W.R. Motherhill

W.R. Motherhill

JANUARY 6, 1860 - MAY 24, 1943

William Richard Motherwell was born on January 6, 1860 on a farm in Perth, Lanark County, Ontario. The son of an Irish farmer, William’s childhood was typical of most farm boys in his time. During the winter months he attended the local country school, while for the rest of the year he worked on the family farm. An uncommonly bright boy, Motherwell attended the Ontario Agricultural College on a scholarship and graduated with high-class honours in 1881. It was here that William would study the growing field of agricultural science, for which he would become a lifelong advocate.

After graduation, William and a number of his college friends went West to explore the possibility of establishing homesteads of their own in Manitoba. Motherwell travelled southern Manitoba and worked in the fields of Portage la Prairie during the harvest season of 1881. That winter, William returned to his home in Lanark.

In the spring of 1882, W.R. Motherwell set out from Ontario for good to build his own homestead. Forsaking Manitoba, William ventured further west by ox and wagon until he came to the plains of the Northwest Territories (modern-day Saskatchewan and Alberta). In 1883, he established a farm just south of Abernethy which he named Lanark Place, after the county of his birth. His farm proved quite successful, and by 1889 he had broken over 100 acres of land and increased his livestock to thirty head. During this time he made use of his education by developing dry farming techniques better-suited to the shallow soil of the prairies. Motherwell was also an active member of his local community, and served as an elder at the local Presbyterian church and as a school board trustee.

W.R. Motherwell’s first foray into politics during the 1890s was unsuccessful. His campaign for a seat in the legislative assembly explicitly portrayed him as the “Farmer Candidate,” however he was soundly defeated by a prominent local banker and businessman. Not letting this setback blunt his ambitions and desire to help prairie farmers, Motherwell turned his attention towards more direct action. In 1901 he co-founded and was elected President of the Territorial Grain Grower’s Association, a cooperative enterprise established to advocate for the interests of prairie farmers in their dealings with grain merchants, railways, and the government.

Elections followed the granting of provincial status to Saskatchewan in 1905, and Motherwell ran successfully for a seat in the legislature under the Liberal Party banner. His advocacy on behalf of farmers as well as his deep knowledge and expertise in prairie agriculture earned him a cabinet position as Saskatchewan’s first Minister of Agriculture. In this position Motherwell effectively promoted scientific agriculture including information on summerfallowing, crop rotation, tree planting, and farm diversification. Motherwell resigned from the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan in 1918 in protest of his government’s pro-conscription stance as well as their curtailment of French language rights in the province.

W.R. Motherwell re-entered politics in 1921 on the federal stage as an M.P. representing Regina. He continued to champion the causes of prairie farmers and agricultural science as Canada’s Minister of Agriculture under William Lyon Mackenzie King from 1922-30 and then again from 1935-39. Motherwell retired from politics to his Saskatchewan homestead at the age of 80 where he resided until his death in 1943. His achievements were recognized by many, including the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, which made him an inductee in 1962. In 1966, the Motherwell Homestead was designated a national historic site.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture