Date of Award

8-2013

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Scott See

Second Committee Member

Jacques Ferland

Third Committee Member

Maureen Smith

Abstract

The Indian Head Experimental Farm, funded and staffed by the Canadian Department of Agriculture, was established in Indian Head, Assiniboine Territory, in 1887, and became one of the leading centers of agricultural research in the country. The staff was responsible for the appearance and promotion of numerous strains of grasses, alfalfa, oats, and wheat. The contribution by the Farm to the national economy was impressive. The Farm also became an iconic landmark as an example of the potential for transformation of the bare, open, prairie to a heavily treed and productive agricultural landscape.

This dissertation is an account of the Farm, its impact on the region and nation, and a description of the ways in which the Farm and its staff both caused and tried to cope with the environmental transformation. This study makes the argument that damage to the soil occurred as a proximate consequence to farming, even in the first years of settlement. The Farm, and the central government, worked on methods to prevent soil erosion and loss from the mid-1890s through the 1930s. The government’s success in learning methods to prevent wholesale soil destruction included tree planting, alterations in summer fallow techniques, and crop rotations. Due to a combination of factors, including economic interests opposed to those methods, many farmers in southern Saskatchewan did not adopt these techniques.

The arrival of the farmsteads also brought innumerable types of destructive, noxious weeds. The importation of non-native agricultural and arboreal species brought an invasion of destructive insects. Other alterations of the environment included the elimination of some species of animals and birds and the arrival of others. Alongside this, the farmers of Saskatchewan became some of the most productive wheat farmers on earth, and their work supported the economies of the municipalities of central Canada, as well as the nation.

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