Frank Leith Skinner
Born in Scotland on 5 May 1882, in 1895 he immigrated with his family to the Dropmore district of Manitoba. Located at latitude 51 degrees, elevation 550 metres, it was an ideal area for testing northern farming. After losing a lung to pneumonia, he turned to gardening, soon acquiring a substantial expertise in horticulture and plant breeding through self-study. Encouraged by several experts, he began to commercialize his hobby of plant propagation in the mid-1920s.
His major accomplishments were in hybridization; he introduced 248 species of plants to the prairies, 144 of which were improved varieties. He was particularly successful with trees, producing a number of rapid-growing and disease-resistant hybrids of poplars, elms, and ornamental fruit trees, as well as early-blooming lilacs and lilies. Throughout his career he managed to balance scientific research with the demands of the small nursery that provided his income. For many years, he wrote the column “Nature Notes” for the Winnipeg Free Press.
In recognition of his community service, he was made a Member of the British Empire (1943) and he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Manitoba (1947) and the Manitoba Horticultural Association’s Stevenson Memorial Medal. He was given a Manitoba Golden Boy Award (1964) and was inducted into the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt (1967).
On 20 December 1947, at the age of 65 years, he married nurse Helen Bell Cumming (1915-2009, daughter of Hugh Duncan Cumming) and they subsequently had five children: Leith Skinner, Hugh Skinner, Isabel Skinner, Heather Skinner, and John Skinner.
He died at his Dropmore home on 27 August 1967 and was buried in the Deer Park Cemetery. The Skinner Memorial Library at the University of Manitoba was named in his honour. He was inducted posthumously into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame (1976) and Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame (1978). His papers are in the Archives of Manitoba.
Frank Leith Skinner
Manitoba History, Number 50, October 2005
Historic Sites of Manitoba: Frank Skinner Arboretum / F. L. Skinner Plaque (RM of Riding Mountain West)
HRB Pamphlets: Dr. Frank Leith Skinner
Horticultural Horizons: Plant Breeding and Introduction at Dropmore, Manitoba by Frank Leith Skinner (1967).
Pioneers of Manitoba by Robert Harvey (1970).
1901 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.
“Dr. F. L. Skinner dies at 85,” Winnipeg Free Press, 28 August 1967, page 7.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 30 August 1967, page 36.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
Obituary [Helen Bell Cumming Skinner], Winnipeg Free Press, 28 December 2009, page 50.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 31 October 2023
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