Marquis Wheat – Part 1

This morning, the Marquis wheat at the Galt Museum & Archives was harvested. It was a relatively small yield: about three paper bags full. But it reflects the inestimable contribution Marquis wheat has made.

The first recorded plantings of wheat in western Canada was by the first group of 22 settlers who came to the area where the Red River meets the Assiniboine on 30 August 1812. They planted the winter wheat they had brought with them from Scotland. To understate the case, harvest did not go at all well for them that year, or in the following years. There are few records of the varieties planted, their yields or the exact locations of the fields but none of the varieties could contend with the growing conditions found in Canada. Decades later, through serendipitous happenstance, a new variety of wheat commonly known as Red Fife was planted. It provided a reasonable harvest and matured before rust became a problem. By the 1880s, Red Fife was widely grown and prized because of its high productivity and excellent milling and baking qualities. It was a welcomed change for Canadian settlers, who responded by increasing land dedicated to growing wheat. This new wheat crazy caused an explosion of land development, as well as growth of the established railway systems.

At about this same time the Government of Canada set up a series of experimental farms. Dr. William Saunders, a pharmacist, was the first Directory of the Experimental Farm system. His particular interest was in plant breeding. And the fact that he had two sons who developed an interest in botany and became professionals in the field, is, as they say, “the rest of the story!”

Marquis Wheat Part 2 will be published at the end of September. In the meantime, to be part of the team of volunteers who tend to the Native Plant Garden at the Galt Museum & Archives, contact Beatrice Milner at for more information.

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