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Manitoba History: Review: F. L. Dickinson, Prairie Wheat

by Ken Norell
Manitoba Pool Elevators

Manitoba History, Number 2, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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Prairie Wheat, as its foreword states, is intended to be “... a book written by a farmer, for the farmers of Western Canada.” One might therefore surmise that it would contain a fair amount of information of value to those farmers. In fact, almost half the text is superfluous and of little interest to any one else curious about the development of seed grain varieties for the prairies. It does describe the manner in which improved varieties of wheat were developed. However a reader opening the book at Chapter 4 will miss nothing of importance.

Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

The book is written well enough for its intended audience and is very easy to read. Technical references and scientific terms are found only in the Appendix, which is entitled “Breeding Wheats for Rust Resistance in Western Canada” and was written by Dr T. Johnson, former Director of the Canada Department of Agriculture Research Station at Winnipeg, Manitoba. This section of the book provides a more complete account of the plant breeding process in general than does the main text. It also aptly sketches the history of the search for rust-resistant strains.

The author puts unnecessary and undue emphasis on very early attempts to grow cereal grains in the Canadian tundra where they will not mature. A description of varieties of wheat produced in Great Britain between 1600 and 1800 is much too detailed. There is an interesting description of the origins of two famous wheat varieties—Red Fife and Marquis. The first export of wheat from Manitoba is duly noted and two chapters describe how new seed varieties reach the prairie.

F. L. Dickinson’s credentials are solid. His experience and his research accord him an easy familiarity with the subject. However, the exotic note introduced by the chapters dealing with the fur trade is unnecessary. Whatever happened in terms of cereal crop production in those days has little relevance to the subject of the book. Although the book carries the subtitle “Three Centuries of Wheat Varieties in Western Canada” it is doubtful whether the farmers for whom it is intended are interested in those sections dealing with what happened more than one century ago.

Page revised: 23 April 2010

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