John G. Rayner

John G. Rayner

OCTOBER 1, 1890 – JUNE 30, 1952

John George Rayner was an agriculturist in Saskatchewan who was involved in various notable organizations. However, it was his work in rural education for which Rayner will always be best remembered. He was born on October 1, 1890, in London, England. His family emigrated to Canada when he was only two years old, settling in the farming community of Virden, Manitoba and adopting the life of Canadian farmers. He graduated from the Virden high school before attending the Manitoba College of Agriculture, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in 1913.

A year after graduating Rayner moved to Saskatchewan as an Agricultural Representative for the Department of Agriculture. In the following years he busied himself in various agricultural organizations. He became a member and fellow of the Canadian Society of Technical Agriculturists and of the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists. He also served as the secretary-treasurer of the Saskatchewan Agricultural Societies’ Association and the Saskatchewan Horticulture Societies’ Association for thirty-two years.

Rayner also collaborated with the famed wheat farmer Seager Wheeler, the “Wheat King of the Prairies”. They met in 1917 while Rayner was working for the Saskatchewan Agricultural Department. He had been sent to Maple grove Farm to inspect crops for the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association. During their collaboration, he and Wheeler would go out and work as a team, lecturing at farmers’ meetings in various places of the province. He even provided the speech at Wheeler’s retirement banquet.

Rayner’s educational career, however, began in 1918 when he joined the faculty of the University of Saskatchewan as Assistant Director of Extension. This began a long and fruitful collaboration with the University that spanned a thirty-two year period. The length of his career is evidence of his passion for education and his dedication to working closely with the young people of the province. Four years later he was appointed as Director of Extension, a position he held until 1952.

One of Rayner’s greatest contributions to rural education was his role in the creation of the 4-H club rural program in the province. He was appointed the first Director of what was known as the Farm Boys and Farm Girls Club. His philosophy placed the development of the boys and girls above the project work itself. The clubs, premised on the idea of hands-on experience, would develop agricultural and homemaking skills for the children and provide them with information to help them get the best outcome for their crops and livestock. He was one of the founders of the Canadian Council of Boys and Girls Clubs, a rural network of youth clubs, and served as its president from 1937 to 1947. This network eventually became the 4-H program, which combined the boys and girls clubs together. Rayner himself was hugely influential in changing the name to “4-H” in 1952 (4-H representing head, hands, heart, and health). Their motto was established as “Learn to do by doing”, which effectively represents Rayner’s attitudes towards education that he demonstrated throughout his life. He died the same year on June 30, fortunately living long enough to see his efforts realized. In recognition of his efforts, the first 4-H program in Saskatchewan was named Camp Rayner in 1965. The facility gained such a reputation that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited the camp in 1959. He was inducted posthumously into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1973. He had spent his life in dedication to the betterment of education and the situation of youth in the province.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture