From a single seed - Tracing the Marquis wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the Ukraine (11 of 11)

Our Debt to Ukraine

Almost all of the agricultural literature from the time of the tsars should be published under this heading. For the best cereals came to Russia from Ukraine. Indeed, the agricultural literature of Canada and every other country that has benefited from Ukrainian wheat by producing its own varieties, on its own soils and in its own climate should also come under this heading.

Unfortunately the contribution of Ukrainian wheat to Canada and the world cannot be defined accurately because of a lack of recorded information on its development from its arrival in 1842 to the present. There are extensive records on Halychanka (Red Fife) in various reports from the Experimental Farms on the initial and subsequent crossings of this wheat with others. But some of the records have not been collected yet, while many are missing. A record of all the crossings from which these extraordinarily valuable varieties originated, showing in raw numbers the wealth they brought to this country, would benefit all of us.

I believe that the valuable genetic qualities of Ukrainian wheat have become a kind of genetic wheat bank for the world, a repository of valuable genetic characteristics, which have served:

  1. directly, by providing a food base for the whole world; and
  2. indirectly, by creating new, high-quality, high-yield wheat varieties through crossings.

Only because of a strange and very unlikely accident did Ukrainian wheat, in the form of a single grain, find its way to Canada -- and not to the address of some experimental farm or famous breeder but to the field of an ordinary farmer. The entire development of Canada's wheat industry, the most renowned in the world, is due mainly to this single Ukrainian grain of wheat.

The professional literature has taken note of the importance and success of the Halychanka (Red Fife) "local" variety of spring wheat. Most of this book has been devoted to a study of this variety as well as its numerous derived hybrids, the most famous of which is Marquis.

Records on the Halychanka (Red Fife) variety are found in the Galician Chronicle as far back as the time of King Yaroslav Osmomysl (1171-1187). The fact that the genetic characteristics of the Halychanka variety are based on a selection process reaching back to the twelfth century shows why this practical agricultural variety is so unique and so valuable. Its stability, or homozygosity, certainly deserves the attention of every serious plant breeder or geneticist. This variety was not reared on experimental fields but cultivated over centuries in the fields of Ukrainian peasants and known there as the "local" variety.

In time, as we have seen, its value was recognized in Canada and the United States. Those who deserve recognition for its development in Canada include the pioneer farmer David Fife, William Saunders and his son Charles Saunders, and their successors -- the scientists who carried on their work at the Department of Agriculture. For the achievement of raising Canada to rank as one of the world's great producers of spring wheat belongs in great measure to Canada's breeders who developed varieties that could thrive in local conditions. Indeed, no other country's plant researchers have made a greater contribution to their national treasury than Canada's. Their achievement, spanning a period of more than half a century, is a true legend in the annals of scientific achievement.

Conclusion: The Three Pillars

To me, the history of Canada's leading varieties is important because it connects Ukraine and Canada in what I believe is an important chapter of the history of world agriculture. It has three equally important elements: the Halychanka (Red Fife) Ukrainian wheat, the pioneer David Fife who brought it to Canada, and the pioneer wheat breeders who developed our many successful strains from it. These elements have not yet received the recognition they deserve in the literature. As this study is intended to contribute toward this recognition, let us consider, in concluding, these three pillars, on which I believe Canada's success in wheat research rests.

Halychanka (Red Fife) Wheat

The value to Canada of this wheat may be summed up as follows:

  1. Thousands of institutions, industries, provinces, towns, factories, cereal farmers, and large businesses have benefited from the harvest of Red Fife wheat and of its derivative varieties.
  2. In 1842 a small area of David Fife's field was Canada's first experimental farm.
  3. Bountiful harvests over the next few years multiplied the amount of grain. Red Fife wheat made Ontario a wheat-producing province.
  4. The settlement of the Prairies would likely not have succeeded as well, and the Sifton immigration may not have taken place. The year 1908 would not have seen towns such as Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, and Edmonton built where they are now. At best, the Prairies would have been cattle- ranching country.
  5. Ontario Red Fife wheat found its way west, where it became the most important factor in pushing back the prairie grass and establishing thousands of prosperous farmers.
  6. This was the first and greatest contribution to the economic wealth of western Canada and other parts of Canada. It pushed the borders of the Prairies hundreds of miles to the north and opened up vast expanses of new land.
  7. Up until 1905 the wheat from the Otonabee farmer retained its dominance over all other Canadian varieties.
  8. Halychanka (Red Fife) was the wheat that gave Canada the proud title of "Granary of the Empire."
  9. Red Fife wheat was the prime factor not only in the development of the West and in making Canada one of the world's grain producers but also in the establishment and expansion of numerous towns and in the development of this relatively young country into a rich, economically strong, industrial nation.

David Fife

This photograph of David Fife and his wife Jane Beckett (Figure 6, not shown here) hangs in the Agricultural Hall of Fame in Toronto. This farmer introduced Red Fife wheat to Canada. From his farm in Otonabee it spread to Illinois and Ohio in the United States, and then to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

The exterior of David Fife’s cabin

David Fife came to Canada with his parents and brothers in 1820 and settled in Otonabee on Lot 22, Concession 4, Lot E ½. When he grew up and married, he settled on Lot 23 W ½, from which he cleared the brush and large trees. In his third year of growing the spring wheat which originated from that one famous grain, David Fife harvested half a bushel of grain, which he shared, in part, with his friends. Its subsequent history has been retold above.

Certain eminent Canadians have recognized the achievement of David Fife. For example, Senator J.J. Duffus of Peterborough saluted the pioneer farmer David Fife and his generation in a Senate speech on 19 January 1955 and published in the Peterborough Examiner on Thursday, 20 January 1955. In it he presented a plan to create a "permanent living monument" in honour of David Fife.

Monument in honour of David Fife

This project, organized by the Senator with the help of the Society of the David Fife Memorial, saw the erection in 1964 of a stone cairn out of ordinary field stone, with a brass plate inscribed with a brief history of Red Fife (Figure 7, not shown here) on the Trans-Canada Highway eight miles to the east of Peterborough. The official unveiling was carried out by Donald Fife, a descendant. The plaque honouring David Fife was moved to nearby Lang Pioneer Village in 1977.


Canada's Wheat Breeders

The growth in the eminence of Canada as one of the great world producers of spring wheat has continued to increase because of the persevering work of Canada's researchers and breeders. In no other country have wheat researchers made so great a contribution to the national development of agriculture. Working with limitless patience and stubborn determination, they have created thousands of new early wheat varieties and generated millions of dollars for Canada every year. Their work represents an enormous scientific achievement.

Because of them, the hereditary "blood" of Halychanka (Red Fife) wheat, which came from Western Ukraine and was the leading variety of spring wheat in Canada for many years, continues as the hereditary base of the leading Canadian wheat varieties to the present day.

References

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Also see all references to William and Charles Saunders in 20 (563-585); and

Charles E. Saunders, R.W. Captain, F.C.S. Nichols and R. Cowan. 1922. Research in regard to wheat, flour and bread. Department of Agriculture, Canada. Bulletin No. 97. (586)

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