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John Seaman Bates.

John Seaman Bates, OC, FCIC, at the age of 103, died on November 26, 1991, in Sackville, NB, where he had resided for the past 20 years. His comment on the modest city where he chose finally to settle down shows the humanity of this ground-breaking engineer, active citizen, and world traveller. "Sackville is the civilization for which the rest of the world is groping."

We should all know of John Bates because he was the last surviving Founding Member of the CIC, and his passing has severed our only remaining link to its origin in 1921. Although there were then few chemists and chemical engineers in Canada, John Bates, with several equally visionary colleagues, sensed the growing national importance of these disciplines, and the value to their practitioners of a country-wide institutional framework to support their endeavors. Earlier he had been one of the founders (1914), and the first chairman (1915-8), of the Technical Section of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association.

His being among the first members of the CIC and the Technical Section should not be surprising. He had a gift for being first. In 1914, he was the first to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering at Columbia University, and that made him the first chemical engineer in Canada to have a PhD degree. He then became the first superintendent of the Forest Products Laboratory of Canada (Montreal, 1914-8), a federal government agency. In industry, he was the first technical superintendent of Price Brothers and Co. (Kenogami, 1919-21), and the first chemical engineer hired by the Bathurst Company (Bathurst, 1921-6). In later public service, he was the first chairman of the Water Authorities of, respectively, New Brunswick (1958-67), Nova Scotia (1963-6), and Prince Edward Island (1966). He was the second president of Canadian Institute of Chemistry. (One of three organizations which formed The Chemical Institute of Canada in 1945.

John Bates was born in Woodstock, Ont. He was still a child when his father died and the family moved to Amherst, NS, where he completed high school. In 1908, he received a BA degree from Acadia University (then Acadia College), and stayed for another year to earn a BSc. He then went on to Columbia for a chemical engineering degree in 1913, and his historic doctorate the following year. His thesis was on the "Chemical Utilization of Southern Pine Waste", and the subject so interested him that Canada almost lost him to the American South.

He did not move south, but, before returning to Canada and the Forest Products Laboratory job, he gained valuable experience -- he called it his apprenticeship -- working for Arthur D. Little, who was then, the head of the renowned consulting company that still bears his name.

The 26-year-old brand-new PhD had barely got the Forest Products Laboratory started, when World War I broke out; half the staff went off to the armed forces, and most of the rest were seconded to war work. Within a year, war work came to the laboratory: for the manufacture of cordite propellent, the British Navy needed large quantities of acetone, which was then a forest product. The only source-worldwide-was the retort-distillation of hardwoods. Knowing that there were not enough wood distillation plants in all of Canada to fill the need, John Bates called on his friends and associates in the then minuscule chemical industry. With nothing to go on except a single textbook reference to a calcium carbide acetylene acetaldehyde acetic acid acetone sequence, the group undertook a period of intensive research. Shawinigan Power already had a carbide plant. In May of 1916, the sod was turned at Shawinigan, and by December a new plant was providing the navy with ten tons of acetone per day.

In World War II, John Bates's main contribution, as manager of the Canadian office of Price and Pierce, Ltd., was to keep Britain supplied with paper from North America. After leaving Price and Pierce in 1951, he spent seven years as an independent consulting engineer and played a key role in establishing a number of new pulp mills and chemical plants. During this time he served for two years (1955-7) as chairman of the New Brunswick Forest Development Commission. Since he spent the next ten years chairing the Water Authorities of three of the Maritime Provinces, it is fair to say that he led an active professional life until he was nearly eighty.

During his entire career, and beyond, John Bates never neglected his obligations to the scientific and technical societies that were always his intense concern. In 1945, he was chairman of the committee that reorganised the CIC and made it a more comfortable home for engineers and technologists by changing its name from the Canadian Institute of Chemistry to The Chemical Institute of Canada. Even in his eighties and nineties, he attended the annual conferences of the CIC whenever they were not too distant from Sackville.

The Technical Section of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association may have been closer to his heart, because he made it a point of honor to attend every one of its Annual Meetings, which are always held in Montreal at the end of January. After he reached ninety, his particular ambition was to be present at the 75th anniversary meeting in 1989. Not only was he present, but, as always, he made his presence felt.

Earlier, in June, 1988, the CIC had honored John Bates on his 100th birthday which had fallen in the week of the Third Chemical Congress of North America in Toronto. At a special session held at the Royal Ontario Museum, scientists from all over North America and beyond saw a multiscreen slide presentation on the last century of chemistry in Canada, in parallel with the life and career of John Bates. Unfortunately, his doctor did not let him come to the Congress, but, on a videotape made for the occasion by Mount Allison University, he sent his own greetings in which he did not fail to offer some advice on protecting the natural environment.

Even when he passed 100, his interest in chemistry continued, and he attended seminars at Mount Allison (where, as in most of Sackville, he was affectionately known as "Dr. John"), sat in the front row, turned up his hearing aid, listened carefully, and then asked penetrating questions.

This year, in his honor, the Atlantic Section inaugurated the John Bates Lectures presented annually by a speaker who tours the Maritimes universities. Regrettably, the honoree was not in his usual place at the inaugural lecture at Mount Allison because he had already begun his terminal stay in hospital.

Despite his last few trying months, his long life had been satisfying and full. He had performed great service to his chosen discipline, to his colleagues in that discipline, and to his country. Will there be another man like him a hundred years from now?
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Author:Bolker, Henry I.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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