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Marquis who?

A cafe, hotel, municipal district, and school district--ranging geographically from Cardston in the south to the Provost district in the north--all have one thing in common--their name. All were named Marquis--Marquis Cafe, Marquis Hotel, Marquis Municipal District No. 157, and Marquis School District No. 2998.Why were they all so named? Before the link can be revealed, some history of each is provided on these four organizations.

Not much was found concerning Cardston's Marquis Cafe. It was in existence from 1936 to 1938 and was sold in 1939, presumably to Henry H. Atkins perhaps so he could expand his own business from next door. (1) The cafe apparently was out of business until 1943 when it was restarted at a new location and stayed in operation until 1948 when it closed for good. (2)

Heading a little further north, in Lethbridge, was the Marquis Hotel about which a great deal was known. Developed to help promote southern Alberta and bring conventions to Lethbridge, the Marquis opened in June 1928 as the pre-eminent hotel in Lethbridge. It was designed as a community hotel with the money for it being raised from local citizens and others throughout the district. Built under the co-ordination of the Lethbridge Community Hotel organization, shares were sold for $100 each. When opened in 1928, the Marquis had seventy-eight bedrooms though a later addition brought the total to ninety rooms. Additionally, the hotel housed the Marquis Coffee Shop and Marquis Flower Shop, a banquet room (with seating for 250), a main dining room, lounge, and a 'tea room for the ladies.' The hotel also boasted the first neon sign in Lethbridge and the CJOC Radio Station operated from there until 1949. (3) During the 1930s and 1940s, located in and around the Marquis Hotel (within a one block radius) were several other businesses also named Marquis: Marquis Beauty Shop, Marquis Car Exchange, Marquis Coffee Shop, Marquis Drug Store, Marquis Flower Shop, Marquis Motors Limited, and Marquis Taxi.


Further north, east of Vulcan, was the Marquis Municipal District No. 157 which was formed in December 1912 and enlarged in 1913. Arthur Bond was the first Reeve in 1913 while G. McComber, Paul Norton, D.B. Sims, Harry Deitz and R.E. House served as first councillors. Milt Ward, who wrote a history of the Municipal District for the local history book, wanted to ensure that a few important factors regarding the district were recorded: "No teacher went away without being paid in full. A determined effort was made to keep the taxes low and to prevent foreclosure. Our road program, in spite of taxes at minimum received an award for the best rural road work in Alberta." (4) By 1919 the Marquis Municipal District had 320 resident farmers and by 1926 it was reported to have a population of 2,500. Growth of the district appeared to have stalled at that point as the same number of residents (a population of 2,500 with 625 resident farmers) was reported in the 1935 Alberta population data.

North and east, not far from the Saskatchewan border in the Provost area, was Marquis School District No. 2998. It was developed in 1914, with the first school constructed in 1916 and the teacherage in 1921. Miss Evelyn Daly served as first teacher at the school in 1916. (5)

Separated by geography, started up to twenty years apart, who was the Marquis after whom all of these things were named? It was not a person, but a variety of wheat. The use of the name Marquis was used to recognize the importance of this wheat in the life and history of Alberta and Albertans.

When the Marquis Hotel was being planned, an article was run in the Lethbridge Herald looking for names for the new hotel. (6) Several were suggested and the two most favoured were The Stafford and The Sheran. The Stafford name would have recognized the William and Jane Stafford family, William being the first manager of the coal mines in Lethbridge and prominent in the development of early Lethbridge. The Sheran name was suggested in honour of Nicholas Sheran, Lethbridge's first coal mine operator who started the coal industry in Lethbridge in the 1870s. Both were names of local importance and honoured local men of renown. But the final decision was made to use the name Marquis--to honour the wheat.

With the Marquis School District, the name was suggested by W.J. Levitt, the first person in that area to grow Marquis wheat (in 1911) and who sold the wheat to his neighbours for seed . (7)

Marquis wheat, which changed Canada and southern Alberta completely, was one of the most important discoveries in Canadian history. On a national level, the introduction of Marquis wheat was "the greatest practical triumph on Canadian agriculture." (8) The wheat allowed Canada to serve as the granary of the Allies during World War I and to help solve the food crisis of the war. (9) By 1920, 90 per cent of all spring wheat in Canada and 60 per cent of all spring wheat in the United States was the Marquis variety. And Marquis would remain the primary wheat in Canada until the 1940s.

Richard J. Needham in 1940 captured the phenomenal importance of this grain to the growth of Alberta:
   Last week, I stood on top of a hill between
   Calgary and Lethbridge. Everywhere I
   looked, there was wheat ... gold wheat in
   the great fields, dead ripe, waiting to be
   cut; long rows of wheat in stook, waiting
   to be threshed.... Within the confines of
   this province, more wheat has been
   produced this year than in all Australia.
   This has come about through a philosophy,
   an economy, a way of life--Big Wheat.

   All this is very important. But there is, I
   think, a tendency to overlook one thing ...
   the fact that this giant crop, this terrific
   accumulation of food, was produced by a
   mere handful of people, living in splendid
   isolation on the immeasurable plains. This
   is a challenging and vigorous achievement,
   a legend of our own time, a story that most
   of the world's people could never
   comprehend, a gigantic feat of skill and
   courage and energy. This is Big Wheat. (10)

Marquis wheat was discovered by Charles Saunders in 1904 and Saunders was knighted for this achievement in 1934. A cross between the early ripening Indian wheat Hard Red Calcutta and the Ukrainian wheat, Red Fife, Marquis combined the best qualities of these varieties. The advantages of Marquis were the "surprisingly high quality of its grain and flour, its early ripening (several days earlier than Red Fife), high yield, and the fact that its straw does not lie flat." (11) The early ripening meant that the new wheat variety could be grown farther north than Red Fife thus helping open up areas such as the Peace River Country to farming. This early ripening also meant that when the weather of western Canada was un-cooperative (with late springs and early falls that happened more often than desired) farmers could still hope to take off a crop. And, of great importance to southern Alberta, Marquis wheat had a head that was resistant to heavy winds, which meant it did not shell out and lose its seeds while still standing in the fields. Marquis was also highly praised for its high milling quality and the great taste of bread made from its flour.

With all of the good news that came from the testing of Marquis wheat, a decision was made in the spring of 1909 that widespread distribution of the variety to the public could begin. That year "four hundred samples were sent to farmers throughout Western Canada." (12) The wheat could soon be found from Quebec to British Columbia and in the United States as well. The federal government had been encouraging people from around the world to come to western Canada and homestead. For those new farms to succeed, it was imperative to have a wheat that could meet all of the needs of new farmers. Marquis wheat was exactly what was needed and its arrival on the farming scene was noted and lauded.

The wheat made such an impression that when writing community history books years later, several remembered the arrival of Marquis into their community. Ted Ingram, who farmed in the Enchant/Sundial area, had the following recollections.
   ... that same year [1912] I bought my first
   bushel of Marquis wheat with a view to
   raising my own seed wheat. By the time
   1915 and 1916 came along I raised record
   crops from my own home-grown seed
   wheat. In 1915 it averaged 50 bushels to
   the acre, weighing 62 pounds to the
   bushel. In 1916 I had a 60-bushel average
   of the same weight. 'French' Dionne, our
   thresher man, could hardly believe it. (13)

The Row family of Carmangay felt it important to mention in their family biography that they had an early connection to Marquis wheat: "William was the first farmer to grow Marquis wheat in this district, selling it all to neighbours for seed." (14) And Oliver Watmough, the son of Charles and Ada Watmough, was about eight years old when Marquis wheat was first introduced into the West Lethbridge area and he remembered the event clearly.

   About the spring of 1911 Dad brought
   home a small strong cotton sack of a new
   special wheat seed. While he held it in his
   hands at our long dinner table he told us
   that each farmer was allowed only ten
   pounds of it that year. It was Dr. Saunders'
   new rust-resistant wheat called Marquis.
   By careful handling it paid off big in later
   years. (15)

While Oliver Watmough remembered it was not actually true that it was rust-resistant. Marquis wheat often ripened before rust developed but it was not resistant to it. One of the reasons that Marquis was replaced by other wheat in the 1940s (following World War II) was the need for a rust-resistant wheat. In the Cardston History Book in a timeline that outlined important community events, included October 1911 where "first early ripening wheat introduced in Cardston district. Marquis." (16)

The place Marquis wheat gained in western lore was helped not only by the stories of individual farmers but also because it was soon shown to out compete other wheat both in the field and in competition. The place of Marquis on the national and international scene was set when it won numerous awards, starting in 1911 when Seager Wheeler of Rosthern, Saskatchewan, won a 1911 international competition for the best bushel of hard spring wheat grown in North America. While the winning of this award was known by the people of southern Alberta, more importantly for the status of Marquis locally was the prize it won in 1912.

From October 19 to 26, 1912, Lethbridge hosted the Seventh International Dry Farming Congress. With over 5,000 delegates from fifteen countries, this was seen as the perfect opportunity to promote southern Alberta and Canada to the world. As part of the conference there was an exposition of products that could be grown in dry farming conditions and a competition regarding the best grains and products. It was expected that for the competition "at least twelve of the western states and four provinces of Canada will contest for supremacy." The grand prize was a Rumely tractor which was considered at the time "the biggest prize ever given in any open competition of such a nature." (17) Leading up to the Congress, the Lethbridge Herald carried several reports of farmers (some quite well known and who had won prizes for their grain in the past) arriving in Lethbridge bragging about the grain samples they were bringing for the competition.

The grand prize was won by a southern Alberta farmer and it was Marquis wheat which made the win possible. The tractor was destined to remain in southern Alberta. The winner was Henry Holmes of Raymond. As much as the Herald poured fulsome praise on Holmes' head, Marquis wheat equally received a large amount of the credit. Said the Herald, "Once more, also, Marquis Wheat won the big prize and added another laurel to its already famous reputation as a winning wheat. It was the first attempt of Mr. Holmes to grow Marquis, and will establish it as the coming grain in Southern Alberta." (18) Adding to the prestige, Holmes was offered $1,000 for the bushel of his Marquis wheat. This was an incredibly large amount of money for a bushel of wheat. When A.P. Hemple had won first prize for wheat at the Taber Fair in September 1912, he had been offered $5.00 a bushel for his Marquis wheat. (19) Holmes refused the offer and instead gave the wheat to I.W. McNicol, exposition manager, and small bottles of the grain were given to "lights of the Congress" from around North America. (20) Marquis wheat was considered too important to be kept by only a few people but needed to be used as seed to help spread the wheat as far as possible.

Many new wheat varieties were tested and tried around southern Alberta. In one or two characteristics, some outperformed Marquis but none could surpass Marquis in everything. In 1927 the Lethbridge Herald summed it all up.
   It can be said safely that the standard of
   high milling wheat today is Marquis and
   the general statement can also be made,
   which admits of but few exceptions, that
   wherever Marquis can be satisfactorily
   ripened, that that variety alone should be
   grown. Year after year, at the International
   and all other competitive grain exhibitions,
   Marquis invariable takes the first prize
   and Grand Championships and it is safe to
   say that if only Marquis could be grown
   for our export wheat, Western Canada
   would have nothing to fear as to future
   milling values of its wheat. (21)

However, the place of Marquis wheat diminished in the 1940s. One of its major disadvantages was that it was not rust-resistant and as rust became more and more prevalent on the prairies, it was imperative that other wheat be developed to replace it. After World War II, more high-yielding, faster ripening and, most particularly, rust resistant wheat varieties were developed. Following its replacement, the role Marquis wheat played in the development of southern Alberta (and, indeed, all of western Canada) has been forgotten by many people and its place of honour lost.

Adding to its demise in the minds of southern Albertans is that many of the organizations that were named after it have disappeared. The Marquis Hotel that stood grandly at the south-west corner of 4th Avenue and 7th Street South in Lethbridge was closed in 1985 and demolished in June 1988.

In 1941, part of the Municipal District of Marquis became part of the Dinton Municipality and another section joined the Royal Municipality. Further, in 1943 when changes were made to the municipal districts of Alberta "[t]hat portion of the Municipal District of Marquis No. 157 south of the correction line and west of Lake McGregor and that portion of Twp. 16, Range 21, West of the Lake McGregor were added into the Municipal district of Vulcan No. 29." In 1951 the Municipalities of Dinton and Royal were taken up by the County of Vulcan. Nothing of the municipality remains today.

The Marquis School District was taken into the Provost School District which was later taken into the Buffalo Trail Public Schools Regional Division No. 28. In the Provost area all old-school sites, including the Marquis School, have been marked so that while the district has disappeared, there is at least some small reminder of its existence. Lastly, the Marquis Caf6 in Cardston went out of business in 1948.

In southern Alberta, only one business still in operation could be found that has the Marquis name and with its origin still in some way linked to Marquis wheat. The Marquis Flower Shop, which opened in 1931, was originally housed in the Marquis Hotel and kept the Marquis name.

But while Marquis wheat has been replaced and while most of the organizations named in its honour are gone, no other wheat will ever have the place that Marquis wheat has in the growth and development of Alberta. As Grant MacEwan noted, Marquis wheat's "contribution to the economy of the nation was beyond calculation" and it is important to recognize that the people of southern Alberta once felt it very important to recognize Marquis wheat by name. (22)



(1) Chief Mountain Country, volume 2, Cardston: Cardston and District Historical Society, n.d., 24

(2) interview with Dave Edmonds, Cardston Historical Society, July 13, 2010.

(3) Irma Dogterom, Where Was It? A guide to early Lethbridge buildings. Lethbridge: Lethbridge Historical Society, 2001, 42

(4) Arrowwood-Mossleigh Historical Society, Furrows of Time: A history of Arrowwood, Shouldice, Mossleigh and Farrow, 1883-1982 Arrowwood: Arrowwood-Mossleigh Historical Society, 1982, 24

(5) Seniors Citizens Club of Provost, Early Furrows: A story of our early pioneers in Provost, Hayter, Bodo, Alberta and surrounding districts, 1977, 357

(6) Lethbridge Herald, February 25, 1928

(7) Seniors Citizens Club of Provost, op. cit., 336-37

(8) Stephan Symko, From a single seed: Tracing the Marquis Wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the Ukraine. Research Branch Agriculture and Agri Food Canada, 1999, 29.

(9) Ibid., 18

(10) Richard J Needham, "Wheat," Alberta Folklore and Local History Collection, ca 1940, 1.

(11) Ibid., 29

(12) Ibid

(13) Book Committees of Sundial, Enchant, and Retlaw, Drybelt Pioneers of Sundial, Enchant, Retlaw, 1967, 6-7.

(14) Carmangay and District History Book Committee, Bridging the Years: Carmangay and District. Lethbridge: Southern Printing Company limited, 1968, 338.

(15) West Lethbridge History Book Society, The Bend: A history of West Lethbridge. Lethbridge: West Lethbridge History Book Society, 1982, 238.

(16) Chief Mountain Country, op. cit., 5

(17) Lethbridge Daily Herald, October 21, 1912

(18) Ibid.

(19) Ibid., October 1, 1912

(20) Ibid., October 29, 1912

(21) Ibid., February 19, 1927

(22) Grant MacEwan, Harvest of Bread. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1969.

Belinda Crowson is Museum Educator at the Galt Museum and Archives, Lethbridge, and 1st vice-president of the Historical Society of Alberta.
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Title Annotation:Marquis Cafe, Marquis Hotel, Marquis Municipal District No. 157, and Marquis School District No. 2998
Author:Crowson, Belinda
Publication:Alberta History
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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