 193119; 1162, no.218930. Univ. of Guelph Library, Arch. and Special Coll. (Guelph, Ont.), RE1, OVC, A0219 (C. A. V. Barker, interview with Clive Rogers, 1973); UOG, A0990 (“The 125th anniversary of OVC, 1987”); XAI, MS, A0771 (application of recognition in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, 1962). Ottawa Evening Journal, 24–25, 27 July 1923. Agricultural Gazette of Canada (Ottawa), 10 (1923): 455–56. American Veterinary Medical Assoc., Journal (Chicago), 63 (April–September 1923): 106–8. C. A. V. Barker and T. A. Crowley, One voice: a history of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (Ottawa, 1989). Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). Canadian encyclopedia, 195–96. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.3. Margaret Derry, Ontario’s cattle kingdom: purebred breeders and their world, 1870–1920 (Toronto and Buffalo, 2001). Farm and Dairy (Peterborough, Ont.), 16 June 1910: 3–4, 11; 30 June 1910: 4; 14 Sept. 1911: 892. Farming World and Canadian Farm and Home (Toronto), 1 Aug. 1906: 503–4. O.A.C. Rev. (Guelph), March 1905, February 1913, March 1915. B. G. Rosenkrantz, “The trouble with bovine tuberculosis,” Bull. of the Hist. of Medicine (Baltimore, Md), 59 (1985): 155–75.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Margaret Derry, “RUTHERFORD, JOHN GUNION,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 19, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rutherford_john_gunion_15E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rutherford_john_gunion_15E.html
Author of Article:   Margaret Derry
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   May 19, 2024