Professor Emeritus, Animal Science

Additional Information

Alex Wood was born in 1914, in Vancouver, BC, to Scottish immigrants Elizabeth Stirling Wood and Robert Wood. He graduated from Magee High School in 1931 then enrolled at UBC and received the degree of BSA in 1935. His 1938 MSA thesis in Dairy Science was completed in part at the Dairy Research Institute of New Zealand, funded with a Carnegie Scholarship and an award from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research of the Commonwealth of New Zealand. His PhD, received from Cornell in 1940, was also on Dairy Science. Later he spoke with nostalgia of his Cornell years, his Cornell mentors, his $50 per year graduate fellowship, his annual spring and fall treks across the continent by Greyhound bus and his summer employment as a caddy and labourer at Marine Drive Golf Course. It was there that he met his future wife Eileen Ford, an undergraduate in Cornell University’s Home Economics Department. In his PhD thesis he acknowledged “E.E.F. for assistance in the preparation of the manuscript”. Alex and Eileen were married on Valentine’s Day, 1942.

Alex accepted a position with the Fisheries Research Board of Canada to conduct research on the vitamin A content of dogfish oils. His next position, with the Defense Research Board, took the family to Kingston, Ontario, then Suffield, Alberta, where Alex participated in Canada’s biological warfare research. That collaborative effort with British and American scientists resulted in a bout of brucellosis and involved him in travel to both Britain and the West Indies. His experiences in New Zealand, the United States and Europe profoundly influenced his attitudes to science and to education.

Alex, Eileen and family returned to Vancouver in 1946 so that Alex could assume a Faculty position at UBC, one that he would hold until 1965. Initially, the Woods’ home on campus was one-half of a wooden army barracks hut, many of which had been pressed into service to provide inexpensive housing for students and faculty.

His first graduate student, Jim Oldfield, was his contemporary and a member of the group of World War II veterans whose return precipitated UBC’s expansion and move to the Point Grey campus. Alex Wood’s commitment was to teach agriculture students and to conduct research that would benefit Canadian agriculture, provided that the research was integral to the University’s teaching programs. During this period he worked closely with graduate students Walter Carlson, Peter Cheeke and David Farrell. He directed the Central Animal Depot, which supplied experimental animals to researchers throughout the Pacific Northwest. His research in animal nutrition contributed fundamental knowledge and was applied to the production of domestic animals and mink. He also collaborated with Ian McTaggart Cowan and Harold Nordan in the area of wildlife biology.

Alex’s UBC years were enriched by his membership in the Harry Hawthorn Foundation, fishing trips with colleagues and Vancouver contacts to Pennask Lake, research trips to Pavilion Ranch with patron Victor Spencer and the serious deliberations of the Parking Committee.

University life during those years seems to have been imbued with a remarkable sense of common purpose, a confidence that University education would better the lives of University students, faculty and the citizens who supported them. Alex and Eileen often recalled fondly President Larry McKenzie’s involvement with all aspects of University life and his personal acquaintance with staff, faculty and students.

The 1960’s brought change. Alex was asked to be a candidate for University administrative posts and agreed to become the first Dean of Arts and Science at the new University of Victoria. The late 1960’s brought turmoil to UVic as well as to other universities. Alex left the Deanship in August, 1967, distressed by the attitudes and behavior of some students and faculty. These events severely curtailed his vision to develop the University according to principles developed during his prior career. As Department Chair, he continued to facilitate the development of the Department of Bacteriology and Biochemistry, which he had founded, until his untimely death in 1976.

This account was written mainly by Alex and Eileen Wood’s daughters, Janet a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Guelph and Sandra a former public servant and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Victoria. Grandson Jeremy Smith was named UVic’s Distinguished Young Alumnus in 2005.

Universities played a profound role in the lives of Alex and Eileen Wood and their family and this is commemorated in scholarships, one at UBC and one at UVic.

R Blair and CR Nichols 2008