Agriculture is the base on which the province of Saskatchewan was built and so it seemed logical to Gary Carlson that pioneer leaders and innovators should be recognized in an Agricultural Hall of Fame. Saskatchewan later became the first province in Canada to set up such an institution. Carlson at that time was executive director of the Saskatchewan Federation of Agriculture and, while the idea of a Hall didn't originate with him, (a Canadian Hall of Fame had been established earlier in Toronto) it was he who brought together a diverse group of Saskatchewan agricultural industry representatives in 1970 to plan such an organization.
To set the stage for this brief history of the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame we quote a member of the original board, Stuart Thiesson: “If agriculture is recognized as the foundation of the Saskatchewan economy, it is due in no small way to the toil and perseverance of its early pioneer men and women. It was they who came from many countries in the late 1800s and early 1900s seeking refuge, freedom and new beginnings in a land about which they had been told much but knew very little... “In order to fully understand who we are, we must know what past events have occurred to bring us to this time and place. We must reflect on the sacrifices, ingenuity and plain hard work of past generations that helped shape our destiny as a province, as people, as individuals. We owe them our eternal thanks. ‘The Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame is a memorial to honor some of these people. It reflects a rich mosaic of the diverse economic, political and social history that is our legacy because of the vision and leadership of our pioneers.”
Carlson, on his own, contacted the Homecoming Board and determined there was a possibility as much as $3,000 could be obtained to assist in establishing a Hall of Fame. Armed with this information he contacted Gordon Wilson, executive director of the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, and asked if such a Hall might be located in the museum. Wilson was enthusiastic about the idea. The museum was just constructing a new display and storage building facing on the Saskatoon Exhibition grounds and a Hall of Fame looked like an important attraction. Prof. Oliver Symes of the University of Saskatchewan was chairman of the museum’s exhibits committee, and he too hailed the Hall plan as a winner. Not only was the WDM board prepared to house the exhibit, it would provide free use of its new Saskatchewan Hall for the induction ceremonies on a continuing basis. Gary Carlson knew if a provincial Hall of Fame was to succeed it would need the support of all segments of agriculture. He contacted: Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists and found an eager supporter in Roy McKenzie,National Farmers’ Union and won backing from secretary Stuart Thiesson. Saskatchewan Agricultural Graduates Association, Saskatchewan Museums Association and Saskatchewan Federation of Agriculture.
The provisional committee applied for a Homecoming grant and was told $1,500 would be made available to assist in getting the project under way. The organizational meeting was called at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, Sept. 30, 1971. At the meeting were Gordon Wilson, Saskatoon, representing the Saskatchewan Museums Association; Gary Carlson, Regina, representing the SFA; Stuart Thiesson, Saskatoon, for the NFU; A. G. “Bud” Smith, Saskatoon, representing the Saskatchewan Agricultural Graduates Association; Roy McKenzie, Regina, of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, representing the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists, and Eric Beveridge, Regina, livestock commissioner of Saskatchewan Agriculture for many years. These men formed the provisional board that laid the groundwork for the new organization at the September meeting. These were the recommendations from that meeting: A formal organization should be established under the Societies Act. Membership should be open to all organizations associated with agriculture in the province and an annual fee should be charged to cover operating costs. A selection committee should be appointed to receive nominations for inductees and to make recommendations to the Board of Trustees. Organizations sponsoring an individual for induction would pay the costs of producing a framed picture and a short biography. Hire an artist to do pencil portraits of Inductees for the SAHF gallery.
June 8, 1972 - SAHF Provincially Incorporated. First directors elected were: Jack Drew, Saskatchewan Agricultural Graduates Association; Oliver Symes, Western Development Museum; Gary Carlson, Saskatchewan Federation of Agriculture; Roy McKenzie, Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists; Gordon Wilson, Saskatchewan Museums Association; Eric Beveridge, member-at-large; Stuart Thiesson, National Farmers Union.
FIRST INDUCTION CEREMONY: 1972 The first ceremony coincided with the opening of the new Western Development Museum building on July 11 of that year. Premier Allan Blakeney opened the museum in the morning and the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in the afternoon.
Inducted with them at that January 7 ceremony were: John Wesson, long-time president of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, L.B. Thomson, former head of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, Olaf Olafson of Old Wives, who headed the Saskatchewan Stock Growers, Angus MacKay, first director of the Indian Head Experimental Farm, Louise Lucas, active in the formation of the CCF, and Elizabeth Gow Cameron, who served two terms as president of the Saskatchewan Homemakers. The second ceremony in 1973 was on July 12.
The board launched into printing a Hall of Fame loose-leaf booklet that contained pictures and citations of all of the persons installed. This has been up-dated each year since and volunteer members of the board and their spouses hold a bee before the ceremony to collate a sufficient number of books for sale to families and other interested persons. A book is presented to each inductee at the ceremony.
The board has attempted to keep a balance as between the various types of agricultural production and activity in Saskatchewan. Consequently, farmers selected have not all been wheat producers and stockmen have not all been cattlemen. Swine producers, sheep producers and even beekeepers are recognized, as have been canola growers and horticulturists. In later years inventors and innovators have been honored. University, government and industry representatives are well represented on the walls of the Hall of Fame.
In 1976 the editor of the citations, Tom Melville-Ness, died and the board went back to The Western Producer to obtain a replacement, Managing Editor Keith Dryden. In 1984 artist Howard Hatton became seriously ill and the board chose Saskatoon artist Kevin Quinlan to replace him. Since both of these artists drew most of their portraits from photographs it is a tribute to their skill that the big majority of drawings are readily recognizable. In addition to producing portraits each year, Quinlan painted a colorful mural of the development of agriculture in Saskatchewan that is on display in the Hall of Fame.
An important task of the board each year is to find nominees for installation and, of course, financing to cover the cost. Usually an organization will submit the name of a person it feels should be installed and usually it will also provide part or all of the money required. Initially, the charge was $200 and for the first inductees this money was readily available. Later, as printing and artist’s fees rose, the fee also rose and quite often, two or three sources might provide the funding for one inductee. Since the majority of inductees had a wide range of involvements and made important contributions in a number of areas, this route of financing has been usually acceptable. There have been occasions when the board believed an inductee belonged in the Hall of Fame but financing was inadequate. In this case, the Hall has borne the remainder of the cost from its own limited resources.
The board has depended heavily on volunteers throughout its history. These board members paid their own expenses to come to meetings in Saskatoon and Regina, no small consideration. The board did pay the artists and gave honorariums to the editors who did the final polishing of citations. In 1974 Peggy Brunsdon, history student and Western Development Museum employee, was retained on a part-time basis to research biographies and develop a reference library for the SAHF. It wasn’t until 1993 that the board hired Wendy Stewart, university English student, to do clerical work and get the files in order on a summer employment basis. Prior to that the Hall depended heavily on secretaries of board members to produce letters and do photocopying.
The files accumulated, mostly in boxes or on shelves until filing services were provided by Wendy Stewart and subsequent student assistants. In the first 10 years Gary Carlson and Gordon Wilson were the central figures in the organization, ensuring that deadlines were met and arrangements were made. Clerical workers in their offices were called on to type much of the correspondence and do copying and mailing for the Hall. Both Wilson and Carlson underwent career changes in which they lost this clerical help. Gordon Wilson was replaced as executive director of the WDM but stayed on as member- at-large of the Hall of Fame and continued as secretary. Gary Carlson’s position came to an abrupt end when the Saskatchewan Federation of Agriculture was disbanded. He resigned as chairman of the SAHF but his resignation was not accepted. Later he resigned but agreed to stay on the board as consultant. The board considered his 10 years as president and the knowledge he had of the inner workings of the SAHF made him a valuable asset. He finally ended his association in 1993.
NEW CHAIRMAN In 1983 Carlson was replaced as chairman by Cliff Hayes, Saskatoon, who represented the Saskatchewan Agricultural Graduates Association on the board. Hayes brought enthusiasm and a work ethic to the role that ensured a vibrant organization. He too was chairman 10 years and his employer, the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, became an important contributor to the Hall, both financially and in providing secretarial services. When he was replaced in 1994 as SAGA representative the board kept him on as a member-at-large. With the demise of the Saskatchewan Federation of Agriculture, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool was encouraged to take out membership and it did so.
The Pool appointed John Derbowka of its Saskatoon office to the SAHF board. Derbowka proved a valuable asset in fund raising. The Pool in 1984 made a $10,000 donation (over two years) and Derbowka, as a member of the fund-raising committee, sought and found further donations from other agriculturally-related organizations, including the Potash Corporation. These made it possible to promote the Hall through a travelling display for annual meetings. This display, designed under Derbowka’s direction, has travelled across the province and, in 1993 and 1994, was exhibited in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame in Toronto. Additional funding made possible presentation of mementos to persons being installed. Inductees received a lapel pin, a frame-able print of their portrait and citation and the complete book of portraits. As the presentations extended an already lengthy ceremony, it was decided that instead of reading the full citations during the unveiling, the person doing the introductions would do a brief summary.
When Oliver Symes died in 1986, his place as master of ceremonies of the unveiling ceremony was taken by Herbert Clark, long-time university extension worker. His first-hand knowledge of the inductees made it possible for him to provide a short colorful summary about each. When Clark became ill in 1991 the pattern he set was followed by his replacement, Keith Dryden.
The Hall of Fame investiture ceremony traditionally featured a distinguished speaker. It was found this meant an extra-long sit for those in the audience, since the installation ceremony also took considerable time. In 1993 it was decided to do without a guest speaker and this seemed to be acceptable to those who came to the event. Each induction ceremony concluded with a social hour with coffee and dainties and the success of this get-together time prompted the Hall of Fame board to plan a dinner the Saturday night before the Sunday afternoon induction.
The first of these was in August, 1992, and it featured a musical program and an opportunity for those being honored to introduce their families and chat with old friends. This proved highly popular and has been continued each year since. Nancy Guebert, daughter of inductee Harvey Gjesdal, wrote and performed a song about the heroes of agriculture and this pleased the crowd so much she was asked to repeat it the following year.
In 1992 Cliff Hayes ended his 10-year span as chairman. While Gary Carlson presided over the formative years, Hayes oversaw strengthening the structure financially and keeping the Hall of Fame in the public eye. He took every opportunity to promote the Hall and raise its public image. The third chairman, John Derbowka, brought his skill as an extension specialist and his knowledge of Saskatchewan and its people. He brought Hall record-keeping into the modern mode by obtaining a computer for the Hall. This also served as an attraction for visitors as the computer was programmed with a quiz about Saskatchewan Agriculture and the Hall of Fame. Derbowka’s employer, Saskatchewan Pool, assisted by providing secretarial services previously provided from Cliff Hayes’ office. The Pool has been an important source of grant funds.
With the help of Partnership and Saskatchewan Lotteries grants it was possible in 1993, 1994 and 1995 to hire university students to do much of the clerical work that formerly was done for the Hall by the staff of the SFA, PCS and the Pool. Wendy Stewart, Brenda Nystrom and Irene Smith, in turn, did the filing, typed the minutes, prepared reports and kept the citations presentable.
With the broad support of every phase of Saskatchewan agriculture, the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame looks forward to a vital and expanding role in recognizing industry builders into the 21st Century.