National Context, Local Needs: The Lacombe Experimental Station

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, to 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.

Lacombe Research and Development Centre, Experimental Plots and Hedges, 1917.
LDHS 1990.1.1597

The Vision: Solving Farming Challenges Through Science     

Early attempts at farming in Canada often met with numerous obstacles, including disastrous crop failures. In 1886, the  Federal Government created the Experimental Farms Service to conduct scientific farming experiments to improve farming in Canada.

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  

Plot Planter at Experimental Station, 1930. LDHS 1990.1.236

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.    

In 1904, the newly formed Lacombe Board of Trade started attempting 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.

Mary & Hiram Flewelling, 1890. LDHS 1990.1.279




Snow Every Month

Seymour Edmunds Farewell, 1950. LDHS 1992.16.16

 Mr. Hutton was appointed as the first Superintendent of the Research Station, even before the purchase of the land was finalized.                        
Even with a small staff consisting of only 5 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.

Beehives at the Experimental Station, 1920. LDHS 1990.1.2345

Crops to Cattle  

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.

Experimental Station Binder, c. 1920. LDHS 1990.1.1514

Station Cows, c. 1925. LDHS 1990.1.1528

Inspiring Agricultural Innovation: Making Cheese and Planting Wind Barriers   

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

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.

Coffee Tent at Field Day, 1915. LDHS 1990.1.1592

 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.    

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.

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. LDHS 1992.16.8a

The first female to be employed directly  in the agricultural work of the Station 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 some 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.”  

Showmanship Takes the Lead 

Mr. Henry Francis Reed. LDHS 1990.1.1556

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.                                            

Clydesdales in Front of Barn, 1931. LDHS 1990.1.1590

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.           

The Dirty  Thirties and WWII

Gardens at the Experimental Station. LDHS 1992.16.46

Despite the best efforts of the scientific approach to farming at the Station, cutworms wreaked havoc on many of the test crops in 1930. Then extreme winds 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  

Ramsey and Allen in Green house, 1956. LDHS 1990.1.1565

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.

Don Walker in Lab at Experimental Station,  c. 1980. LDHS 1990.1.1815

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.

Hogs in field at Research Station. LDHS 1990.1.1571

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

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

Jack Stothart & Howard Fredeen at desk, Ex. station, 1970. LDHS 1990.1.214

Howard Fredeen is perhaps one of the most well-known individuals who has worked at the Lacombe Research and Development Centre. Dr. Fredeen came to work at the Lacombe Research Station after earning his MSc from the University of Saskatewan in 1947. Along with J. G. Stothart, Fredeen was responsible for the development of the Lacombe Hog. Dr. Fredeen is also known for his significant contributions to Canadian practices in livestock breeding, his many scientific and technical papers, and representing Agriculture Canada internationally. Locally, Howard has made substantial contributions to the preservation of Lacombe’s history and to the work of the Lacombe & District Historical Society. 

Current Work

Delegation from U.S.S.R., 1979. LDHS 1990.1.1945

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.

Livestock Pavilion: A Focal Point for the Community 

Construction of the Pavilion, 1935. 2018.38.62

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

1938 Horse Sale at the Lacombe Pavilion. LDHS 1993.1.91


Since its creation, the Livestock Pavilion has hosted countless agricultural events as well as political meetings, assemblies, 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. 

The Pavilion has served as a bunkhouse, cafeteria and teaching auditorium for the Research Station while the Agricultural Society hosts dances and livestock sales. Ownership of the Pavilion was eventually transferred to the Lacombe and District Agricultural Society, which still owns and operates the building.

Superintendent’s House: a Local Landmark  

Superintendent’s Residence, 1910. LDHS 1990.1.2265

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 important visitors.

Superintendent’s Residence, c. 1950. LDHS 1990.1.1586

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.






The Experimental Station 
A Gallery

  • 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. LDHS 1990.1.277
  • Shovelling Snow after 3 Days of Snow with Stanley Wheat Still in Stooks, Friday, October 23, 1908. LDHS 2013.10.49
  • 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. LDHS 1990.1.2099
  • Experimental Station Travelling Exhibit. LDHS 1990.1.2343
  • Excursion Day to Calgary and Edmonton 1914. LDHS 1990.1.1596
  • 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. LDHS 1990.1.1516
  • Experimental Station Threshing Machine. LDHS 1990.1.1513
  • Gate into Experimental Farm Research Station. LDHS 1990.1.971
  • Experimental Plots, 1925. LDHS 1990.1.256
  • 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 LHDS 1990.1.196
  • Hogs and Their Bale Shelters, 1930. LHDS 1990.1.239
  • Wool Cleaning Vat at Experimental Station. LDHS 1990.1.1830
  • Jack Stotthart and Howard Fredeen, 1960. LDHS 1992.16.7
  • Corn Crop at the Experimental Station, 1965. LDHS 1990.1.882
  • Experimental Station Soccer Team and Cup. LDHS 1990.1.1598
  • Experimental Station in Winter. LDHS 1990.1.2264
  • George DeLong, c. 1962. LDHS 1990.1.1510
  • 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. 
  • 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. LDHS 1999.1.1182
  • Boarding House Dining Area with Kitchen in Background, Experimental Station. LDHS 2014.6.3
  • Lab Staff at Experimental Station, 1970. LDHS 1990.1.212
  • Aerial of Experimental Station in 1957. The Lacombe Research Centre is a heritage tree site. LDHS 1990.1.1474


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.