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
    The Dominion of Canada is formed with New Brunswick,...
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    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.
    Harvey Farrington opens the first Canadian cheese factory in 1863, by the end of the decade there are over 200 in Ontario.
    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.
    The Northwest Territories are purchased from the Hudson Bay’s Company and the province of Manitoba is established.
    British Columbia joins confederation.
    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.
    Prince Edward Island is admitted to confederation.
    The MacDougall family arrives in Morleyville, Northwest Territories. With them they bring the first herd of livestock to inhabit what will become Alberta.
    The Ontario Agricultural College is founded in Guelph, Ontario.
    The rapid rise of the factory cream and cheese industry begins in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
    Large-scale ranching becomes an economic force in what will become Saskatchewan and Alberta.
    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.
    The Central Experimental Farm is built in Ottawa as a nexus for government agricultural research.
    The Experimental Farm program is extended to new locations in Agassiz, Brandon, Indian Head and Nappan.
    The University of Toronto begins to issue Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degrees for students of the Ontario Agricultural College.
  • 1892
    Widespread use of the cream separator provides a huge leap...
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    Widespread use of the cream separator provides a huge leap forward in butter making efficiency.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    Alberta and Saskatchewan are formed as provinces out of the southerly portions of the Northwest Territories.
    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.
    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.
    The Canadian National Exhibition holds its first festival under that name. Agricultural displays are a prominent portion of the event.
    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.
    The opening of the Panama Canal leads to the creation of a Grain Terminal in Vancouver.
    The Federal Government introduces the Military Service Act. Farmers’ sons are initially exempted from conscription, but this restriction is lifted the following year.
    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.
    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.”
    The Manitoba-based Grain Growers’ Grain Company merges with the Alberta Farmers’ Co-operative Elevator Company to form the United Grain Growers.
  • 1917
    The United Farmers of Ontario takes power under Premier E. C. Drury. ...
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    The United Farmers of Ontario takes power under Premier E. C. Drury.
    The export market for Nova Scotian apples is threatened as other nations and larger provinces began to ramp up their production.
    The seed potato leads to a huge boom for P.E.I. agriculture. Acreage nearly doubles and yields triple.
    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.
    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.
    The United Farmers of Alberta transition from a large lobby group to forming the government of the Province.
    The first Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is held in Toronto.
    Farmers near Whitby, Ontario become the first significant commercial cultivator of soybeans in the nation.
    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.
    The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool forms to co-operatively market the provinces wheat.
    The Union Catholique des Cultivateurs is founded to address farmer’s issues in Quebec.
    The United Farmers reach their Federal peak, winning 11 seats in the 1926 election, all in Alberta.
    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.
    Farmers begin widespread use of shelter belts, fall cropping summer fallow in an effort to hedge against droughts and wheat price fluctuations.
    The UCC establishes a credit union for farmers in Quebec. The provincial government will follow with a loan program in 1936.
    Canadian pediatricians develop and release Pablum, a processed cereal for infants considered a breakthrough in children’s nutrition.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    The United Farmers of Alberta completely collapse, transitioning from three straight majority governments to 0 seats in legislature.
    Farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan begin growing mustard crops. Canada will go on to become the world’s largest exporter.
    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.
    Canada enters the Second World War, the war-time economy serves as an important stimulus against the lingering effects of the Great Depression.
  • 1942
    The War Measures Act makes membership in the Canadian Wheat....
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    The War Measures Act makes membership in the Canadian Wheat Board compulsory for Western Canadian farmers.
    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.
    Peter Pakosh files a patent for the grain auger. The innovation would quickly become commonplace on harvesting combines.
    Newfoundland joins confederation. They take advantage of federal funding to provide loans, land-clearing and stimulus programs for farmers.
    Large-scale mechanization arrives for potato farmers on PEI, growing the profits but decreasing the number of farmers involved.
    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.
    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
    The National Milk Marketing plan comes into effect....
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    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.
    Quebec’s UCC becomes the Union des Prodecteurs Agricoles, reflecting the secularization of the Quiet Revolution.
    The Government of British Columbia establishes the Agricultural Land Act. The first large-scale farming land preservation bill.
    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.
    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.
    Soybeans are cultivated in the Yukon Territory for the first time, taking advantage of new varieties designed for shorter growing seasons.
    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
    The Federal government introduces the Western Grain Transition...
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    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.
    The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool becomes a publicly traded company, putting an end to 73 years of co-operative ownership.
    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.
    AC Metcalfe Barley’s release occurs and it becomes the fast favourite of the barley market, a position it holds till this day.
    Canada’s first commercial robotic milking system is installed in Woodstock, Ontario.
    There are 550 potato growers on Prince Edward Island. Sixty years prior, there were over 10,000.
    The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers convenes to market the provinces maple syrup in bulk, simultaneously instituting production quotas.
    The Ontario Government passes the Greenbelt Act. Preserving huge swaths of land around the GTA and Golden Horseshoe for agricultural use.
    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.
    Naked Oats arrives in Manitoba, exploring new markets for Canadian agriculture as a replacement for rice.
    The Federal Government ends the monopsony of the Canadian Wheat Board, despite CWB farmers voting against the idea in a plebiscite.
    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.
    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.

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