Marian Bruce. Pets, Professors, and Politicians: The Founding and Early Years of the Atlantic Veterinary College. Charlottetown: Island Studies Press, 2004. Pp. 232.

When a copy of Marian Bruce’s Pets, Professors, and Politicians: The Founding and Early Years of the Atlantic Veterinary College first landed on my desk, I was struck with a sense of cynicism. Surely, I thought, a book-length study of this training facility, located on the University of Prince Edward Island campus in Charlottetown, would suffer from the dual sins of historical insignificance and being a dull read. After all, the Atlantic Veterinary College began operations a mere two decades ago could there possibly be enough material to warrant such a publication? As it turns out, my initial reaction was unfounded on both counts.

While the Atlantic Veterinary College did not open its doors to students until 1986, its history goes further back. A report commissioned by Agriculture Canada in 1970 revealed that there was a shortage of veterinarians in the country. With only three training colleges the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, the Université de Montréal’s Faculté de medicine vétérinaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec, and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan many in the Canadian veterinarian community began to voice the opinion that a fourth should be established. While such sentiments were far from universal some believed the best course of action would be simply to expand class sizes in the existing institutions the idea of establishing a veterinary college in Atlantic Canada would soon emerge as the prime option.

Given the investment and various spin-offs that the proposed veterinary college would bring to a community, the provincial government of Prince Edward Island eagerly pursued the school. Likewise, the nascent University of Prince Edward Island, formed in 1969, saw this potential addition as a way to forge a distinctive identity. In attempting to land the veterinary college the Island university had a number of strong selling points in its favour. Chief among these was the agrarian nature of Prince Edward Island. With an abundance of farms located just minutes outside Charlottetown, the college would have ready access to the livestock necessary for clinical studies. Furthermore, the provincial government argued that placing the college locally was a matter of fairness. Since there were no professional university programs on the Island, its citizens seeking such an education were forced to travel to neighbouring provinces. Beyond the apparent "brain drain," this proved costly for the Island government, as they were forced to pay the government share for each Island student’s education, even if it was obtained in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. Arguing "the funding formula was weakening the economy of the Island and the fabric of its new university" (p. 50), the government felt that placing the college on the University of Prince Edward Island campus would be an important step in equalizing the flow of post-secondary dollars.

As could be expected, with such a highly prized institution at stake, the Island’s effort to land the veterinary college did not go uncontested. A rival bid to bring the school to the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro quickly emerged. Aggressively backed by the Nova Scotia government, the Agriculture College’s bid was boosted by the complimentary relationship between agriculture and the veterinary profession. It was also reasoned that locating the veterinary college in Truro would allow the college to benefit from the extensive scientific research infrastructure at Dalhousie University, located sixty miles away in Halifax.

Despite fierce competition from their Nova Scotia counterparts, the University of Prince Edward Island was designated the top site for the college in an August 1975 report submitted to the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, which was the body responsible for selecting a location. Despite this, the Nova Scotia government continued to press on. Fearful that a forfeit of its claim would prove costly at the next election, the Nova Scotia government dragged its heels in negotiating an interprovincial cost-sharing agreement for the college, without which the school could not commence operations. Nonetheless, preparations for the new college began at the University of Prince Edward Island when a "Senior Administrative Officer," charged with overseeing the planning of the new school, was hired in September 1978. Nearly four years would pass before the Nova Scotia government, convinced that the political backlash would be minimal, signed an agreement to locate the college in Charlottetown. A decade of often bitter lobbying had ended with the University of Prince Edward Island winning the much-desired addition to its campus.

While the key strength of Pets, Professors, and Politicians is Bruce’s ability to document the political wrangling that predated the veterinary school’s establishment, the book also provides an interesting examination of the early relationship between the Atlantic Veterinary College and the University of Prince Edward Island. While many within the campus community welcomed the new college, others viewed its arrival with disdain. Fearful that the sizeable addition would siphon precious funding from the traditional Arts and Sciences programs, they watched with some envy as the newly arrived veterinary faculty were treated to pay scales surpassing their own. Most intriguing is the author’s depiction of the working relationship between the college and Dr. Willie Eliot, the university president from 1985 to 1995. A classical scholar "exquisitely sensitive to protocol," Eliot strived "to ensure that the college would not consider itself a semi-autonomous entity" (p. 108). This resulted in a number of unpopular decisions early in the college’s history. Such decisions were highlighted by the graduation of the first class in 1990. Rather than holding their convocation in the aged university gymnasium, the veterinary graduates attempted to organize their own ceremony at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. Eliot blocked this effort, stating that they must attend the same ceremony as the other University of Prince Edward Island graduates.

Written in a lively manner, and handsomely designed, Pets, Professors, and Politicians is the product of thorough research. Utilizing contemporary newspaper and magazine articles, as well as university and government reports, Bruce also conducted over eighty interviews with key individuals. Likewise, the inclusion of thirteen appendices provides interesting information, ranging from the school mission statement to listings of its graduates and tenure-stream faculty, and a chronology of important events in the school’s history. Despite this, the discerning reader may find fault in a number of areas. There are typos in the text the list of interviews on page 224, for example, cites Jim Lee twice. There are also problems with the index: although it cites a reference to the Nova Scotia Agriculture College on page 29, an examination of this page reveals no reference to said school. More significantly, the author fails to address the experience of students attending the Atlantic Veterinary College in anything more than a fleeting manner. How did these students, the majority of whom came from off-Island, adjust to life in Charlottetown? What was their social life like? How did these students, most having already attained bachelor degrees and many having completed graduate degrees interact with the younger campus population at the University of Prince Edward Island? These are but a few questions that deserve consideration but did not find their way into this slim volume.

Pets, Professors, and Politicians provides an interesting account of the Atlantic Veterinary College’s early history. While those with an interest in veterinary education will enjoy this book, I suspect that the major benefit of this publication arises from Bruce’s dissection of the behind-the-scenes politicking that led to the school’s establishment.

Ryan O’Connor
University of Western Ontario