National Context, Local Needs: The Lacombe Experimental Station

The Story

Foundational Role within Lacombe: The Lacombe Research and Development Centre 

Officially founded in 1907, the Lacombe Experimental Station is still used for both research and recreation. From weddings on the picturesque grounds, evening visitors out for a walk, to cattle sales in the Pavilion, the grounds serve the local community of Lacombe on a regular basis. In a sense, this was always the goal of the Station: to give visitors a glimpse of the possibilities of the Parkland region that surrounds Lacombe.
 
Experimental Plots and Hedges, 1917. 
 

The Vision: Solving Farming Challenges Through Science      


Early attempts at farming in Canada met with many obstacles, including disastrous crop failures. In 1886, the  Federal Government created the Experimental Farms Service to apply scientific methods to the improvement of farming in Canada.

Plot Planter at Experimental Station, 1930.
Experimental Plots, 1925.
 

The successes of this initiative included the development of several new strains of crops, including Marquis Wheat, that could endure the Canadian climate and promote the settlement of the Prairies.

Local Ambition: A Dominion Experimental Station in Lacombe  


Lacombe was in a promising position in 1900. With over 100 people, the town was larger than Red Deer, and citizens were eager to make the most of this opportunity. Not every town thrived in early Alberta: the success of a town was heavily influenced by the ambition of entrepreneurial citizens and by the success of agriculture in the area.    

Man in Field with Experimental Station in Background.

         
In 1904, the newly formed Lacombe Board of Trade began attempts to establish an Experimental Station in Lacombe in order to promote the town and attract more settlers. Despite stiff  competition with other towns, a series of extensive negotiations and political deals led the creation of the Lacombe  Experimental Station in 1907. Mr. W. F. Puffer, a member of the Board of Trade and an MLA in 1905 was highly involved in the bargaining process.

Clearing Land at the Experimental Station.


A major point of contention during these negotiations was the price of the land for the Station. Other towns offered the Federal Government free unbroken land for a Station, while the Lacombe Board of Trade promoted the Flewwelling farm, parts of which were already under cultivation. In the end, the Federal Government paid $5,000 of the $8,000 that the land cost, with the rest of the funds provided by local citizens and business men.
                   

Snow Every Month  

 

Seymour Edmunds Farewell, 1950. 

Mr. Hutton was appointed as the first Superintendent before the purchase of the land was finalized in 1906. Hutton was also one of the local supporters of the Station who aided in the land purchase.                        
With only 5 staff members, many tests  were started in 1907 and several buildings were constructed. Life was not easy, and Seymour Edmunds, one of the first employees of the Station, reported that there was least some snow every month of 1907.

Crops to Cattle: Aiding Agriculture Holistically   


Initially, research at  the station focused  on testing pre-existing crops in  the region and developing effective local agricultural practices. By 1913, Mr. Hutton had begun research on dairy and beef cattle, poultry, sheep and  apiculture. Horses were initially used for work rather than research.

Beehives at the Experimental Station, 1920.
 
Experimental Station Binder, c. 1920.
 

Inspiring Agricultural Innovation: Making Cheese and Planting Wind Barriers   


In 1913, dairy manufacturing, with a focus on cheese production, started at  the Station. The cheese products were  sold in Edmonton and  Calgary as an attempt  to stimulate interest in  dairy manufacturing.  

Station Cows, c. 1925.
This effort was  successful as two large dairies took up cheese manufacturing. The sale of cheese also proved to be a popular attraction at the Station during the summer. In the early 1920s, Lacombe had the biggest dairy of all the Experimental Farms and Stations, but it was closed in 1924.  


From 1909 to 1917, train tours with reduced rates were arranged to attract visitors to the Station, bringing as many as 1,200 visitors a year to Lacombe. These tours showcased the various research projects done at the Station and inspired many people to order seed samples and trees—mostly grain samples, potato seeds, Manitoba Maples, and caragana bushes—for their own homes.

Coffee Tent at Field Day 1915.
    

The Board of Trade was no doubt pleased with the results of the Station while the local  farming community reaped the benefits of  the experiments and the services provided by the Station.


Unsung Heroes: Early Women on the Experimental Station 


The work done by women was always vital to the success of farming,  especially during the early years of Western settlement. While sometimes overlooked, settlement and farming could not have succeeded without these women.

Experimental Station Office Staff L to R: Iris Hopkins,
Marjorie Calder, Jean Poutney, Charmain Allan, Beth Fredeen,
1950s.
 

The first female to be employed  in the work of the Station itself was Jessie Grant from Scotland, who worked as the dairymaid from 1913-1914. Prior to 1910, other women were typists at the Station. However, perhaps credit for being the first woman working on the Station should go to Mrs. Mary Hutchinson who worked as the housekeeper starting in 1907.

Mary and her family came from Barrhead, Scotland in 1907 and both Mary and her husband Robert started work at the Station immediately. Mary had to supply the food for meals and was paid $15 per month for each of the seven men under her care. Excerpts from her journal reveal Mary’s life in her new home.



Experimental Station, 1908.



June 27, 1907.
“We rise at five (at least the men do). I get up in time to have breakfast ready at six. . . .  They have meat, eggs and potatoes to every meal, so it makes a good lot of dishes to wash. We have not much furniture, no more than we could possibly help. . . . Everything is much dearer than at home: the only things cheaper are butter, eggs and meat. It is an awful job to wash, as there is so much lime in the water. . . . It is very  quiet here: I was here six weeks before  I spoke to a woman and not many  yet.”  



Detour: Showmanship Takes Precedence Over Research 

 

Mr. Henry Francis Reed. 

Initially, the focus of work at the Station revolved around research and public education. The exception to this trend occurred when Mr. Francis Henry Reed became Superintendent in 1920. While Mr. Reed did expand much of the crop and agricultural research started during Mr. Hutton’s time, it was not his primary focus.                        


Mr. Reed was a strong advocate of the show ring and pushed for the showing of stock at major exhibits throughout Alberta and later shows across North America. By 1925 multiple types of purebred animals were being  exhibited every year, often with excellent  results. Cattle and horses (Clydesdale and Shire) won many top awards.                                            

There was a cost to Mr. Reed’s emphasis on showing as it also drew on the resources and  reduced the emphasis on livestock research at the Experimental Farm. Due to this and other factors, staff numbers stayed constant and research in dairy animals and sheep stopped entirely in 1924. However, there were  stallions available for breeding to anyone who wished to send their mares to the Station, an important service for an industry still reliant on horse power.            

Clydesdales in Front of Barn, 1931. 

 

Science Cannot Cheat the Realities of Farming: The Dirty  Thirties and WWII 

 

Gardens at the Experimental Station. 

Despite the best efforts of the scientific approach to farming at the Station, cutworms wreaked havoc on many test crops in 1930. Then extreme winds which destroyed cereal and garden test plots in spite of protective hedges.

1930 marked the temporary end of all breeding work with cereals and  garden crops. World War II then took away many of the staff for military service, severely limiting the work done by the Station during this time.


 Resuming Research:  1947 to the Present  


When Mr. George DeLong  became Superintendent in  1947, he began the process  of rebuilding the research support and facilities that  had stayed relatively unadvanced during the war years and resumed the  type of work carried out by Hutton. Significant increases in technical staff and the construction of additional office and lab space would take place over the next decade.

Ramsey and Allen in Green house, 1956.

 

Don Walker in Lab at Experimental Station,  c. 1980.

Under the leadership of Mr. Delong and Mr. Stothart, there was a firm emphasis on listening to the concerns of producers and responding to what they saw as the real needs. The result was a great deal of industry involvement for the staff of the station.

As time passed, increasingly complex  research began to focus more on advanced experimental designs. Contributions to scientific publications became a main form of communication used by the Station.

In the second half of the century,  horticultural research at the station gradually faded out of the picture. At the same time research on poultry stopped as did the use of horses for plowing or managing the cattle herd. Crop breeding research expanded for a number of years, including wheat, barley and oats.

 

Research Highlights: The Lacombe Hog and Meat Research 

The Centre’s focus on  swine cross-breeding  in  the late 40’s ultimately resulted in the release of the “Lacombe Hog” in 1957 and this became one of the most publicly recognized outputs from the Centre in that era. This hog was found to be superior in birth weight, weaning weight and growth after weaning. In addition, crossbred pigs sired by Lacombe boars excelled in vigor, growth rate and carcass quality.


Another important development of the Stations’ was the multi-faceted meat research program that looks at meat safety, quality, and production factors. In fact the grading system presently used on meat, such as for Alberta AAA Beef, results from the research conducted at Lacombe.

Lacombe got its own meat slaughtering facility in 1984: this is the only place in Canada where researchers can study the factors that impact meat quality throughout the animals’ lives and the meat processing.        

Current Work 

 
Delegation from U.S.S.R., 1979. 

Now one of 20 similar research centres, the Lacombe Research and  Development Centre is still an important part of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 400 head of beef cattle and 100 sows are still maintained by the Station as part of their research. Despite the fact that only 2% of  Canadians live on farms, agriculture is a vital part of Canada’s industry, making the continued work of research centres as important as ever.

“The science and innovation activities at the Lacombe Research and  Development Centre focus on the study of food safety, red meat quality, carcass grading, cereal breeding and forage/beef production.  The Centre’s  areas of core research are aligned with national priorities to help the sector adapt and remain competitive in domestic and global markets. Greater participation in research networks and industry-led partnerships expands the Centre’s innovation capacity.”

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.                  

Important Buildings at the Experimental Station

 

Livestock Pavilion: A Focal Point for the Community 

 

Construction of the Pavilion, 1935. 

1935 saw the  building of the Livestock Pavilion as a Federal funded “make-work”  project. The Lacombe and District Agricultural Society donated land adjacent to the Experimental Station for the building.


                         

Horse Sale at Pavilion. 







The banked row of windows below the roof-line is a prominent and practical architectural feature of the Pavilion. These windows utilize the natural light to illuminate the interior of the building and save on electricity, an extremely important consideration during the Depression.

Since its creation, the Livestock Pavilion has hosted countless agricultural events as well as political meetings, assemblies, dances, talent shows, and  much more. Some of these events were hosted by the staff of the Experimental Station, further connecting the Station  with the farming community. Cattle sales are still regularly  held at the Pavilion.

Bull Sale at the Pavilion.

     

Superintendent’s Residence, 1910.

Superintendent’s House: a Local Landmark  


Build in 1907, the  Superintendent’s house was an important architectural feature of the Station. It had electricity, a forced draft furnace, plumbing and  running water powered by a windmill. This residence had multiple  purposes, serving as the  Main Residence and the Office until 1914 when a separate Office was constructed. It also housed  the guest rooms for any important visitors.

Superintendent’s Residence, c. 1950.



In 1947, the residence was  renovated and the top floor was removed. In 2012, the building was deemed to be unsafe and demolished. The house was the last of the original buildings on the Station.

Road to Superintendent’s Residence.



Photo Gallery: The Experimental Station in Pictures

 
Mr. G. H. Hutton, the first superintendent of the Station, was known for making the results of the research done at the Station available to the public. He was a popular public speaker and judge of both livestock and crops as early as 1907, and in demand across Western Canada by 1912.  Mr. Hutton also played a vital role in many areas of community development within Lacombe. 
Hutton prepared 60 acres of the land prior to the actual purchase in 1906, which enabled the seeding of test plots for 125 cereal varieties, 40 pea and corn varieties and multiple other crops ranging from potatoes to fruit trees and horticultural crops in 1907.
Shoveling Snow after 3 Days of Snow with Stanley Wheat Still in Stooks, Friday, October 23, 1908.
A key role of the Station, in addition to the research itself, was to ensure that the information being collected was transferred to regional producers through an active extensions service. From 1909-1917, the Station had a traveling display that toured parts of Alberta.
Experimental Station Travelling Exhibit.
 
Excursion Day to Calgary and Edmonton 1914.
Field Day 1912. People flocked to the station during the summer months to view the experiments themselves and many ordered seeds and seedlings to improve and decorate their own properties.  These seedling caragana bushes and Manitoba maple trees would form the basis for many shelter belts, which make farm buildings far warmer and protect fields from wind erosion.

Cattle Show, 1920.
 
Experimental Station Threshing Machine. 
Gate into Experimental Farm Research Station.
Hoe Gang in 1927. During the 1920s, students from the University of Alberta and the Agricultural School at Olds did most of the field work during the summers.

Hogs and Their Bale Shelters, 1930.
Wool Cleaning Vat at Experimental Station.
Jack Stotthart and Howard Fredeen, 1960.

Corn Crop at the Experimental Station, 1965.

Experimental Station Soccer Team and Cup.

Experimental Station in Winter.

Show Horse. Lacombe residents can still recall seeing show animals that were a product of the Lacombe Station.

George DeLong, c. 1962.
 
A prominent feature of Mr. DeLong’s time as Superintendent was his focus on developing community both inside and outside of the Experimental Station. DeLong was known for his practice of including the staff in decision making processes and treating them all as family. Additionally, staff were encouraged to participate in, and even plan, Lacombe community events and projects, which created a close relationship between the local community and the staff.  

Boarding House Dining Area with Kitchen in Background, Experimental Station.

Lab Staff at Experimental Station, 1970.
Retirement of Jack Stothart, 1976. During his time as Superintendent, over 100 local people were employed at the Experimental Station.

Aerial of Experimental Station in 1957. The Lacombe Research Centre is a heritage tree site.
 
 

Acknowledgments

Dr. Howard Fredeen
The Lacombe and District Historical Society would like to express its indebtedness and gratitude to Dr. Howard Fredeen for his extensive work in documenting the history of the Lacombe Research and Development Centre. Dr. Fredeen served as the head of the Animal Science Section at the Lacombe Research and Development Centre from 1955 to 1979 and earned several awards for his work. Lacombe Research Station: 1907-1982 by Dr. Fredeen was particularly influential on “National Context, Local Needs.” Dr. Fredeen recently received the 2016 Alberta Historic Resources Foundation’s Outstanding Achievement Award for his work in documenting local Alberta history.
 
Paige Mansell
This exhibit was created on behalf of the Lacombe and District Historical Society by Paige Mansell. Paige recently graduated from Ambrose University in Calgary with her Bachelor of Arts in History and is excited to have this wonderful opportunity to put her training to work with the Lacombe and District Historical Society.