Marquis Wheat – Part II

Thanksgiving has come and gone and now we continue the Marquis Wheat story that seemed to catch readers intrigue last month.

We left the story of the development of Marquis Wheat in about 1886 with a whole bunch of farmers growing Red Fife wheat pretty successfully and with the appointment of Dr. William Saunders as Director of the new experimental farms. Dr. Saunders had three significant things going for him: he was interested in plant breeding, he listened to the needs of farmers and he had two sons who became professionals in the field of botony. He started a program to improve the wheat varieties currently grown and began this project by importing different wheat varieties from around the world. They were grown next to Red Fife plots so their productivity could be compared as they ripened.

By 1888 hundreds of crossings had been carried out by Dr. Saunders, his sons A.P. (Percy) and Charles, always with one of the descendants of the Red Fife variety. Remember, plant breeding was “new technology” in those days so this was a big deal. Long story cut short, in 1904 Charles discovered a new variety called Marquis. It was a cross between the early-ripening Indian wheat Hard Red Calcutta and Red Fife made by Percy in 1892. Full-scale field trials were followed in 1909 by distribution to the public. By 1918 Marquis wheat was the dominant spring wheat in Canada and the US (80-90% of the total wheat acreage with a value at that time estimated to be 500 million dollars.)

The outstanding yield and baking quality of Marquis established Canada as the greatest wheat exporting nation in the world at that time, providing a product of consistently high quality. Marquis wheat greatly enhanced the war effort of not only Canada, but also that of its allies, the UK, France, Belgium and Greece.

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.