He left behind an agricultural legacy that is still recognized and respected today.
Had Seager Wheeler been one inch taller, agriculture on the Prairies might have been a whole lot different. At less than five feet, the young Englishman was too short to get into the British navy. Immigrating to Canada was his second choice, and in doing so, Wheeler became one of Saskatchewan’s most famous pioneers. He left behind an agricultural legacy that is still recognized and respected today.
Wheeler came to Canada in 1885, settling first near Moose Jaw, then at Clark’s Crossing, and finally choosing a homestead a few miles east of Rosthern.
He called it Maple Grove Farm for the avenue of maples he planted along the lane. A firm believer in shelter belts, Wheeler was one of the first to demonstrate the benefits of a protective border of trees.
Within this border, he established flower and vegetable gardens, plus a 40-acre orchard which thrived until the 1940s when -60 temperatures destroyed most of it.
Wheeler is best known for his grain. In 1911, he won the championship for the best Marquis Hard Red Spring wheat at a world competition in New York. He would go on to win the award four more times, as well as many dozens of other prizes.
Wheeler’s secret was selective improvement. He hand-picked the best, ripest and plumpest heads from his fields, grew out the seed, and hand-picked the best of that to grow out until he had the most consistent crop he could grow.
Wheeler and his brother Percy eventually developed a three-point seed-cleaning system that is still in use today with some modifications.
The brothers collaborated on a number of other farm innovations, including a pulley system to hoist loads of hay from the rack to the barn loft.
Seager wrote a book, Profitable Grain Growing, and offered it free to purchasers of his select seed. He gained such distinction in his work that Queen’s University awarded him an honorary doctorate of laws degree in 1920.
In his old age, Wheeler moved to Victoria to be close to the sea. The model farm he created was eventually purchased by a Rosthern-area farmer who launched a campaign to preserve the site and recognize Wheeler’s important agricultural work. Today the site is officially the Seager Wheeler National Historic Farm.
Site manager Janice Penner says most of the buildings have been refurbished including the seed-cleaning plant and the barn. Three houses stand on the site. One is the 1908 wood frame house that Wheeler built so his fiancée, Agnes Lily Martin, would marry him. Previously, he, his mother and a hired hand lived in a sod/log house. The largest house, which now serves as a tea house, gift shop, museum and site headquarters, was moved to the property in 1994.
Because Seager Wheeler was an avid photographer, there is a fine record of his early work on the farm. Many photos are on display in the little museum, as well as a picture of Wheeler with his five World Championship awards.
The farm is open to the public from 9 to 5 daily, Tuesday to Sunday, from Mother’s Day to the Labour Day weekend.
The tea room serves refreshments daily, and also has weekly events like the big Sunday buffet, barbecues and formal Victorian teas.
School tours are welcome at the farm, and during the summer, children aged eight to 12 can attend Children’s Camp which celebrates farm life and activities in the early days of the province.
For more information, visit www.seagerwheelerfarm.org.
Darlene Polachic writes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan