Seager Wheeler - The Man and His Influence
Seager Wheeler (1868-1961) was probably the most famous farmer in the history of the Canadian Prairie Provinces. He was best known as an international prizewinner in wheat competitions and author of many publications on progressive farming techniques. He also gained renown as an inventor of farm implements and developer of new grain and horticultural varieties. Collectively, his contribution to the science of farming helped publicize the agricultural potential of the Canadian Prairies in the region's critical formative period.
Born in England in 1868, Wheeler emigrated to the Canadian prairies in 1885. He was one of thousands of British and central Canadian settlers to seek homesteads in the North-West after Confederation. Wheeler worked for five years at various jobs in the new centers of Saskatoon and Moose Jaw before taking up his homestead in 1890 near the town of Rosthern. Educating himself in the principles of dry land farming, he applied his expanding knowledge by entering prizewinning produce at local fairs from 1907 on.
In 1910 Wheeler was accepted into the Canadian Seed Growers Association and the following year obtained Marquis wheat from the Central and the Rosthern Experimental Farms. A sample of his crop sent to the New York Land Show, won the Canadian Pacific Railway sponsored first prize of $1000 in gold coins for the best hard spring wheat grown in North America. Other awards for his wheat followed at competitions in Denver in 1915, El Paso in 1916, at the International Soil Products Exposition in Kansas City in 1918, and at other fairs in Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Peoria and Chicago.
Wheeler became a prominent educator in the new scientific agriculture. Scientists, universities and farmers on three continents requested samples of his seed. Wheeler spoke frequently on agricultural topics throughout Saskatchewan. His many articles published in the Grain Growers’ Guide after 1910 formed the basis of his book, Seager Wheeler’s Book on Profitable Grain Growing published in 1919. A best-selling study of dry-land farming, this publication was the most comprehensive statement of scientific agricultural techniques at that time.
Throughout his farming career, Wheeler experimented with seed selection. He developed three new strains of wheat; Marquis 10B, Red Bobs and Kitchener, as well as Victory Oats, Canadian Thorpe and O.A.C. No. 21 Barley. He introduced the horticultural species the Siberian Silver Leaf Willow, the Saskatchewan Crab-apple, the Prolific and Ruby Cherry Plum hybrids and the Advance Sand Cherry.
As his awards mounted, Wheeler became famous. Journals like MacLean's, Time, The Western Producer and many other Canadian, American and British publications printed articles about him. Queens University in Kingston, Ontario gave him an honorary degree in 1920. The King made him a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1943.
Despite his reputation as the “Wheat Wizard of Rosthern”, there was no magic to Seager Wheeler's farming. He was an intelligent, hard-working man who continued to learn through patient observation and practical application of theory throughout his long career.
Historians view Wheeler as one of the most accomplished individual farmers in scientific agricultural experimentation at a time when governments and universities dominated the field. By showing what could be achieved in prairie agriculture, he was not only a role model for other farmers, but also facilitated the federal government's efforts to complete successfully the settlement and cultivation of the West.