Faculty Founder
Dean Emeritus
Professor Emeritus, Cereal Husbandry

Leonard Klinck was born in 1877 in Victoria Square, Ontario, of Pennsylvania-Dutch-Canadian ancestry. He attended elementary school in Markham Township, high school in Richmond Hill, and Model School in Newmarket, Ontario. In his early years he was actively engaged in farming and taught school for three years before proceeding to the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) of the University of Toronto. His friendship from age eleven with Dr Zavitz and the reading of a book, Scientific Agriculture, by President Mills of OAC and Dr C C James, deputy minister of agriculture for Ontario, inspired him to continue education. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in 1903, he pursued graduate studies at the University of Minnesota under Dr Willet M Hayes, where he gained experience in plant breeding, and with Dr Perry Holden at Iowa State College, where he continued his studies in plant breeding and developed a comprehensive understanding of the spirit and philosophy of university extension and adult education and of the complementary and supplementary relationship between teaching and research.

For nine years he served as Professor and Head of the Department of Cereal Husbandry at MacDonald College of McGill University, the first faculty appointee after the principal, Dr James W Robertson. According to reports it was there that Dr Klinck first demonstrated his outstanding personal characteristics of universal courtesy and understanding of leadership.

During his vacations Dr Klinck visited the prairie provinces, assisting in the work of the Canadian Seed Grower’s Association and studying at first hand recently established innovations in agricultural education, particularly at the universities of Saskatchewan and Alberta. He often referred to Dr W C Murray, president of the University of Saskatchewan, as his Gamaliel (a biblical term meaning camel of God – Eds), and owed much to his friendship with Dr Murray when he himself took up the task of providing leadership to the building of the University of BC.

Dean Eagles in a tribute to Dr Klinck in 1957 recalled that “Dr Klinck first came to UBC early in 1914 to advise and collaborate with President Wesbrook and the Board of Governors in planning the future university. His name had been proposed to Dr Wesbrook by President Murray and by Dr C C James, who had recently become commissioner of agriculture for Canada. He arrived in Vancouver in May 1914, and examined with the President, among other matters, the reports of the University Site Commission and the Committee of Landscape Architects, and discussed with Premier McBride the proposed sites for the Faculty of Agriculture. The allocation by the government in 1917 of an additional 298 acres of land for the use of the university was due largely to his recommendation that provision should be made at Point Grey for the outdoor laboratory facilities of the Faculties of Agriculture and Forestry.

As President Wesbrook and Dr Klinck pursued their discussions with respect to University Policy, they were drawn to one another through a common understanding of the functions of a provincial university. It is easy to appreciate the attachment that grew up between them. President Wesbrook’s inspired concept of the University-to-be exemplified by his statement “The people’s University must meet all the needs of all the people” could not help but strike a most responsive chord in Dr Klinck. Although their educational paths had been different, one in medicine and the other in agriculture, they met on common ground as biologists and approached the problems before them through both “the mind and the eye.”

Dr and Mrs Klinck and son Ronald left MacDonald College on August 1, 1914. Almost before they reached Vancouver, world events (the First World War – Eds) halted the construction of the first permanent building at Point Grey. Thus as Dean Klinck began his work at the university he experienced the realities of disappointment and frustration attendant upon its birth. In laying the foundation stones of our University, President Wesbrook was helped to a great degree by the unflinching loyalty and unselfish zeal so freely given by Dean Klinck, who assumed much of the burden of the Presidency as the President’s health began to fail and who was appointed Acting President during the final period of his illness. On June 1, 1919, Dean Klinck, with humble hesitation, accepted the high responsibilities of the office of President of the University of BC.

Graduate study at Iowa State College under Dr Perry G Holden served to develop in him a comprehensive understanding of the spirit and philosophy of adult education and university extension. Some thirty years later this philosophy found expression in the creation of our Department of University Extension of which a minute of the Board of Governors states “…by insisting that the larger part of the only large sum of money ever received as a gift by the university should be spent on University Extension, President Klinck may have changed the whole trend of thoughts in BC. With this magnificent gesture he has taken the University back to the people who have it and are supporting it, he has enriched and stimulated the eager mind, he has warmed the lonely heart.” Dr Klinck embraced the university motto “tuum est” as his own during his 20 years as President. He insisted upon keeping the university within reach of the people.

As Dean of Agriculture at UBC from 1914-1919, Dr Klinck was responsible for the organization and development of this Faculty within the university. The clearing of the land at Point Grey claimed his personal attention as he lived in a tent on the university grounds and contemplated how the faculty he was establishing could best discharge its educational and economic obligations in teaching, research and extension and take its proper place as a partner in the building of the university. The experimental work, which led to the development of UBC Rhizoma alfalfa, was also carried on by him at this time. He travelled throughout the provinces learning at first hand the conditions under which agriculture was practised and giving highly appreciated lectures.

The dignity and humility of Dr. Klinck’s character is revealed in his own words as he replied to the citation on the occasion of the conferring on him by the University of the degree of Doctor of Science, May 12 1944.

“Today, pride in achievement is tempered by the poignant recollection of unattained objectives. Of the visions and dreams and plans a-plenty of the past three decades, few, very few indeed, have been transmuted into realities. The academic structure, so auspiciously begun under the first President, the late Dr Frank Fairchild Wesbrook, is still grievously restricted. Nevertheless, others have caught something of the vision he saw so clearly – the vision of an ever-expanding university – a university of a thousand years. If, in the beginnings thus far made, the principles of sound learning have been faithfully observed and discerningly applied, the official passing of a pioneer worker today is of little moment.””

Dr Klinck’s personal activities carried him far beyond academia. He served as first President of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, which honoured him in 1966 with the establishment of the Leonard S Klinck Lectureship Series. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1942. For many years he served as president of the BC Branch of the British and Foreign bible Society, as a Governor of Union College, and as a member of the Advisory Board of the YMCA.

Among the honours and awards received by Dr Klinck was the title of “Officier de l’Instruction Publique”, the highest honour of its kind granted by the government of France. The French Consul in Vancouver, Mr P Suzor, conferred the award on April 26th, 1931, in recognition of “the rarely high standard achieved by UBC under its present worthy president, in teaching the French language and French literature”. In accepting the award Dr Klinck emphasized that he stood decorated before the world, not as an individual, but as a symbol and sign that the University of BC, young as it was, is progressive in the cause of international friendliness and understanding.

He also received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Western University.

Dr Klinck was awarded an Honorary Life Membership in the Alumni Association of the university at the time of his retirement in 1944. The citation read in part:

“There has always been a group of students on our campus carrying the responsibility of problems that, ordinarily at other universities, would be entirely the business of the administration. But that has been the most constant feature of the tradition at UBC; it has been the business of the students and the young graduates to concern themselves with matters affecting the formulation of university policy. As this has been a feature of our tradition in which we have always taken pride, so also it has entered into our relationship with the President, and you, sir, alone, will know to what extent it has made the relationship an easy instead of a difficult one.

We feel that it has provided us with common ground on which to meet with you. It has been your concern to endow our university with the highest standards. In its infancy academic standards were established which led to honours for its graduates all over the world. More recently those standards have been maintained against a host of forces loosened around us, and again, you alone must know how patient and indefatigable must be the guard in a democratic society to protect our highest interests. For what you have done in this regard we owe you a debt that we cannot measure.”

Leonard Sylvanus Klinck, President Emeritus of the University of BC, died in 1969 shortly after his ninety-second birthday. He will be remembered as an educational pioneer who had served for five years as the first Dean of Agriculture at the University of BC and for a quarter of a century as its President. Fulfilling his duties had not been easy. A chronic shortage of funds following the first World War and a severe reduction in the University grant after the Great Depression combined to make his work more than usually difficult.

By the time he retired only one other university president in Canada had had a longer tenure in office. The task that Dr Klinck assumed in 1919 would have disheartened a man of less courage and of smaller faith. Save for a single building, loaned by the government, the university began its uphill climb in tents and shacks. There were at that time 52 faculty members and 538 students. By 1939 the University had its own site of 548 acres with 121 faculty and 2520 students, and had taken a leading position in the intellectual life of BC. It was recognized that the credit for the high standard of the faculty which was reflected in the scholarship and eminence of the students was due to the leadership of Dr Klinck.

Dr Klinck was a pioneer with vision who did his utmost to endow the University of BC with the highest standards. He was Canada’s senior agricultural scientist and the builder of a university which bestowed upon him at the time of his retirement in 1944 a degree never before conferred by the university – Doctor of Science, honoris causa maximi.

In 2008 Dr Klinck received, posthumously, one of the nine LFS Centenary Awards which recognized the outstanding achievements of UBC Faculty.

R Blair and C R Nichols, 2005, from UBC Archives