Dr. Albert E. Berry, P.Eng. (1894-1984)
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By Tom Davey, Donald Stokoe, P.Eng., Doug McTavish, P.Eng., J.V. Morris, P.Eng.

His technical specialty was the microbiology of pollution to coordinate the fight against disease in human settlement.

On October 6, 1894, in a farmhouse set amid the rich rolling countryside outside St. Marys, Ontario, Albert Edward Berry was born. It was to become an event of great significance to Canadian engineering in general and to Ontario engineering in particular. When Albert first walked to the red-brick schoolhouse at the dawn of the 20th century, few would realize they were seeing the first steps in a brilliant academic career that would make him internationally renowned as an environmental engineer and scientist.

When he was young, water treatment plants, even simple chlorination, hardly existed in Ontario. In his later years, he could look back with pride on a province where 98 per cent of the urban population had drinking water treatment facilities and 94 per cent had sewerage and sewage treatment. This record is achieved by few jurisdictions today.

Dr. Berry was an outstanding and dedicated sanitary engineer in the public service of the province of Ontario. His expertise was known and called upon throughout North America. He attended the University of Toronto and received his B.Sc. in 1917. Upon graduation, he joined the Royal Canadian Engineers and served as a junior officer in Britain and in Canada until 1919. Britain was then a pioneer in sanitary engineering, and the young Lieutenant Berry found much to intrigue him. This was the country of Ardern, Lockett and Fowler, whose discovery of the activated sludge process still remains the single most important discovery in waste water treatment. Dr. Berry met Ardern and was, no doubt, influenced by him.

Following his wartime service, he returned to what was to become the Ontario Department of Health and completed a master’s degree in 1921 with a thesis on refuse collection and disposal. The subject of his thesis, written over 80 years ago, discusses one of our most urgent contemporary problems. But then, Albert Berry always was decades ahead of his time. In 1923, he qualified as a civil engineer. He was recognized to be a founding member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario in 1926.

His decision to take a Ph.D. at the University of Toronto School of Hygiene met opposition. Engineers were not supposed to cross traditional disciplinary lines, and obstacles were placed in his way. But the university was dealing with a very determined man. Not for the first time he would get his way, and in 1926, he gained his Ph.D. in public health with a thesis on the viability of pathogenic organisms in milk. His doctoral thesis was to have far-reaching effects in Ontario for, later, Dr. Berry was instrumental in getting the provincial legislature to make milk pasteurization compulsory. Not only was this legislation the first of its kind in Canada–the move was regarded as precedent-setting internationally.

Berry’s abilities were soon recognized by the Ontario Department of Health, and in 1926, he was appointed director of the department’s Division of Sanitary Engineering. The division’s mandate was broad, including responsibility for public water supplies, public sewerage works, collection and disposal of municipal refuse and related policy matters. Complementary to these responsibilities, the division operated an experimental station for research to advance the state of art in water purification and sewage treatment. He investigated a number of epidemics, including tuberculosis, typhoid and paratyphoid. Some of the episodes resulted from milk contamination, others were caused by water-borne diseases. Much of his work involved checking chlorination dosages for water supplies, decades before the formation of the Ontario Water Resources Commission.

At the time of these investigations, the Department of Health had “mandatory order” authority to compel municipalities to chlorinate or install water filtration plants. Some of these orders were strenuously opposed by municipalities. In one instance, the entire council resigned rather than obey the order. When the council was replaced, the new councillors also resigned, en masse. However, they were fighting a man who was to become renowned for his intelligent and well-intentioned obduracy, and the order was eventually obeyed. Dr. Berry’s tenacity and skill at transforming scientific knowledge into legislative action did not go unnoticed by Queen’s Park. Government officials could not avoid his expressed thinking about radical changes in water resources management.

Berry recognized that the Ontario Department of Health was successful at combatting episodes of illness due to infection by bacteria. His successful campaigns extended to improved food inspection, pasteurization of milk and sterilization of water supplies. He advocated an approach that would broaden the objectives of water resources management beyond the public health mandate to include protection of water resource systems.

The concept of the Ontario Water Resources Commission (OWRC) emerged as a result of briefs prepared by the Pollution Control Board of Ontario for then-premier Leslie Frost. The board was formed by Dr. Berry as a loose-knit group of civil servants from various departments with special interest in water supply and pollution control. Prompted by these briefs, the province formed a Water Supply Committee with A. M. Snider as chairman and Dr. Berry as secretary. The committee recommended that a commission, similar to Ontario Hydro, be formed to give financial aid to municipalities for water and sewerage works. Premier Frost had earlier discussions with the like-minded American President Dwight Eisenhower. The government adopted the recommendations of the committee, and under Dr. Berry’s guidance, the Water Resource Commission Act (OWRA) of 1955 was passed. The results are history.

Dr. Berry was particularly proud of the OWRC and its laboratories, currently located on Resources Road in Toronto. It is reputed that Dr. Berry told Premier Frost that “we need such a laboratory,” and Frost just said to “go ahead”–it was that simple in those days. In 1957, the Sanitary Engineering Division of the Ontario Department of Health was reorganized, and its water resources functions with associated works were transferred to the newly created OWRC. Dr. Berry was appointed general manager and chief engineer. During his tenure as general manager of the OWRC, he oversaw the construction of numerous regional water supply systems and the development of the commission into a dynamic force in the drive towards first-rate water supply and sewage treatment facilities throughout the province.

Dr. Berry was criticized for being reluctant to delegate. He was deeply involved in design approvals, draft regulations and research projects, which along with enormous administrative and political pressures, not to mention his role in various associations, presented a burden that would have crushed lesser men. A visit to his home in St. Marys revealed many unusual facets of this amazing man. The grandfather clock, which chimed regularly, was assembled by him. Examination of some of the household artifacts revealed that he was a skilled woodcarver. Also, he was an artist of unquestioned merit. From a man who exercised strong, vigorous leadership all of his working life, one might have expected bold strokes and vivid colors to be a characteristic of his paintings. On the contrary, the canvases combined unexpected subtlety in color and draftsmanship.

During his career, Dr. Berry was persistently active in many professional associations that addressed all aspects of sanitary engineering. During 1944/1945, he served as president of the Water Pollution Control Federation. He was president of the American Water Works Association during 1951/1952. Concurrently, and over a period of 17 years, he was a member of the advisory board of the International Joint Commission. While in public service, he was appointed associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto. From 1928 to 1958, he taught undergraduate and graduate engineering students in public health and sanitary engineering.

Official retirement came in 1963. A widower since 1968, Dr. Berry was a man who had everything–except children, an irony for one whose work most certainly saved the lives of thousands of infants in the days of frequent epidemics. Upon his retirement, he became consultant to the World Health Organization and the Canadian International Development Association.

Besides members of the public sector (in academia, at Queen’s Park, in politics and international government), those who paid attention to Dr. Berry included respectful, creative individuals in the private sector. Professional engineers, entrepreneurs and skilled craftsmen would join to enhance public health by designing and building the systems required to bring about the radical changes in water resources management proposed by Dr. Berry. Their sincere respect for Dr. Berry is expressed in the numerous awards they gave him during his career and after retirement:

American Water Works Association

1938 – Fuller Award,

1949 – Goodell Prize,

1968 – Ambassador Award;

Water Pollution Control Federation

1944 – Kenneth Allen Award,

1959 – Charles Alvin Emerson Award,

1966 – Bedell Award,

1981 – Gordon Maskew Fair Medal;

Canadian Institute on Pollution Control

1965 – James F. MacLaren Award for Achievement in Pollution Control;

Other Distinctions

1963 - Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science, University of Toronto,

1965 - The Golden Wrench, Ontario Association of Plumbing Inspectors,

1967 - Julian Crandall Conservation Trophy,

1969, 1975 - Honorary President, Ontario Municipal Water Association,

1971 – Professional Engineers Gold Medal, APEO, for Outstanding

1971 – Dr. Albert E. Berry Water Works Award (a scholarship established at the University of Toronto by Canadian Section, American Water Works Association),

1973 – Member, Order of Canada,

1973 – Engineering Alumni Medal, University of Toronto, and

1977 – Induction into the Engineering Alumni Hall of Distinction, University of Toronto.

After a full life of acknowledged, distinguished engineering service,
Dr. A. E. Berry died in St Marys, Ontario, on October 19, 1984, at the age of 90.

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