Manitoba History: Commemorating Margaret Newton
by Parks Canada
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.
Page revised: 15 February 2015