This Week in History
C.E. Saunders and the Miracle of Marquis
|For the Week of Monday January 30, 2006
On February 2, 1867, Sir Charles Edward Saunders was born in London, Ontario. Son of William Saunders, a prominent pharmacist and agriculturalist, Charles followed his father’s interest in science, and revolutionized Canadian wheat farming.
One of the challenges faced by the Experimental Farms Branch was to reduce the growing time for wheat in the West, where that crop often became subject to early frost and a portion of its yield was lost. The answer came in the form of Marquis Wheat, which was originally created by Charles' brother, A.P. Saunders, when he crossed Red Fife and Hard Red Calcutta wheat in 1892. Charles Saunders perfected the strain through a meticulous breeding process that lasted a number of years and, in 1907, he distributed the first seeds to Indian Head, Saskatchewan for further testing. The result was a huge success. Not only could Marquis wheat produce higher quality bread and greater yields per acre, it also had a growing season between a week and 10 days shorter than Red Fife, which meant that frost was less likely to affect farmers’ livelihoods. In addition, Marquis was resistant to rust, a fungus that killed many of the crops preceding it. By 1920, it accounted for 90 percent of the wheat grown in Western Canada and produced millions of dollars of Canadian export revenue.
Today, the Central Experimental Farm plays less of a role in furthering Canadian agriculture than it did in the early 20th century. Despite the Farm’s reduced responsibility, the impact of Marquis wheat on the Canadian economy cannot be overestimated. It fulfilled Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald’s desire for a settled Canadian West and cemented Canada’s status as a great agricultural exporter. For these reasons, Sir Charles Edward Saunders, the Central Experimental Farm and the Experimental Farms Branch have all been designated to be of national historic significance.
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