The man might not get a lot of publicity these days, but to Winnipeg student Tom Zaburdyaev, plant breeder Baldur Stefansson seems cool.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Zaburdyaev, a Grade 6 student, about the agricultural history he discovered when he began looking into the story of Stefansson and the creation of canola.
“I thought, how did someone ever discover canola? I thought it was an actual born plant that was just natural,” he said.
Zaburdyaev’s interest in the project arose while looking for an im-pressive Manitoban upon whom to focus for his school’s Heritage Fair project.
The fair is a Canadian history-based event in schools where students focus on noteworthy Canadians from the nation’s history.
Zaburdyaev was surprised with what he learned about Stefansson. He first assumed the discovery of canola came from finding an existing plant in the wild, but then learned how Stefansson transformed the existing rapeseed plant to produce a radically different and valuable vegetable oil.
Teacher Chris Wiste said he en-joyed seeing Zaburdyaev learn about Stefansson, canola and agricultural research, because most people in Winnipeg know little about them.
“For the most part, the students that are living in an urban setting don’t really know a lot about canola,” said Wiste.
“It’s something that your parents might cook with or you might have seen at the store.”
Zaburdyaev’s project has also drawn attention to the fact that scientific innovations like the invention of canola, which is worth billions of dollars and has spread around the globe, are possible to make close to home.
“I think it’s been good for the other students to see too that at University of Manitoba just the type of research that’s going on and what can be accomplished there,” said Wiste.
Zaburdyaev loves talking about canola and Stefansson and he had one more chance to do that at the Red River Heritage Fair at the University of Winnipeg on May 7.
If his project is picked as one of the winners, it will go forward to the national fair in Ottawa this summer.
Zaburdyaev is already a convincing proponent for Stefansson’s inclusion in any list of important Canadians.
“Baldur Stefansson and the discovery of canola will always stand proudly in Manitoba history.”