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Manitoba History: Frank Leith Skinner

by Parks Canada
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 50, October 2005

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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On Sunday, 17 July 2005, at a ceremony at the Frank Skinner Arboretum Trail at Dropmore, Manitoba, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada unveiled a plaque commemorating the national significance of Manitoba horticulturalist Frank Leith Skinner.

Frank Leith Skinner, 1932.
Source: Skinner family.

Frank Skinner was a remarkable man. A self-taught horticulturist and plant breeder, he made it his life’s mission to push Canada’s horticultural border ever northwards. His interest in the plants around him began while tending the livestock on his homestead that was 250 miles northwest of Winnipeg. Frustrated that many of the plants, shrubs, and trees he subsequently read about and wanted to grow were not hardy enough for northern Manitoba, he began experimenting with plant breeding. This interest soon turned into a passion, and this passion was soon channelled into more rigorous scientific endeavour that eventually brought him renown as one of Canada’s foremost horticulturists.

Although Skinner was introducing hardy plant material by 1911, and was hybridizing plants by the First World War, his serious plant breeding began in 1918. By 1925, he opened, on his Dropmore homestead, the Manitoba Hardy Plant Nursery (renamed Skinner’s Nursery Ltd. in 1949), which became one of the most productive in the Canadian West. The property is still owned by the Skinner family and many of the original structures, such as the original Skinner residence, barn and labourer’s cottage still stand. As well, original plant material Skinner used in his experiments still thrives. At the site, visitors can explore self-guided interpretive trails as well as the Skinner Introductions Garden established by the Frank Skinner Arboretum Corporation, a non-profit organization formed in 1992 to preserve the plantings of the original nursery and the heritage of the site. The Trail and Garden feature the plants developed by Frank Leith Skinner for western Canadian gardeners.

Skinner introduced, hybridized and marketed over 300 hardy varieties of flowers, shrubs, vines, and trees. His horticultural legacy lives on in his tree varieties still found in Prairie windbreaks, and his lilacs, clematis, roses, and honeysuckles that continue to beautify Canadian homes.

Frank Leith Skinner
1882 - 1967

A self-taught pioneering horticulturist, Frank Skinner
developed and marketed over 300 varieties of plants able
to withstand the severe climate of the Canadian Prairies.
Born in Scotland, he emigrated with his family to
Dropmore, Manitoba, in 1895. He began his horticultural
endeavours first as a hobby, and, after 1925, as part of a
nursery business. Skinner received wide recognition for
his pioneering work which involved extensive world
travel and collecting, and resulted in many scientific
publications. He received multiple honours, including the
Manitoba Horticultural Society’s Stevenson Memorial

Plaque text
Source: Parks Canada

See also:

Memorable Manitobans: Frank Leith Skinner (1882-1967)

Page revised: 23 April 2011

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