Saturday, 14 September 2013 23:50

Ross Irwin: A history in 3 parts

1920 – 1953: the early years

Ross was born in Cambray, Ontario on Sept 11, 1921. During WW2, he served with the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Association for 45 months in Italy and NW Europe. Following his army service he trained as a machinist but then entered the Ontario Agricultural College in 1947 with the then largest BSA degree program. Ross completed his final year of his BSA (Agricultural Mechanics) graduating in 1951. Upon graduating, he worked as a field drainage engineer before going off to Iowa State to complete his MS degree

1953 -1987:  the working years

Ross returned to OAC where he taught soil mechanics and was the principal extension person for the School of Engineering. His specialty was farm drainage and in 1957 he published the Drainage Guide for Ontario, which became the technical standard for farmers, tile drainage contractors and drainage engineers for the draining of Ontario farmland. He went on to revise this publication 11 times as new information became available. The technical information and format was used by drainage specialists across the north-eastern US to develop their own guides for their individual states.

Through his training courses and extension work, he organized the first meetings of the drainage contractors of Ontario to exchange ideas, to solve problems and set standards for tile drainage installation.  This led to the birth of the Ontario Farm Drainage Association (now LICO, the Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario) in 1959. He developed the Drainage Schools for training contractors on proper drainage design and installation.

His research was particularly adept at moving innovations from the lab to the field. In the early years, his work on plastic drainage tubing helped to assure traditional drainage people that the new tubing could withstand the pressure of the earth and endure as long as clay tile. He developed the “thumb” test to determine if the tiles from an individual tile manufacturer were strong enough to stand up to the stress of installation and soil settlement. He created and demonstrated the “coffee can” test to illustrate whether or not a soil need a filter around the tile or tubing.

Ross chaired the committee assigned the task of consolidating Ontario’s drainage legislation in 1962.  He was a consultant to the provincial government after the Select Committee on Land Drainage report was filed in 1974 and to a great extent guided the drafting of the Drainage Act 1975.

A long time guide to the Ontario Good Roads Association, Ross suggested and helped develop the Road schools, held annually at the University of Guelph and now in their 30th year. These schools, originally for those road superintendents most concerned with drainage, has now attracted all employees of the municipality concerned with roads.

During these years, Ross continued his interest in the various forms of history and completed several histories of the School of Engineering at the University of Guelph.

1987 - 2013 the retirement years

These years gave Ross the opportunity to work full time on his love of "former things" - people, stamps, and medals. He was a researcher and chronicler of Guelph’s history spending many hours researching at the Guelph Public Library. He was president of the Guelph historical society for 5 years. In his writing, he tolerated elegant prose but thought it an unnecessary time-consuming way to convey essential information. He collected war medals and memorabilia, postage stamps and coins. He was a member of the Guelph Wellington Men's Club for which he served as president from 1992-93. Ross was seldom missing nor at a loss for a question or a comment.

Ross continued his interest in drainage, contributing to the latest revision of the Drainage Guide for Ontario published in 2007.  He also continued to contribute to the annual LICO convention which he attended for 52 consecutive years.

He served as a member of the board of his church for many years and knew the workings of the building thoroughly.  As he did with his involvement with LICO, he kept a close eye on the operating expenses and always considered thoroughly the value for money spent. As a regular morning coffee drinker, Ross had a great problem when the local Mcdonalds with its 99 cent cup of coffee, closed.

Ross was inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2006. He was a life member of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering, the Ontario Good Roads Association and of LICO. He was a winner of a Blue Ribbon for the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, the Centennial Medal of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mint Award for dissemination of numismatic knowledge.  Ross was an accomplished musician who played euphonium in the Guelph Concert Band.

The drainage industry and his long time home of Guelph have lost a valued friend, a dedicated worker and an all round great man.



Written by John R. Ogilvie and Franklin Kains

Read 2261 times Last modified on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 21:59

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