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Manitoba History: Commemorating Margaret Newton

by Parks Canada
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 59, October 2008

The Newton plaque unveiling was done by (L-R): Mrs. Margaret Kemp, niece of Margaret Newton; Dr. David Swales, nephew of Margaret Newton; Dr. Robert O’Kell, Manitoba Member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada; Dr. James Kolmer, United States Department of Agriculture; Dr. David Wall, Cereal Research Centre; and Mr. Brian Pallister, MP for Portage-Lisgar.
Source: Parks Canada

Plaque Text

MARGARET NEWTON
(1887-1971)

While still a doctoral student in plant pathology, Margaret Newton discovered that there was more than one strain of wheat rust. Her experiments advanced scientific knowledge of stem rust in wheat, which represented a major threat to the Canadian economy. Throughout her long career, much of it spent at Winnipeg’s Dominion Rust Research Laboratory, her meticulous research led to the development of rust-resistant grains. Margaret Newton became an internationally acclaimed scientist and a striking role model for Canadian women in science.

On 17 July 2008 in Portage la Prairie, Mr. Brian Pallister, Member of Parliament for Portage-Lisgar, on behalf of Environment Minister John Baird, unveiled a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque commemorating Margaret Newton.

“Our Government is proud to recognize Dr. Margaret Newton, whose discoveries on the nature of wheat rust fungus ended the serious threat of this disease to Canadian farmers and the Canadian economy, “ said Mr. Pallister. “Dr. Newton, an acclaimed scientist both nationally and internationally, is an exceptional role model for Canadian women in science.”

In a time when it was difficult for female scientists to break into the male dominated scientific community, Margaret Newton (1887–1971) earned the respect of scientists from around the world. Her discoveries about the nature of wheat rust fungus ended the serious threat to the Canadian economy of this disease, which caused losses of millions of dollars to Canadian farmers every year.

Margaret grew up on a farm in Plaisance, a small town in western Quebec. She excelled academically at McGill University’s School of Agriculture at Macdonald College. At the end of her second year, she won the Governor General’s medal for highest standing and continued to lead her class until her graduation. It was at McGill that she launched her career by making an important discovery that, for the first time, shed some light on wheat rust.

In 1916, an epidemic of wheat stem rust devastated the West. Margaret Newton took up the challenge of fighting this disease. Through the application of the Mendelian Laws to wheat stem rust she and her colleagues at the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory advanced the knowledge of the genetic make‑up of rust disease that contributed to the breeding of rust resistant grains. As a result of this research, plant breeders learned how to control wheat rust.

Margaret Newton became an international authority on rusts and was invited to speak to scientists all over the world. Her discoveries had important ramifications not only for Canada, but for all wheat producing countries.

The ceremony to commemorate the achievements of Dr. Newton took place in conjunction with the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame’s annual event, at which Dr. Newton was also inducted as a member of the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is located in the Keystone Centre in Brandon.

Margaret Newton (1887–1971) attended Macdonald College in Montreal and was one of the first women in Canada to receive a degree in agriculture. She began postgraduate work with grain rust, and did her doctoral research at the University of Saskatchewan, receiving a PhD from the University of Minnesota. In 1922 she was the first woman in Canada to achieve a PhD in agriculture. Newton was the founding scientist at the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory in Winnipeg. In 1942 she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and, six years later, she was the first female recipient of its Flavelle Medal.
Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Margaret Newton seeding rust plots with staff of the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory in an undated photograph.
Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

A page from Margaret Newton’s research notebook describes the characteristics of the rust species with which she worked.

See also:

Memorable Manitobans: Margaret Newton (1887-1971)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Margaret Newton Plaque (University of Manitoba)

Page revised: 15 February 2015

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