Agriculture is the fundamental component of Grant MacEwan's interpretation of the Prairie West. However, like other aspects of Western Canadian history, agricultural history had long been ignored. Grant MacEwan cringed at the memories of history lessons taught to him when he was a young boy-British history instead of Canadian history, thus leaving him with the impression that his own country was insignificant and lacked any history of its own.
Grant MacEwan set out to introduce people to the subject of Western Canadian history through meaningful stories and factual events. Agricultural history, as with most other disciplines, possesses practical value. It teaches valuable lessons about pioneering practices and how settlers continually demonstrated resourcefulness and responsibility. Agricultural history teaches us about natural resources, soil abuse, and the intrinsic relationship between farming and the economy. By exploring western Canadian agricultural history, methods, and principles - valued decades ago - can be applied in contemporary society.
Agriculture in Canada has its roots in central Canada, specifically along the fertile land adjacent to the St. Lawrence River. Westward movement was slow, and the vast country beyond the Red River remained largely undisturbed for several decades. For years, the detractions of farming in the West remained greater than the benefits. However, once the government of Canada began offering cheap land, the homestead rush was on. Through determination and improved technology, farmers and ranchers changed the landscape of the West. As MacEwan sees it, the transforming forces which would enable a single worker to multiply product exponentially must be seen as revolutionary.
Grant MacEwan's account of agricultural history conveys an inspiring sense of optimism by portraying the pioneer personality as robust, steadfast, and determined. Such optimism has made a lasting impression on the development of the Prairie provinces.
Fittingly, The Sodbusters, a tribute to the men and women who toiled on prairie land, was the first of Grant MacEwan's historical books. Many of the books MacEwan wrote later incorporate themes first introduced in The Sodbusters, especially his unbridled interest in exploring the West's agricultural roots.
In Western Canada, agriculture became the region's second industry, having been preceded by the fur trade. However, unlike agriculture, the fur trade did not last. With pages and pages of photographs, MacEwan's Illustrated History of Western Canadian Agriculture chronicles the progress of agriculturalists, their successes and failures. As MacEwan notes, experience was essential for agricultural success. Having a lack of familiarity with soil and weather caused a host of problems for pioneers trying to break the land. It was a process of trial and error improved with each passing season. The select passages contain photographs from Grant MacEwan's personal collection, providing readers with a unique perspective.
Today, Western Canada is widely regarded as the breadbasket of the country. Wheat has been the livelihood for thousands of farmers and as the source of many foods for millions of others. In Harvest of Bread, MacEwan explores the development of Canada's wheat industry, its successes, challenges, and its shortcomings. If agriculture is at the core of Western Canadian history, then wheat is the central feature of agricultural history. MacEwan demonstrates that wheat production and the history of Western Canada are inseparable.
MacEwan, Grant. Grant MacEwan's Illustrated History of Western Canadian Agriculture. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1980.
-----. The Sodbusters. 1948; Calgary: Fifth House Publishers, 2000.
-----. Harvest of Bread. 1948; Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1969.