History of Agriculture

Evolution of Canadian Agriculture Since Confederation

The history of agriculture in Canada has many defining moments, innovations, and political turmoil. Outline below is the history of Canadian agriculture since confederation.

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  • 1867
    To
    1892
    The Dominion of Canada is formed with New Brunswick,...
     
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    1867
    The Dominion of Canada is formed with New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec as its confederated provinces. Jean-Charles Chapais is appointed as the first Minister of Agriculture.
    1860s
    Harvey Farrington opens the first Canadian cheese factory in 1863, by the end of the decade there are over 200 in Ontario.
    1860s
    Quebec agriculture begins to shift from wheat production to a focus on dairy and livestock. Dairying would become dominant by the start of the next century.
    1870
    The Northwest Territories are purchased from the Hudson Bay’s Company and the province of Manitoba is established.
    1871
    British Columbia joins confederation.
    1872
    The Dominion Lands Act is passed, parceling indigenous people into reserves and opening much of Western Canada for settlement. Plots of land are granted in exchange for $10 and a commitment of three years improving the property.
    1873
    Prince Edward Island is admitted to confederation.
    1873
    The MacDougall family arrives in Morleyville, Northwest Territories. With them they bring the first herd of livestock to inhabit what will become Alberta.
    1874
    The Ontario Agricultural College is founded in Guelph, Ontario.
    1880s
    The rapid rise of the factory cream and cheese industry begins in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
    1880s
    Large-scale ranching becomes an economic force in what will become Saskatchewan and Alberta.
    1880s
    Rail infrastructure leads to easy export of Prairie grain to British Columbia, allowing for large communities to develop but also eliminating most of the grain farming in the province. Specialized industries spring out in response like fruit in the Okanagan Valley and dairy in the lower Fraser Valley.
    1886
    The Central Experimental Farm is built in Ottawa as a nexus for government agricultural research.
    1888
    The Experimental Farm program is extended to new locations in Agassiz, Brandon, Indian Head and Nappan.
    1887
    The University of Toronto begins to issue Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degrees for students of the Ontario Agricultural College.
  • 1892
    To
    1917
    Widespread use of the cream separator provides a huge leap...
     
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    1890s
    Widespread use of the cream separator provides a huge leap forward in butter making efficiency.
    1890s
    The Patrons of Industry contests the Ontario and Federal elections; their success is limited but their base of support sets the precedence for future farmer and urban labour political alliances.
    1893
    The Panic of 1893 brings economic depression across North America. The accompanying crash in wheat prices is a major cause. The overall economic collapse doubly injures wheat-farmers.
    1893
    Charles A. Zavitz cultivates Canada’s second-ever plot of soybeans at the Ontario Agricultural College. Zavitz would dedicate a lifetime of research, serving as the progenitor of the Canadian soybean industry.
    1894
    The Northwest Irrigation Act is passed. The act turned the coordination of water use to government control, alleviating the severe dryness that had wracked the prairies.
    1896
    Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior under Wilfred Laurier, begins his effort to rapidly populate the unused farmland of the Prairies. Sifton sets up land agents, frees homesteading restrictions and actively recruited immigrants from Europe and the U.S.A.
    1897
    The Crow’s Nest Pass Agreement is made. In exchange for land titles and a cash subsidy the Canadian Pacific Railway permanently reduces its rates for shipping grain eastbound, stimulating production in the prairie provinces.
    1905
    Alberta and Saskatchewan are formed as provinces out of the southerly portions of the Northwest Territories.
    1908
    The world’s first “Agricultural Motor Exhibition” is held in Winnipeg. For the first-time tractors and other early mechanized farm vehicles are scientifically tested and ranked on various attributes.
    1911
    The Canadian Pacific Railway awards Dr. Charles Saunders a $1000 prize for his Marquis Wheat variety. Marquis Wheat makes a marked improvement in maturation speed, harvest efficiency and winter resilience to the previously dominant Red Fife. It becomes the new Canadian standard and the basis for all major wheat strains in the future.
    1912
    The Canadian National Exhibition holds its first festival under that name. Agricultural displays are a prominent portion of the event.
    1914
    Canada enters the First World War. War-time economics lead to temporary supportive pricing and severe post-war inflation. Farmers are hit hard in the aftermath as purchasers prefer pre-inflation prices for agricultural products.
    1914
    The opening of the Panama Canal leads to the creation of a Grain Terminal in Vancouver.
    1917
    The Federal Government introduces the Military Service Act. Farmers’ sons are initially exempted from conscription, but this restriction is lifted the following year.
    1917
    The Farm Service Corps are formed by the Ontario government, they consist of young women responding to agricultural labour shortages. Similar efforts occur in other Provinces, just without the backing of an official government program.
    1918
    To address the labour shortages on farms adolescent boys are encouraged to volunteer for agricultural service, in lieu of school. Over 22,000 young men serve as “Soldiers of the Soil.”
    1917
    The Manitoba-based Grain Growers’ Grain Company merges with the Alberta Farmers’ Co-operative Elevator Company to form the United Grain Growers.
  • 1917
    To
    1942
    The United Farmers of Ontario takes power under Premier E. C. Drury. ...
     
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    1919
    The United Farmers of Ontario takes power under Premier E. C. Drury.
    1920s
    The export market for Nova Scotian apples is threatened as other nations and larger provinces began to ramp up their production.
    1920s
    The seed potato leads to a huge boom for P.E.I. agriculture. Acreage nearly doubles and yields triple.
    1920s
    Quebec soil faces frequent exhaustion. Farmers lack the money to purchase fertilizer and are unable to secure credit or outside investment in a less agriculturally-minded province.
    1920
    The first tobacco plant is sown in Norfolk County, Ontario. For the first-time, residents can take proper agricultural advantage of the sandy soil prevalent in much of the county.
    1921
    The United Farmers of Alberta transition from a large lobby group to forming the government of the Province.
    1922
    The first Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is held in Toronto.
    1922
    Farmers near Whitby, Ontario become the first significant commercial cultivator of soybeans in the nation.
    1922
    The United Farmers take power in Manitoba. The leaderless party will recruit John Bracken to serve as Premiere. Under his leadership, they become the Progressive Party, including its later “Liberal-Progressive” iterations the party will govern for 36 years.
    1923
    The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool forms to co-operatively market the provinces wheat.
    1924
    The Union Catholique des Cultivateurs is founded to address farmer’s issues in Quebec.
    1926
    The United Farmers reach their Federal peak, winning 11 seats in the 1926 election, all in Alberta.
    1930s
    The Great Depression hits; drought and a crash in commodity prices combine with a sudden dissipation of local investment capital to bankrupt many farmers. The agriculturally reliant Prairie Provinces face the worst devastation.
    1930s
    Farmers begin widespread use of shelter belts, fall cropping summer fallow in an effort to hedge against droughts and wheat price fluctuations.
    1931
    The UCC establishes a credit union for farmers in Quebec. The provincial government will follow with a loan program in 1936.
    1931
    Canadian pediatricians develop and release Pablum, a processed cereal for infants considered a breakthrough in children’s nutrition.
    1934
    The organization that will become the Dairy Farmers of Canada forms. Over the following decades, it will successfully lobby the government for increasingly protectionist measures on dairy imports.
    1935
    The Federal Government establishes the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration to address the drought and depression that had led to a depopulation of close to 3,00,000 acres of prairie farm land.
    1935
    The Federal Government establishes the Canadian Wheat Board to provide a guaranteed buyer for Canadian wheat and barley after price crashes in 1929 drove many farmers bankrupt.
    1935
    The United Farmers of Alberta completely collapse, transitioning from three straight majority governments to 0 seats in legislature.
    1936
    Farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan begin growing mustard crops. Canada will go on to become the world’s largest exporter.
    1938
    The British Columbian government establishes the Tree Fruit Board to collectively market the Province’s apples. Farmer owned co-operative selling agencies grow to supply it and in 1939 they have $11 million worth of business.
    1939
    Canada enters the Second World War, the war-time economy serves as an important stimulus against the lingering effects of the Great Depression.
  • 1942
    To
    1967
    The War Measures Act makes membership in the Canadian Wheat....
     
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    1943
    The War Measures Act makes membership in the Canadian Wheat Board compulsory for Western Canadian farmers.
    1944
    The Farm Improvement Loans Act’s establishment allows the government to provide Canadian farmers with financial capital. The service remains in place after the war, and until today, under successive legislation.
    1945
    Peter Pakosh files a patent for the grain auger. The innovation would quickly become commonplace on harvesting combines.
    1949
    Newfoundland joins confederation. They take advantage of federal funding to provide loans, land-clearing and stimulus programs for farmers.
    1950s
    Large-scale mechanization arrives for potato farmers on PEI, growing the profits but decreasing the number of farmers involved.
    1961
    The British Columbia Chicken Marketing board is founded to control production quotas of poultry in the province. 76% of registered broiler growers vote in favour of the plan, responding to the instability of prices and production numbers in the Province.
    1966
    The Canadian Dairy Commission is formed as a crown corporation to negotiate dairy prices in response to the United Kingdom’s (the primary export target of the dairy industry) attempts to enter the European Common Market.
  • 1967
    To
    1992
    The National Milk Marketing plan comes into effect....
     
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    1970
    The National Milk Marketing plan comes into effect. The system would become colloquially known as “Supply Management” and be extended to cover eggs and poultry in following years.
    1972
    Quebec’s UCC becomes the Union des Prodecteurs Agricoles, reflecting the secularization of the Quiet Revolution.
    1973
    The Government of British Columbia establishes the Agricultural Land Act. The first large-scale farming land preservation bill.
    1974
    B.R. Stefansson and R.K. Downey release their low erucic acid rapeseed strain, “Tower”. The development will become known as “Canola” a portmanteau of Canada and oil, and a world-leader in edible oil products.
    1980
    Agriculture Canada-New Brunswick releases the Shepody potato. The Shepody’s characteristics lend it well to usage for french fries, and the variety becomes an instant competitor to the well-established Russet Burbank.
    1985
    Soybeans are cultivated in the Yukon Territory for the first time, taking advantage of new varieties designed for shorter growing seasons.
    1990s
    The rise of reduced till and no-till farming begins. By 2003 no-till farming constitutes the largest plurality of land use in the Canadian Prairies.
  • 1992
    To
    2017
    The Federal government introduces the Western Grain Transition...
     
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    1995
    The Federal government introduces the Western Grain Transition Payments Act. The act puts an end to the reduced grain shipping rates in the prairies that have existed since 1897. The intent is to stimulate secondary industries that faced unequal treatment. Western grain farmers are given $1.6 billion in reparations.
    1996
    The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool becomes a publicly traded company, putting an end to 73 years of co-operative ownership.
    1997
    Herbicide-tolerant canola, first developed at the University of Guelph in the 1980s, is sold for the first time to farmers. The plant further encourages the trend to reduce tillage on Canadian farms.
    1997
    AC Metcalfe Barley’s release occurs and it becomes the fast favourite of the barley market, a position it holds till this day.
    1999
    Canada’s first commercial robotic milking system is installed in Woodstock, Ontario.
    2002
    There are 550 potato growers on Prince Edward Island. Sixty years prior, there were over 10,000.
    2002
    The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers convenes to market the provinces maple syrup in bulk, simultaneously instituting production quotas.
    2005
    The Ontario Government passes the Greenbelt Act. Preserving huge swaths of land around the GTA and Golden Horseshoe for agricultural use.
    2007
    The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool purchases Agricore United, the successor of the United Grain Growers. The company takes on the name Viterra, and the merger marks the end of co-operative grain marketing in Canada.
    2008
    Naked Oats arrives in Manitoba, exploring new markets for Canadian agriculture as a replacement for rice.
    2012
    The Federal Government ends the monopsony of the Canadian Wheat Board, despite CWB farmers voting against the idea in a plebiscite.
    2016
    The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers calls for a 12% increase in their annual quota, responding to outcry from farmers who resent the United States’ increasing market share.
    2016
     
    The agricultural census shows the number of Canadian farms reaching an all-time low. While, inversely, the average acres per farm breaks 800 for the first time ever.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture

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