Ottawa research farm under threat

OTTAWA — Ottawa author Richard Hinchcliff has been a friend of his city’s Central Experimental Farm for most of his adult life.

“The crop research done there is important right across the country,” he says. “The research is still of great practical benefit, including cereal and oilseeds.”

Besides the historic farm buildings, public spaces include ornamental gardens, an arboretum and wildlife gardens.

The federally owned land, located in the heart of Ottawa, includes prime land used for agricultural research.

Hinchcliff recalled lunchtime walks there as a young economist with Statistics Canada and visits to the cattle on site with his children.

With support from Friends of the Farm, he published Blooms: An Illustrated History of the Ornamental Gardens at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm.

It documents the farm’s early history and its major figures, including William Saunders, its first director who retired in 1911, and his son, Percy, who helped his father hybridize wheat as well as prized peonies.

With its focus on the ornamental gardens, he explores plants developed there that grow across the country.

His book is released at a time when the farm is under threat.

In November 2014, Conservative minister John Baird announced that 60 acres of the farm would be leased for the new civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital, despite being designated as a national historic site in 1998.

“Like many others, I thought that designation would protect the farm from developers who have always coveted this 1,000 acres in the heart of Ottawa,” Hinchcliff says.

“Recent developments have proven that to be a false belief and that such a designation carries no weight at all.”

Since then, that decision remains under review, with a decision pending on the site.

Hinchcliff is also the author of For the Love of Trees: A Guide to the Trees of Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm Arboretum, and edits a quarterly newsletter for Friends of the Farm.

This non-profit, charitable organization includes about 500 members and 200 volunteers who work to protect the historic green space.

For more information, visit

Farm facts

The Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, established in 1886, is one of the oldest continuously operated agricultural research stations in the world. It continues to undertake research in zero-till farming, soil chemistry, drought-resistant soybeans and corn and fusarium.


  • Charles Saunders, one of the sons of the farm’s first director, William Saunders, carried out his research on the Marquis wheat cultivar there. Charles became Dominion cerealist in 1905. The wheat had the advantage of early maturity compared to its competitors but was not rust-resistant. (A later variety that was rust-resistant was developed at the CEF in 1947 and named Saunders.)
  • Harvey Voldeng developed a soybean variety called Maple Arrow in 1976 that thrived with short summers. This legume now grows on more than two million hectares on Canadian farms.
  • For more than half a century, Vern Burrows bred and registered 28 new oat varieties. For this work, he received international awards and recognition.
  • The farm was one of five experimental farms established across Canada that helped immigrant farmers adjust to unknown climates, soils and land.
  • In the late 1880s and 1890s, only three late season varieties of apples could survive Ottawa winters. A Siberian crab apple tree from Russia was planted at the farm. Once it took root, saplings were sent to western Canadian stations. By its third generation, tasty, larger crab apples were grown there and often turned into jam.
  • Isabella Preston, hired by the CEF in 1920, developed Canada-hardy, late-blooming lilacs, the Preston series.
  • Felicitas Svejda (1920-2016) created the Explorer series. These hardy roses, including Champlain, John Cabot, Martin Frobisher and others, were bred to withstand the rigours of the cold Canadian climate and remain popular today.

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