The Empire and the century/Canadian Agriculture and Rural Education
CANADIAN AGRICULTURE AND RURAL EDUCATION
By JAMES W. ROBERTSON
Canada is essentially an agricultural country. Most of its wealth must come first from its farms. Its material prosperity, at present in sturdy evidence on all sides, rests upon gainful agriculture.
The soil, the climate, and the intelligence and industry of the people, are favourable for the production of a great variety of food products of exceptionally good qualities from farms, gardens, orchards, and vineyards; and the extensive sea coasts, great lakes, rivers and streams, abound with the finest of fish.
Over 45 per cent of the population of Canada are engaged in agricultural occupations. There are vast areas of fertile soil from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, and the climate or climates range from subtropical to subarctic, with a rainfall varying from 67 inches per annum in British Columbia, 17 inches in Manitoba, to from 80 to 45 inches in the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. The mainland practically lies between 60° W. longitude and 125° W. longitude. The distance across Canada from east to west is rather more than one-sixth of the distance around the earth at that latitude. It extends from a little south of 42° N. latitude to the Arctic regions. The latitude of the settled portions of the eastern half of Canada coincides with that of France. To the west of the middle line—95° W. longitude—lies the great prairie region, beginning with the province of Manitoba, stretching westward for 800 miles to the foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains, and extending about 400 miles northward from the United States boundary. Seven hundred miles of mountainous regions, with fertile valleys hidden among them, are crumpled in between the prairies and the Pacific coast. The climate, on the whole, is warmer in summer and colder in winter than in corresponding latitudes in Europe. It has a land surface nearly twenty-nine times larger than Great Britain and Ireland, or seventeen times larger than France. If the area of the whole of Europe be represented by twelve, then the area of Canada would be eleven. Large tracts in the northern Arctic regions are uninhabitable, and entirely useless for the production of foods; but across the continent there is a zone about 3,500 miles long, and nearly as wide as France, with a climate adapted to the production of foods of a superior quality. Within that belt there are some mountainous regions and not a few hundred miles of arid prairies, where the settlement will always be sparse and the production of foods scanty. These comparisons indicate roughly the enormous capacity of Canada for the production of foods. The soil has been found fertile. That of Manitoba and the North-West territories is rich in the constituents of plant food to a degree that surpasses nearly all the soils of Europe. The freezing of the land in winter, which at first sight seems a drawback, retains the soluble nitrates, which might otherwise be drained out. By competent authorities in England it has been estimated that the drainage in that country from November to March carries off to the sea a quantity of nitrates per acre sufficient for an average crop of wheat.
There have been many and great changes in the methods of agriculture during recent years. It has grown to mean more than the cultivation of land. In its primitive state, the practice was to disturb the bosom of Mother Earth, plant seeds, reap, and eat the crop. Muscular strength was its mainstay, and the constant exercise of rigorous self-denial almost its only economy. Its chief difficulties seem to have been of a similar character to those which Adam experienced after his Paradise was lost. In the growing of crops, unfavourable weather, weeds, insects, and fungous diseases, are called blessings in disguise. The disguise is unquestionably good.
Nowadays, agriculture may be said to include not only the cultivation of land, but the culture of the people who live on the land. The efforts of the farmer must be directed by intelligent purpose, if he is to prove successful in maintaining the fertility of the soil, in raising and keeping live-stock profitably, and in preparing products for markets. This all calls for education suitable to his needs. Such an education fits the people to derive happiness, material prosperity, and vigour of body, with strong gentleness of spirit, from their rural occupations. It is not so common now as it was to hear that sort of education sneered at as 'utilitarian' by those who hold to the mischievous notion that culture consists in acquiring and exhibiting conventional manners, and is shown at its best by a life of idleness in the midst of beautiful and luxurious surroundings. To the educated farmer that sort of thing is corrosion and corruption of the fibres of physical, mental, and moral life.
The wholesome fruits of culture are satisfying and nourishing only to those who follow a worthy course of action, careless of personal ease, for some important public good. To many of us who are working for the improvement of rural education, it appears that moral courage and intellectual enjoyments rest upon, and rise from, the basis of a people like Canadians, who are intelligent, capable, and disposed to work together for the good of all; who are well fed and well clothed; who live in comfortable houses; and who keep themselves perfectly clean.
Certain places are especially adapted for certain rural industries. The province of Prince Edward Island is adapted for dairying through butter and cheese factories, but that business was going backward for want of information and education. In the year 1892, with the assistance of money given by the Dominion Government, one cooperative cheese factory was started at New Perth, in Prince Edward Island. The machinery was lent by the Government. An instructor was sent to organize the business and to arrange the locality into routes for the convenience of those supplying milk. The factory was managed as a Government dairy station, as an object-lesson for the education of the people in cooperative dairying. In the autumn of 1892 I took the liberty of exporting to London $3,600 worth of cheese manufactured at that station, and I can recall the remonstrances of some of the people against risking their cheese in any steamer. I got fault-finding letters asking me why I did not sell the cheese at home, or in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The cheese was delivered in England, and was sold there for the top market price. Some of it, indeed, sold for sixpence per hundredweight more. I angled for that sixpence, and got it. Then, when the island people knew that they had got sixpence per hundredweight more for their cheese than was paid for any other Canadian cheese sold that day in London, it put new faith, hope, and courage into them. That was the beginning of the export of cheese from Prince Edward Island—to the value of $3,600. At the taking of the census in 1891, the four cheese factories in Prince Edward Island were put in the returns as having an output worth $8,448; ten years later, when the census of 1901 was taken, there were forty-seven cheese and butter factories, with an output valued at $566,824. There is an instance of the result of organization and education! There had been no increase in the number of acres of land occupied, and but little increase in the number of cows kept. The change had been in the quality of the intelligent labour applied to the conditions. The people now run their own factories, and have repaid to the Government every dollar that was lent to them. There is no part of agriculture that is not susceptible to the same kind of improvement.
Here is another instance on a larger scale. The province of Ontario is noted for the products of its cheese factories and creameries. It made great advancement in quality and in quantity as between the two census years 1891 and 1901. The province of Quebec had not advanced so far in cooperative dairying; but a beginning had been made in organizing its cheese factories and creameries into syndicates. The syndicate was a group of cheese factories or butter factories employing the services of a travelling instructor. In 1892 a dairy school for the province of Quebec was started by the provincial authorities; and the Department of Agriculture of the Federal Government at Ottawa authorized me, as Commissioner, to turn in $3,000 a year of federal money to help the dairy school at St. Hyacinthe—to promote dairying and agriculture by means of education. We did not call it education. That might have been an unconscious slap at the Constitution of Canada, which, by the British North America Act, is said to reserve all legislation affecting education to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Provincial Legislatures. We began by giving short courses. Some of the wiseacres said it was foolish to think of imparting any education worthy of the name in a two weeks' course. However, we made it a rule that only students should be admitted who had worked for one year in a cheese factory or butter factory. We had neither the time nor the money to devote to those floating atoms who, in an indefinite way, wanted a college education for dairying. No one could get the course at St. Hyacinthe unless he had previously had one year of practical experience. These were the very people we wanted to help. These were they who needed help. Then, the provincial authorities went further in organizing the factories into syndicates. No one was allowed to become a syndicate instructor unless he had taken the course, or courses, of instruction at the St. Hyacinthe Dairy School. During the first year (1892-1893) 214 students took the course; the next year there were 268 students; in the third year 328, and so on. The people of the province of Quebec were generally supposed to be far behind those of Ontario in education and cooperation as applied to dairying and agriculture generally. The returns in the census of 1901 revealed some of the results of the educational campaign. Ontario made great progress, but Quebec made much more. The following table is indicative in part of what was accomplished:
|Value in 1900||$14,706,303||$12,261,898|
|Value in 1890||7,569,338||2,918,527|
The development of this industry, which has increased the desire and capacity of the rural populations to cooperate in other ways, is traceable directly to education and guidance towards organization. I believe that similar means would be equally effective in the whole range of agriculture, from the cultivation of the soil to the preparation and shipping of products to ultimate markets.
In 1899 I arranged a competition among Canadian boys and girls in the selecting by hand of large heads of wheat and oats. Each competitor gathered 100 of the best heads he or she could find, and forwarded them to me. One hundred dollars in cash prizes were provided, and awarded to the successful competitors. In 1900 Sir William C. Macdonald, of Montreal, gave me the sum of $10,000 to be distributed in prizes to the successful boys and girls living on Canadian farms who entered into a competition in the growing and selecting of seed of wheat and oats, according to the plan outlined. Each competitor was required to operate a seed-plot consisting of not less than one-quarter acre during each of three consecutive years, and each year to select from the ripened standing crop of the seed-plot enough large heads of wheat or oats from the most vigorous and productive plants to provide well-developed seed for the seed-plot of the succeeding year. The operations of the competitors were inspected from time to time during the term. The parents of the 450 competitors who completed the three years' work were found, as a rule, to be among the best farmers in the localities where they reside. During each of the three years 100 heads were selected and forwarded to me for examination. These were separately threshed, and the cleaned grain was counted and weighed. Certified reports showing the yield from the quarter-acre seed-plot were also received from each competitor.
The increase in the large heads from the crop of 1900 to those from the crop of 1908, on the average for all Canada, was 18 per cent. of increase in the number, and 28 per cent. in the weight, of grain per 100 heads of spring wheat; and 19 per cent. of increase in the number, and 27 per cent. in the weight, of grain per 100 heads of oats.
The export commerce of Canada in farm products is growing very fast. The following table shows the value of the exports of Canadian agricultural and animal products in three years, typical of the expansion in the last twenty:
|1884||(year ending June 30)||$34,224,195|
|1894||„ „ „||47,802,859|
|1904||„ „ „||100,950,992|
Canada has still large areas of unoccupied wheat lands of great fertility. From all I can learn regarding those of the vast North-West (and the data are not very exact, full, or clear), I incline to the opinion that 200,000,000 bushels of wheat or its equivalent may be furnished for export from that region within the lifetime of the youngest farmer settled there. One must bear in mind the limitations of production per acre over periods of more than fifteen or twenty years where wheat is the only or chief crop, without such a system of rotation of crops as will hinder weeds from taking full possession of whole districts. That turns one to regard with increasing confidence the capacity of the undeveloped agricultural resources of the older half of Canada (lying between the prairies, or, rather, between the great Lakes Superior and Huron and the Atlantic seaboard) to supply the larger share of the requirements of the United Kingdom for imported foods. The exportation of wheat has played a minor part in the agricultural prosperity of the country. That is made evident by the following table of value of exports. I have put the average figures of five years into each of four periods during the last twenty years to eliminate the presentation of temporary fluctuations which might mislead, and I have held to the use of values rather than quantities in this article, as being the more serviceable means towards giving correct and clear impressions to the citizen of the Empire who reads it.
|Wheat and Flour.||Percentage of Total Values|
in Wheat and Flour.
Probably the proportion of wheat and flour to total exports will increase in similar ratio for another decade.
What I have said regarding the part which education and organization have played in the advancement of agriculture refers mainly to what has been done for the adult population by Government agencies, voluntary associations of farmers and others, the agricultural press, lectures, and the example of excellent farmers. Not much has been done in the rural schools as yet to educate the children towards aptitudes, inclination, and ability for deriving satisfaction as well as material prosperity from the occupations of rural life. A widespread feeling exists that something more ought to be done to bring rural schools into closer touch with the practical needs of country life. A large number of us believe that the public schools of Canada have played a great part in raising the general level of intelligence to a comparatively high plane. In our appreciation of that, we do not conclude that they are doing all they could do, or all they should do, for the children in rural districts at the present time. The school systems and schools of the towns and cities of the Dominion are unquestionably excellent as compared with those of other countries. The opportunities for education in rural districts in Canada are not more meagre than they are in some other parts of the world, but they are not worthy of Canadians at this time in their history and prosperity.
The neglect of the rural schools has not been from the poverty of the people. Canada is increasing in wealth perhaps faster than any country with a similar proportion of its population depending upon rural employments. The fault has been in the lack of appreciation of the real worth of education to the community. That apathy has left the rural schools in 80 per cent. of the cases in the hands of young women comparatively inexperienced as teachers. There are in round figures some 746,000 children from five to fourteen years of age in the rural districts, and about 450,000 of the same ages in incorporated villages, towns, and cities. The educational leaders have been concerned with the enlargement of colleges, the improvement of the schools in towns and cities, and the adjustment of them to the needs of urban populations. Little attempt has been made to reform or enrich the course of study or the methods of training at rural schools, which are admittedly less efficient for the needs of the time than they were twenty-five years ago. These and other reasons caused Sir W. C. Macdonald, of Montreal, to devote large sums of money to what may be called 'object-lessons,' rather than experiments, towards the betterment of elementary and secondary schools. He had already befriended advanced education at McGill University in a princely way.
Manual Training.—As a first step towards reaching the rural schools, he furnished the money to extend manual training (in most cases to introduce it) in the public schools of the various provinces. Manual training centres were equipped, and competent teachers of experience were employed at twenty-one different places from Prince Edward Island on the Atlantic to Vancouver and Victoria on the Pacific. The Macdonald Manual Training Fund maintained the object-lesson for three years. At the end of that time the equipment was presented to the local and provincial school authorities, who have since maintained and further extended the work. Under the Macdonald Fund some 7,000 boys took manual training, and several hundred teachers attended short courses on Saturdays or on other school holidays. Now it is reported that 20,000 children attend manual training classes as a direct consequence of the Macdonald movement.
School Gardens.—The next step was to establish 'object-lesson' school gardens at twenty-five rural schools as a basis for Nature study. They are giving the schools a rural outlook and the pupils a wholesome interest in, and an intelligent acquaintance with, the forces and phenomena of their surroundings. At the same time provision was made to establish an 'object-lesson' consolidated rural school in each of the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Three of those schools are in operation, and a fourth is to be opened in May, 1905. A school board representing the whole area replaces the school boards of the several single schools merged into the central one. The children are conveyed from their homes to and from school in covered vans. The greatest distance of the routes is from 3½ to 6 miles. Some children over fourteen years of age attend, and children under five may be enrolled. All come more regularly. The average attendance has been increased by 70 per cent. at two of the consolidated schools, and by over 150 per cent. at another. Each of these consolidated schools has a school garden and Nature-study work, equipment for household science work in cooking and sewing, and manual training in woodwork. The Macdonald Rural Schools Fund meets, for a period of three years, the additional expense of the consolidated schools over the cost of the small rural schools. The school sections and other authorities contribute exactly the former expenditure. The school remains under the management of the local authorities, and the extra cost is met by the Macdonald Fund for three years, to enable the people of these five provinces to have this object-lesson and experiment in education.
Special Teachers.—To begin and carry on that work it was necessary that it should not be conducted in an amateurish way. I conferred with the educational authorities in the provinces, and got the names of one or two of their best teachers for the rural schools in each province. For New Brunswick I took the science master of the Normal School, a former country teacher, and another teacher who was eminently successful with a school garden of his own. I obtained suitable men from the other provinces. I made a class of these teachers from Canada, and sent them to the University of Chicago, where they had a Nature-study course under Professor Coulter and Professor Jackman. Then the teachers were sent to Cornell University to get short lessons on horticulture, agriculture, and insect-life, with special reference to rural schools. Then they were sent to New York, to Teachers' College in connection with Columbia University, to receive special training there on how to make themselves effective as school teachers in this newer education. They afterwards attended the Ontario Agricultural College at Guelph, each working his own garden plot as each child works at the school.
Mr. R. H. Cowley, Inspector of Schools for Carleton County, Ontario, where five of these gardens are located, says:
'The vast majority of European school gardens look to utility. Of the few that recognise the importance of the educational end, nearly all stop short at the acquisition of a certain amount of scientific information and the habit of careful observation. On the other hand, the Macdonald School Gardens, while designed to encourage the cultivation of the soil as an ideal life-work, are intended to promote, above all things else, symmetrical education of the individual. They do not aim at education to the exclusion of utility, but they seek education through utility, and utility through education. The garden is the means, the pupil is the end. The Macdonald School Gardens are a factor in an educational movement, and for this reason Professor Robertson sought to have them brought under the Education Department, and not under the Department of Agriculture, in each province. The fact that the various provinces already referred to have passed Orders in Council incorporating the Macdonald School Gardens into their educational systems at once places these school gardens on a broader educational basis than that occupied by the school gardens of any other State or country.
'The Macdonald School Gardens not only have a recognised place in the provincial systems of education, but they are attached to the ordinary rural schools, owned by the school corporation, and conducted under the authority of the school trustees and with the express approval of the ratepayers. The work of the garden is recognised as a legitimate part of the school programme, and it is already interwoven with a considerable part of the other studies. The garden is becoming the outer classroom of the school, and the plots are its blackboards. The garden is not an innovation, or an excrescence, or an addendum, or a diversion: it is a happy field of expression, an organic part of the school, in which the boys and girls work among growing things, and grow themselves in body and mind and spiritual outlook.
'The good influence of the school garden on the discipline and moral tone of the school is remarked by all the teachers. Pupils hitherto troublesome have become orderly and docile. The percentage of regularity in attendance has increased, and a deeper interest is taken in all the work of the school.
'In its national aspects, the school garden develops a wide interest in the fundamental industry of the country. It cultivates the sense of ownership and a social spirit of cooperation and mutual respect for one another's rights. In the care of their own plots the pupils fight common enemies, and learn that a bad weed in a neglected plot may make trouble for many others. The garden is a pleasant avenue of communication between the school and the home, relating them in a new and living way, and thereby strengthening public interest in the school as a national institution.
'The tendency of young people to rush to the cities has become an evil in some countries, and, if not checked, is likely to deteriorate the national life of Canada. In towns and cities the school garden will develop a desire in the rising generation to possess at least sufficient land for a garden. The city boy will spend more of his leisure on the home lot and less on the street. The city girl, who is now too much confined to the house, will develop a bodily vigour that can only be acquired in the sunshine and open air. The school garden will train the urban population to look toward the country. It will train the rural population to remain in the country. It will convince the young mind that the work of the farmer gives scope for intelligence and scholarship, and holds out the promise that a life of industry in the country will win rewards of prosperity, independence, and happiness.'
This article has already grown to such length that I must drop school gardens and consolidation, contenting myself (and maybe some keenly interested reader) by promising that at an early date some Canadian educator will furnish a better and fuller account of their scope, effect, and value.
It still remains to be stated that Sir William Macdonald's purpose could not be satisfied with even these splendid helps towards the improvement of rural education. The movement needed headquarters where teachers could be trained for what has been called 'The New Education.' In consequence, the Macdonald Institute, provided by a gift of £38,000 to the province of Ontario, stands on a campus adjoining the Ontario Agricultural College. At it the Ontario Government provides courses of instruction and training for teachers and others in Nature study, household science, and manual training. Forty selected teachers are there at present, on scholarships provided by provincial departments of education and the Macdonald Funds, receiving training to introduce one or more of those branches into rural schools. After a few years the Macdonald Institute, having served its first purpose in training teachers already in the service of schools, is to become an integral part of the Ontario Agricultural College, to give farmers' daughters an opportunity for advanced education suitable for rural life.
As a permanent headquarters in Canada for this movement, and also to serve particularly the province of Quebec in its agriculture and in the training of teachers for its Protestant schools, a new college is being founded at St. Anne de Bellevue. A beautiful site, where the Ottawa flows into the St. Lawrence, is to have a group of buildings with surrounding farms devoted to this purpose- The whole cost of the college, together with its endowment and adequate scholarships to insure that teachers trained there will teach in the rural schools, is provided by Sir William Macdonald. College of Agriculture.—In connection with the College of Agriculture proper, there will be three main departments—the department of farms, the department of research, and the department of instruction. The department of farms will consist, primarily, of demonstration or illustration farms, each fully equipped and self-contained. These will be managed for profit, and also for illustrating the best-known methods of agriculture. There will be a dairy farm, with several breeds of dairy cattle; a beef farm, with several breeds of beefing cattle; and a small-cultures farm, devoted to such products as vegetables, small fruits, large fruits, poultry, dairy products, etc. Each farm will have a speciality, and it will also include live-stock and equipment for other branches of farming. For instance, the dairy farm will also have swine and poultry, and the beef farm will carry sheep, a few dairy cows, and poultry. Provision will be made on these farms for receiving a number, of apprentices, who will learn the operations of farming, as well as methods of management, by working and sharing in the management. An industrious lad will be able to earn as much on one of the farms as an apprentice, as will pay for his board in the college residence building when taking a course of instruction during the winter. The same will apply to women, who may become apprentices on the small-cultures farm in connection with fruit-growing, floriculture, dairying, or poultry-keeping. In the college department during the winter months such women could take courses in household science, including cooking, dressmaking and cutting, housekeeping, and the like.
Department of Research.—The department of research will be equipped with a competent staff and commodious and suitable laboratories. One laboratory building will contain the departments of biology, bacteriology, and entomology. Another will contain the departments of physics and agricultural chemistry. In this department, while the research work will be very helpful to the advanced instruction carried on in the college, original investigations will be undertaken and carried on for the benefit of agriculture in the Dominion at large. The question of the bacterial contents of soil and its fertility is one which is very alluring, and pregnant with great possibilities of service and benefit to the farming population. In every field problems await solution, and it is expected that the staff in the department at St. Anne's will do its full share towards advancing the knowledge of some of them, to the profit and enlightenment of the farmer. After the department of research has advanced any discovery far enough to make it applicable to ordinary agriculture, its practicability in regard to profit-making, etc., will be tested in the department of farms before any new method is commended to the farmers.
Department of Instruction.—In the department of instruction provision will be made for short courses for farmers and farmers' sons in such subjects as live-stock, improvement of seeds, improvement of soils, fruit culture, dairying, poultry-keeping, etc. There will also be a women's department, and short courses will be offered to farmers' daughters in sewing, cooking, dress-making and cutting, millinery, housekeeping, and so on. There will also be short courses for women in dairying, poultry-keeping, bee-keeping, and fruit culture. The long courses for men and women will be very much on the lines that have been followed at the best colleges of agriculture. In planning for and carrying out assistance towards the improvement of rural schools in the five provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, it has been thought expedient to provide a teachers' college, primarily for the purpose of training men and women to be thoroughly qualified as teachers in advanced rural schools. Such teachers will be competent not only in ordinary subjects of school education, as accepted hitherto, but will be qualified to use these newer means of education known as Nature-study work, household science, and manual training. Those attending the teachers' college will not be required to take any work in the department of agriculture, but they will have the opportunity of doing so, if they desire to familiarize themselves with any part or detail of it. A staff fully competent to carry on the work of the teachers' college will be provided. In addition to the long course of training which may be required when the teachers' college comes to its proper work, short courses will be provided for teachers already in the service who may desire to avail themselves of the opportunities and privileges which will be found for Canadian teachers at the Macdonald Institution. It has been felt all along that the teachers' college should be specially available and useful to teachers already in the service in the Protestant schools of the province of Quebec, and to others who may seek training to become qualified teachers in the province.
Residences for the Students.—Besides the instruction building and laboratories, there will be a residence for men and another for women. There will be dining-hall accommodation, and separate gymnasiums for men and women. The buildings will have a content of about 6,000,000 cubic feet.
All these buildings will be of fireproof construction. Sir William Macdonald's direction in the matter is that the buildings are to be the best of their kind for the purposes for which they are intended, due regard being had to economy for original cost and maintenance. They will stand on a 60-acre field, sloping towards the river, with a fine southern and eastern exposure. The outside walls of the main buildings are to be of buff-brick, trimmed with stone, and the roofs are to be finished with steel and concrete structure, covered with tiles. It is anticipated that the buildings, with their setting, will constitute as fine a group as has been seen in connection with any agricultural institution on the continent. It is expected that the main buildings will have their roofs on before the winter of the present year, and, barring unforeseen accidents or causes of delay, the college will be ready to receive students in the autumn of 1906.
Sir William Macdonald's real monument will be in the enriched lives of the rural population of half a continent, conserving the liberty, intelligence, justice and goodwill which our Empire is a means of bringing in ever-increasing fulness to all its citizens.
- In round figures, that would suffice for the present import demand of the United Kingdom.