May 22, 2014

Life Profile – Patrick Feeney Suessmuth

Written by his good friend of many years: Robyn Peterson

Pat was born in Toronto in September of 1938. He spent his childhood in West Toronto. The family later moved to Etobicoke and Pat attended Etobicoke Collegiate. He went on to the University of Guelph, majoring in biology. After university, he took a position with the Department of Lands and Forests at Queen’s Park.

Pat served as the training officer for the Department. In this role he instituted instructional techniques and supervisory training programmes across the province. These were centred in the Forestry School in Dorset. Pat initiated programmes to which he invited trainers from other provincial departments. His series focusing on management training films became quite famous throughout the government.

In the early 1970s, Pat left his government position and launched his own training company, Cantra Training Limited. He bought a house on Bathurst Street a few blocks north of Bloor Street, which became the headquarters for his new company. His business thrived and Cantra became known for providing quality training programmes. Pat also became known for working with innovative techniques. Clients included Humber College, American Standard, the Department of Lands and Forests (later Natural Resources), the TTC, and others.

The magazine, Canadian Training Methods, was launched at about the same time as Cantra. Pat became one of the principal writers for this magazine, edited by Richard Guerrier. Marit Stengels was an associate editor. She and Pat met and later married. The marriage didn’t last and a divorce ensued. Pat then married Marigold McGregor, who worked for an advertising agency in Toronto. The pair of them hit it off well, and they made lots of plans for the future.

Pat and Marigold decided they would like a place in the country. Marigold loved horses and horseback riding. She dreamed of a beautiful place in the country where people could come to ride. They found a place on Erin’s Fourth Line and fell in love with it. They had all sorts of plans to fix the place up and make it a place where people would love to gather and, not incidentally, do some horseback riding.

In November of 1977, after a pre-Christmas visit to her sister’s place in Stayner, Marigold was killed in a head-on vehicle collision on Airport Road. Her loss devastated Pat. He didn’t know how he would carry on without her. The house on the Fourth Line, a place where so many dreams had been made, became a place of deepest sorrow and neglect.

Slowly, Pat recovered, at least a little. His business continued and he hosted meetings at his house of prominent trainers from different parts of the province and sometimes from other provinces. He became known as an excellent chef, and people made many good comments about the quality of the food he provided, as well as the stimulating discussions that occurred.

Pat became a well-known and respected figure in the Ontario Society for Training and Development (OSTD). He would take part prominently in OSTD meetings at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. He also played a leading role in developing training standards for corporate and public trainers in Ontario. In 1985, along with Bill Cumberland, he served as editor of the seminal publication, Weighted Bibliography Learning Resources for TD/HRD Practitioners. This publication proved significant in laying the groundwork for training and educational practices related to the fields of business, industry, and public service.

In 1986 Pat founded, along with Art Horrox of Winnipeg, the publishing company “Paracan”.  This publishing company was formed to publish books and journals related to education and training across Canada. In 1987 Paracan published Competency Analysis for Trainers: A Professional Assessment and Development Guide. The editors of this publication were Pat and Stewart M. West. It was published with the support of the OSTD.

In 1986 Pat’s book, Training Ideas Found Useful, had come out. It was a compendium of his articles over the years in Canadian Training Methods. It met good acceptance in the training and education communities.

Unfortunately, Pat’s partnership with Art Horrox did not last. They fell out over disagreements related to publishing policies, and the partnership dissolved.

Although he dated different women, Pat never married again. He never forgot Marigold and didn’t find her like again.

In the late 1980s business began to dry up. The community colleges were becoming more active in the field of corporate training, and small operators gradually were pushed aside. This process was accelerated by the 1988 Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which led to large American training corporations entering the Canadian picture. Cantra faded and the magazine, Canadian Training Methods, was wound down.

Pat turned more and more to basketball as a focus for his activities. He had always loved the game, and he poured himself into it. He had a prominent role in the forming of Erin Hoops to promote basketball locally. He also worked for a time at Steen’s Dairy. He became well known and respected in the community, although he was sometimes seen as controversial because of his strong views about how to get things done.

A young man, Malcolm Vipond, joined Pat at the farm as a boarder in the 1990s. Malcolm worked as a supervisor at Lever Mushrooms in Campbellville, and he was able to help Pat with various tasks around the farm. At one point Malcolm hoped to establish a business at the farm for growing oyster mushrooms. Pat provided advice on this. Unfortunately, because of repeated viral outbreaks in the growing mushrooms, Malcolm was unable to establish his planned business.

Pat liked to organize different basketball events at local schools. This included Erin Public School and Erin District High School. From time to time he went to other schools such as the ones in Brisbane and Ospringe. When the latter school was closed as a public school, it re-opened as a special education centre for troubled teens. Pat participated in some of the founding activities and provided support to that centre whenever he could.

He would also drive into Guelph quite often to play basketball at his alma mater, the University of Guelph.

A major activity involved the organizing of summer camps in Erin. Over the years these expanded in an impressive way and took in many sports and recreational activities beyond basketball. 

Pat ran into problems from time to time in his dealings with the Upper Grand District School Board. These generally focused on the fees charged and the scheduling arrangements. He was frustrated on different occasions when he put in a lot of work to organize something, thinking his schedule was all set, only to have his booking cancelled at the last moment by the school concerned. He began to think in terms of having his own centre where he could be sure about having space when needed for different activities.

When the new Erin District High School was built at the end of the 1990s, Pat saw an opportunity as discussion swirled around the establishment of Centre 2000. The Centre was to combine the high school with the Erin library, the old Shamrock Room, a theatre, and professional offices, as well as the hockey arena. Pat thought Erin Hoops and its activities could fit into this new arrangement.

Unfortunately, Pat ran into continuing problems with scheduling and costs at the new high school gymnasium. He would frequently drive into Guelph to go over matters with the officials at the Upper Grand District School Board. He found his dealings with different officials to be deeply frustrating and wondered why more couldn’t be done properly to accommodate the young people of the community.

When Erin Public School moved into the former Erin District High School structure, the old Erin Public School stood disused. Pat saw an opportunity. He arranged to rent the gymnasium part of the disused school. He named it Main Place and it became the base for Erin Hoops. He also made some connections with the Toronto Raptors and would enjoy occasional trips to the Air Canada Centre to take in games.

Pat turned to his friend, Dave Ingham, for advice and help on setting up Main Place properly. Dave had frequently helped Pat on the farm and was very capable with various kinds of tools and heavy equipment. Dave and Pat got on very well and together they were able to make Main Place suitable for the many activities being planned.

Over time, Main Place became the base for many other activities as well. Today, Main Place is an institution in its own right in Erin.

Early in the new century, Pat heard about an organization being formed in Toronto called SPACE. The acronym stood for: “Save Public Access to Community Space Everywhere”. Pat was intrigued. SPACE would bring together such organizations as the Childrens’ Aid Society of Toronto, Applegrove Community Centre, Guides Canada, Scouts Canada, the Ontario Sport Alliance, and many others. The purpose of the organization would be to provide a continuing forum for like-minded community groups interested in promoting more community participation for the people of Ontario. It was especially concerned with achieving better relationships and more accommodation with local school boards. Pat contacted Ann Fitzpatrick at Childrens’ Aid and started to attend the meetings Ann organized at the Childrens’ Aid offices in Toronto.

Pat hoped to see much more openness to the idea of building participation and opportunity for the youth of the province. He was particularly incensed about the way youth violence was dealt with. He felt that repressive methods were counter-productive. Not only that, but such methods ended up being much more expensive than providing proper accommodation for young people to begin with. He was deeply and passionately committed to this ideal.

Pat was very much a believer in the wise use of positive reinforcement. He felt that people weren’t rewarded often enough for their efforts. This applied to young people, but it also applied to adults. In fact, Pat very much liked the idea of trying to launch a programme in Erin to encourage people to be positive in all ways possible in their dealings with each other. He was sure that such a programme could result in a happier and healthier community.

The Optimist Club of Erin gave Pat public recognition and some support. Pat was very proud of this. He very much wanted to establish Main Place and its many activities as a viable, exciting, and continuing part of the community.

For the Summer Camps of 2014 Main Place has plans for camps involving baseball; badminton; basketball; the Erin Olympics; the Mighty, Mighty Dance Camp; arts, crafts and games; drama-skits; photography (digital); video/film production; floor hockey (with ball); skateboarding; biking; rollerblading; laser tag; archery; fine arts; scooters; plasma cars; unicycling; AM fort building, PM Movies; AM Variety Fun & PM Movies; variety sports; soccer. Things have gone well beyond basketball! Pat would certainly want all these camps (and more?) to continue.

Pat put his heart and soul into establishing and maintaining the activities of Main Place. He would work to exhaustion, often well into the night, to make things happen. He taught his coaches that the coach’s prime goal was to keep in mind, “kids first”. He believed in this deeply. For him the real needs of the young were of pre-eminent importance, first, last, and always. He lived this ideal with all the strength and conviction of his being.

Well done, Pat! Well done!