Agriculture has always played a significant role in Alberta's economy, and in the
early part of the 20th century, it was the dominant way of life in the
province. This fact is reflected in the Canadian Patent Office Record,
where numerous, prominent agricultural innovations of the 1910s, 1920s and
1930s are recorded.
The patent record likely represents only a fraction of
innovative activity that took place within agriculture at the time. The
nature of the agricultural way of life necessitated improvisation, and
farmers were constantly having to invent, change, adjust or jury-rig
their tools to adapt to various obstacles, challenges or aggravations.
Hence we have the twine holder, invented by Samuel James Currey of
Innisfail in 1910; a gopher destroying device by Samuel D. Yeomans in
1913; and the hoe-rake, invented by Frances Kallal of Tofield in 1943.
these inventions, patented by individuals, were not widely used. While they
were often useful, most people lacked the marketing skills or the
investment capital to start mass production. There were a few exceptions,
including the Van Slyke plow, invented in 1910 by Frank Van Slyke. It was
well used in the Red Deer area, with more than 1,400 in use by 1922, and
even became something of a local legend. It was eventually
incorporated into the City of Red Deer coat of arms.
The Necessity of Invention
Often problems that farmers encountered were regional, inherent to
specific parts of the environment. The arid lands of southern Alberta, for instance,
required new methods and implements to keep moisture in the soil and
prevent soil erosion. When methods including plowless summer fallowing and
strip farming proved imperfect, for instance, Charles Noble, in 1935, came up with the Noble
considered to be one of the true breakthrough ideas developed in Alberta.
Others invented machinery to more efficiently harvest crops more suited to
the dry-land environment. The Kirchner family, for example, developed
machinery to improve the production of sugar beets, including harvesters,
thinners and top savers that allowed the tops of the plants to be saved
for livestock feed.
Livestock production has always been a significant part of agriculture in Alberta.
Inventions involving cattle have included a calf weaner, invented by
Ernest Leitch in 1968 and a cattle stall by John Joseph McHugh of Calgary
in 1911. Lucky local pigs received a new kind of slop pail, invented by Berton C. Groat of Edmonton in 1906. Austin Hilliard, of Hinton, came up
with a better kind of horseshoe in 1913. And in the 1930s and 1940s,
Martin Gallivan, from the Calgary area, developed a new formula for
chicken feed, which he called Radium Laying Mash.
Research farms have long played a significant role in agricultural
innovation, with the first facility established at Lethbridge in 1906. These
farms developed new agricultural methods, and tested equipment invented by
local farmers; several of Charles Nobles' first customers, for instance,
were research facilities. Often the inventions developed at such farms
were not patented, as they were intended to be for the benefit of local
The role of research institutions including
universities has become
increasingly important in Alberta as agriculture has moved toward technologically
advanced equipment and solutions, and thus largely beyond the capabilities
of the individual working alone. Cutler wheat, for example, was an early
maturing wheat developed by Dr. Keith Briggs under the auspices of the
wheat breeding program at the University of Alberta. Dr. Briggs also
developed laser wheat, for areas with short growing seasons.
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