When the Ontario Agricultural College was established in 1880, Dr. James Mills, the principal of the Brantford Collegiate Institute, accepted an invitation to become the first president.
With characteristic enthusiasm he proceeded to transform the newly-established college from a political whipping post to a world-renowned institution of higher learning. His pleasing personality enabled him to attract a number of very competent young men to the staff.
Realizing the importance of research, and of getting the results thereof into the hands of the farmers, he sent his professors to talk to groups of farm people. In 1885, at his suggestion, these groups organized themselves into Farmers’ Institutes, and in 1887, the independent groups formed a provincial organization. Thus he can be truly described as the father of agricultural extension in Canada.
Impressed by the success of the farmer’s institute movement, farm women began to meet in groups for their mutual benefit. This led to the formation of Women’s Institutes and, eventually, to the establishment of MacDonald Institute on the campus at Guelph.
Dr. Mills was a brilliant scholar, an outstanding administrator, and a successful teacher. Under his guidance, the Ontario Agricultural College developed to a position of leadership in agricultural research and education.
Upon his retirement in 1904, he became a member of the Board of Railway Commissioners, a position that he held for many years.