The Dominion Forest Nursery Station began in 1913 on a stubble field in Sutherland, Sask., without a single tree in sight.
Its purpose mirrored that of a similar nursery at Indian Head to the south in supplying burgeoning numbers of prairie farms with free shelter belt trees to block the merciless winds from blowing soil away. The station shipped more than 147 million trees from 1913 to 1965.
Its rich history and importance to the farm community are chronicled in a new book, Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo, A Photographic History, commissioned by Friends of the Forestry Farm House for the park’s 100th year.
Sara Williams, author and re-searcher, said the station’s work was threefold: tree production and distribution, research and extension.
“It made an enormous tangible difference in the lives of farmers on the Prairies,” she said.
“The Prairies were totally barren.”
Williams said the book’s narrative evolved by finding the stories behind the photographs, which ranged from Eaton’s Department Store staff picnics, innovative tree planting apparatus and tree bundles at the Sutherland rail yards waiting to be shipped to farms across Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“It took 19 refrigerated train cars to distribute them every spring,” she said.
The nursery station drew its labour force from a booming Sutherland, whose streetcar line between Sask-atoon and the town and its rail station made the area a good choice for the farm.
Williams cited one story of Russian immigrant women who were delivered to the site by horse and lumber wagon to lift and bundle trees in the fall. Unable to read and write, they had to sign their paystubs with an X, she said.
The nursery station also served as a model farmyard and site for horticultural research. It also grew oats to feed the horses used until the 1940s.
Williams called James McLean, the first superintendent, hard working, imaginative and progressive.
He maintained that for every tree, there was an insect and/or disease problem just two or three years behind that nature would eventually balance out.
“A decided effort to introduce parasites would be the most far reaching remedy to controlling the increase of insect pests,” McLean wrote.
“Insecticides are indispensible when insects are first noticed after being introduced, but to rely on their use as a permanent means of control is only to defeat our own purpose in the end.”
The land that Maclean oversaw from 1914-42 is now owned by the City of Saskatoon and used as a public park and zoo.
For more information, visit Friends of the Forestry Farm House at www.fffh.ca.