Wheat History Saskatchewan
The re-painted grain elevator at Hepburn, Saskatchewan
If the story of Prairie wheat could be said to have a home, Hepburn would be the appropriate place. Though it is at the northern edge of the wheatbelt, it is in a neighbourhood with a high pedigree for the staple crop.
Just down the road from the town of 600 residents, lies the farm where Seager Wheeler conducted his experiments with wheat that won him international recognition. He was known widely as the Wheat King of the Prairie. His innovations to Marquis 10B produced not only an extraordinary source of food for the world but also encouraged European settlement to the Canadian prairie.
The people of Hepburn, less than a half hour drive from Saskatoon, don’t take that heritage lightly. Though the town’s elevator is now cut off from the rail lines that move wheat, it plays an important role in keeping the story of wheat in Saskatchewan alive. It was closed in 1991, but re-opened not too long after as the “Museum of Wheat.” Local citizens banded together and converted the 35,000 bushel elevator into display space for an outstanding collection of artifacts associated with the inception and development of the wheat economy on the prairie.
The largest public collection of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool calendars anywhere hangs on display in the museum with a broadly representative inventory of all things related to the business of running an elevator.
But there is one display that is a little breathtaking: A simple glass cabinet containing the very wheat varieties that Seager Wheeler developed. These progenitor seeds remain the bedrock of the wheat that is grown on the Canadian prairie. And wheat research continues in the wheatbelt.
In August of 2014, the University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre (CDS) received a $1.5 million investment from Regina-based FP Genetics for research into Canadian Prairie Spring (CPS) wheat breeding. The CDS has, since 1970, released more than 370 crop varieties into the market.
Clearly, Mr. Wheeler’s experiments created a lasting preoccupation with crop development in Saskatchewan.
All the same, the period in which Wheeler was conducting his breeding experiments a stone’s throw from Hepburn was a difficult one if you were growing wheat to support your farm and family. Farmers around Hepburn waited until after 1911 to get a rail line that extended from Dalmeny to Laird, bringing the town into the flow of grain heading to world markets.
The Canadian National Railway applied to abandon the Carlton line as early as 1963 but the Carlton Rail-Line Retention Committee was the first to overturn a decision to abandon a line in all of Canada. They argued for the line’s maintenance until 1991. That’s serious credibility when it comes to bearing the marks of Saskatchewan’s wheat history.
The hard labour and means by which families in the region survived the pre and post-Depression era are thoroughly displayed at the museum and celebrated at the annual fair days in June. Plan ahead for 2014 to take part in the museum’s fall supper that takes place in October.
The Museum of Wheat is open year-round. During winter months, call ahead to book an appointment 306-947-4351.
For the full story find Lionel Hughes article "The Home of Wheat at Hepburn", page 57, in the Winter 2013 issue of Prairies North Magazine.
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