Rev. Norbert Jutras

Rev. Norbert Jutras

1856 - 1929

Norbert Jutras was born in 1856 in La Baie du Febvre, near Trois-Riviers, Quebec. Jutras was raised on a farm, and he carried with him a keen interest in agriculture and rural communities even as he devoted his life to the Church, a career which would bring him to the Francophone communities of Manitoba. His persistent advocacy in favour of small-scale family farming in opposition to the growing commercialization of agriculture earned him the title, “The Apostle of Mixed Farming.”

A bright young man, Norbert Jutras excelled in his studies and attended the seminary at Nicolet College. After he graduated in 1881, he moved west to St. Boniface, Manitoba, which was then the heart of the local Métis and Francophone community. The following year Jutras was ordained into the priesthood and became the Curé for the new chapel at St. Pie, about a hundred kilometers south of Winnipeg. In this position he was engaged missionary work among the local First Nations as well as in agriculture to support the local parish. Norbert excelled at his work and in 1889 he was appointed the first titular Priest of the new parish of Letellier, a post he would hold for most of the rest of his life.

Rev. Norbert Jutras’ priestly vocation did not diminish his interest in agriculture. He used his position to speak and write about a topic that concerned him greatly: the decline of the family farm. In Manitoba during the early twentieth century, small family-run farms were disappearing in the face of large-scale commercial agriculture. This became especially apparent in the wake of the First World War as the mass production of grains, especially wheat, began to dominate local agriculture. In speeches, letters, and farm journals Rev. Jutras preached for a return to mixed farming practices as a means to keep young people on the farm and maintain the rural family and community. He encouraged crop rotation, planting clover for cattle feed, and the use of new technology like the tractor. Rev. Jutras argued that those who returned to mixed farming would not have to rely so heavily on hired labour for the big grain harvest and threshing, and could involve their children in the running and maintenance of the farm. Mixed farming would also give daughters an opportunity to participate in the areas of agriculture that were seen as acceptable for women at the time, in particular livestock.

Unfortunately for Rev. Jutras, his pleas for a return to mixed farming were drowned out by the relentless capitalization of agriculture. Ill health forced him to resign from his duties as priest, and he passed away at an old age home in St. Boniface in 1929. Fortunately, perhaps, he did not live to see the great Dustbowl which ravaged the prairies in the 1930s, partially as a result of an over-reliance on a single crop, wheat. Norbert Jutras is remembered fondly as a strong advocate of the Manitoban family farm, and the communities and way of life they supported. In 1982 he was inducted into the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture