150 years of farming

Agriculture in Canada was practised from the earliest times, with the First Nations producing crops long before European settlement.

Settlers’ crops were grown for centuries before Confederation and most of it was done on land that later became New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Lower and Upper Canada and in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Nearly all of it was for domestic consumption.

Louis Hebert settled at Quebec City in 1617 and became one of Canada’s first commercial producers that year.

Wheat was thought to have been grown in Saskatchewan by Hudson’s Bay staff at a post east of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers’ forks in the 1770s.

Farming in the Canadian coastal areas was not unlike that of Northern Europe, so knowledge was transferable. In 1790, Nova Scotia farmers had their own organization, the Society for Promoting Agriculture.

By 1802, exports from the upper St. Lawrence Valley, in what is now Ontario, were more than one million bushels annually.

The Assiniboine District, including the Red River Valley in Manitoba, was producing agricultural products for sale, but most of that was for local consumption.

In May of 1868 the Department of Agriculture Act was given royal assent by Parliament. Its first major act was the Act Respecting Contagious Diseases of Animals, protecting Canada from imported diseases.

By the early 1880s it was becoming evident that more knowledge was needed.

Farming was expanding outside the central and eastern Canadian regions, and the young federal government recognized the need for research and skills development.

In 1884, 1,500 farmers were asked if they wanted ag research, experimental farms, entomologists, ag statistics and handbooks, reports and bulletins. Most did.

In 1886, Parliament passed the Experimental Station Act, and regional research and extension agriculture were birthed.

Two world wars, three major droughts, as many wet decades and a steady intensification of production have passed since.

But some things never change. Louis Hebert? He was forced to sign a commercial contract with the French government that required him to sell his Canadian agricultural production at the domestic, French market price.

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