the father of canola

I have a lot to write and think about these days so I’m going to serve two connections with one obligation.

Some of you may be aware of my Icelandic connection. My maternal grandparents were Icelandic; they came separately as immigrants to Winnipeg where they met and married and eventually moved up to Gimli (90 miles north, on Lake Winnipeg) and raised their family. My mother, born in Winnipeg, was the first in her family to marry outside the genetic bloodline, so I’m only half Icelandic, but my roots are deep. Iceland calls anyone on this continent  who has such roots  “Western Icelanders”.  

I’m a member of ICCT (the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto); I subscribe to Lögberg-Heimskringla. the oldest ethnic newspaper in North America, and to The Icelandic Connection, a biennial magazine, and I contribute to them occasionally, not just money but writing. And I’m studying Icelandic, a very difficult language to learn, especially if you don't do your homework. At present, I owe a piece to the Connection about a man I never heard of (shame on me), but who, when I suggested him as a subject, was well-known to the editor, my cousin, Lorna Tergesen. All Icelanders are related, one way or another, which is why we look so much alike, and my cousin, a widow like me, was married to my first cousin who shared a grandfather with me. She’s a real kin keeper and the closest thing to a sister I have.  Enough genealogy.

You have to know the provenance of my suggestion.  I swim every morning and have become friendly with another daily swimmer (when she’s in the city).  Ruth Hayhoe is professor of comparative higher education at the University of Toronto but that ID on the book I am about to discuss barely begins to describe the range of her scholarship. She has spent half her life in China, still dividing her time in two countries, teaching and writing, fluent in language and friendship. She was telling me about her latest book that she edited (she writes books in two languages), with Julia Pan, another swimmer and UofT research associate at OISE. The book’s title didn’t mean much to me, nor will it to you: Canadian Universities in China’s Transformation (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016).  It’s about collaboration in different areas such as environmental sciences, marine science, engineering, management, law, agriculture, medicine, education, minority cultures and women’s studies.  The last chapter is the one I took note of, introducing Baldur Steffansson to me (and to you?).  That’s Professor Stefansson of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Plant Science, a very modest man, by all accounts, which may be why I never heard of him. 

Baldur Stefansson ((1917-2002) was born in Vestfold, Manitoba, and educated at the University of Manitoba (Dip. Agriculture, 1949; BSA, 1950; MSC, 1952; PhD, 1966.  With another scientist, (Dr. Ketih Downey) he developed a variation of rapeseed for use as an edible oil - known to us now as canola.  Did you know that Canada sells more rapeseed than wheat? (Latest figures 2014: the rapeseed cash crop surpassed wheat in 2012.)  Stefansson worked with his agriculture counterpart in China to produce a rapeseed crop suitable for livestock and human consumption.  A human advantage was a greater  opportunity for women in agriculture. Apparently rapeseed is not as physically demanding to tend.

The Father of Canola, as Baldur came to be called, was honoured with so many awards, it’s hard to list them all. I will cite them here and leave it to my editor to condense  the list (courtesy of Google):

 Royal Bank Award in recognition of a contribution to humanity, 1975; Fellow, Agricultural Institute of Canada, 1975; Honourary Life Member, Canadian Seed Growers Association, 1976; Queen’s Jubilee Medal, 1977; Grindley Award – In recognition of a singular contribution to Canadian agriculture, 1978; H.R. MacMillan Laureate in Agriculture, 1980; Agronomy Merit Award, 1980; CSP Foods Canola Award, 1981; Manitoba Institute of Agrologists Distinguished Agrologist Award, 1981; Canadian Barley & Oilseeds Conference Award, 1982; Honourary Life Member, Manitoba Institute of Agrologists, 1984; Officer of the Order of Canada, 1985; Professor Emeritus, University of Manitoba, 1985; GCIRC International Award for Research in Rapeseed, 1987; McAnsh Award, 1989; Canada Iceland Foundation Scholarship honouring Dr. Baldur Stefansson, 1991; Honourary Doctorate, University of Manitoba, 1997; Wolfe Prize in Agriculture (Israel), 1998; Order of the Buffalo Hunt, 1998; Order of Manitoba, 2000; Order of the Falcon (Iceland), 2000; Honourary Doctorate, University of Iceland, 2000; Inducted to the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, 2002.

Not bad for an Icelandic-Canadian boy from the prairies!