Here, eat this!
You could say this was the best thing since before sliced bread.
Science in Canada in the late 1800s – man, it was an interesting thing. You could pretty much fit a laboratory in your mouth. Actually, for one guy, it was his mouth.
Plant breeding was a new science. You crossed two plants, produced a bunch of plants with phenotypically uniform heads. What is phenotypical? Well, I’m glad you asked. In this case, it means what the wheat looks like as a consequence of the interaction of its genotype and the environment.
The varieties Markham A and Markham B (renamed Marquis A and Marquis B by 1906) were created from seeds of the Hard Red Calcutta and Red Fife cross.
Red Fife was named by an Ontario farmer from the Peterborough area and was well known in Canada. It did well in southern Ontario, but the growing season was too long for it to flourish in the prairies.
From these two strains, Dr. Charles Saunders began to select superior single heads. He isolated a line maturing earlier and stronger than Red Fife. How did he do this, you ask? Well, only the best and more tasteful scientific method would do. He took kernals from every head and chewed them. As the kernals softened and were moistened with, um, his spit, they formed dough balls. The dough balls with the great elasticity were the ones with the greatest gluten strength which would yield the biggest…loaf.
Here, go make some bread. Yummy!
Charles Saunders came by his interest naturally. His father, Dr William Saunders, had been director of the Experimental Farms Service and travelled extensively throughout Canada to monitor the adaptability of varieties of different crops.
You can trace the ancestors of the Marquis variety to seeds produced between 1904 and 1906. In the off season, in an actual laboratory and not Charles mouth, he verified his mouth was right, using a mill to grind the flour, instead of his teeth and using an oven to test the dough, instead of his mouth.
In 1907, 23 pounds of Marquis grain were sent west from Ottawa to the Indian Head Experimental Farm in Saskatchewan for field trial. The next it was sent to Brandon Manitioba and the Experimental Farm nearby.t It was tried out in the public the next year with 400 samples sent out to farmers across the prairies and Ontario and Quebec as well as British Columbia, where it slipped across the border and onto the fields of American farmers. Every wheat growing country in the world was excited by the potential the Marquis kernel offered.
It is considered one of Canada’s great triumphs.
By 1912 the wheat was being use by American farmers who were delighted by its yield, milling and baking qualities.
In the states, Marquis wheat replaced, either wholly or in part, all spring varieties grown at that time and even some winter ones.By the end of the First World War, the Canadian grain had conquered the central plains of North America, where it covered 20 million acres in a band 800 miles wide.
In 1911, the Canadian Pacific Railway offered a prize of one thousand dollars in gold for the best wheat variety in Canada. Marquis easily won that award. By 1918, 20 million acres from southern Nebraska to northern Saskatchewan was planted in Marquis; i.e., it occupied 80-90% of the total wheat acreage. That was 500 million dollars worth of wheat back then. Marquis wheat made Canada the greatest wheat exporting nation in the world and greatly enhanced the war effort of not only Canada, but also that of its allies, the UK, France, Belgium and Greece.
So what is the legacy of Marquis? It has left a permanent mark -e very strain of wheat produced in Canada has its beginnings in Charles Saunders’ mouth. So chew on that.