William Blackwood was a skilled machinist and agriculturalist, who served as a visionary instructor of agricultural engineering at the Ontario Agricultural College for most of his career. He taught at a time when most farmers were still using horse-drawn machines and rural Ontario was plagued with inefficiencies, making his innovative work and visionary mind all the more important. Blackwood ushered in a transitional era of scientific ingenuity and expansion, during which time steam and gasoline powered tractors first began to develop into viable farming equipment.
William Blackwood was born in Harriston, Ontario, in 1879, the youngest child of Scottish parents Robert and Isabella. After graduating from high school with a matriculation in 1896, Blackwood began a teaching career throughout rural Ontario before enrolling in the University of Toronto in 1902. There he would occasionally teach lectures to pay for his tuition before graduating sometime between 1906 and 1910. From there he went on to become a lecturer in the physics department at the Toronto Central Technical School before becoming the department’s head in 1915.
In 1919, his long career with the O.A.C. began when he was offered the position of Head of the Physics Department at the college. Upon taking up this position, Blackwood promptly began setting about solving all of the problems that the agricultural community in rural Ontario faced, one of which was soil drainage. Blackwood led the department in the surveying of farm lands before initiating successful draining projects. Another issue he dealt with was farm land clearance. Blackwood, an expert in the use of explosives, initiated several studies on the use of explosives for agricultural land-clearance in 1925. This work culminated in nine successful demonstrations throughout Ontario in 1931, some of which likely presided over by Blackwood himself. These projects and others contributed to the improvement of Ontario’s farm land.
Blackwood and his successful operations were directly responsible for the creation of agricultural engineering as a course option. He was given a teaching role in the Department of Farm Mechanics in 1921, before taking up the role of Head of Agricultural Engineering in 1928. Through his work with these departments and through his lectures he attempted to bring about a new, competent, and informed body of students who could thrive in the changing and increasingly scientifically-oriented agricultural world.
Far from just being a brilliant engineer, Blackwood was deeply involved on a social level in his cherished school’s community, coaching the championship winning soccer team, participating in a singing group, writing articles for the O.A.C. review, and even acting. Blackwood was so beloved by his students that he was garnered with the title of Honorary Class President five times during his tenure.
Following his death in 1961, the W.C. Blackwood Memorial Entrance Scholarship was made dedication to his work. Blackwood Hall was named in his honour in 1978. His contributions to the O.A.C. and rural Ontario at large have created a lasting legacy in the realm of agricultural engineering, and it is not unreasonable to say that his work is responsible for setting agricultural engineering on the path that brought it to where it is today.