Manitoba History: Noteworthy Manitobans: James L. Parker
by Rosemary Malaher
It is becoming difficult to find a person who spans the years from the homestead era to the present. James L. Parker of Gilbert Plains is one of these. Still actively observing nature and photographing plant habitat, Mr. Parker is an inspiration to young people in the community. His lively, inquiring mind has led him into at least two outstanding careers.
The first of these was as a farmer, following his father on the family homestead. Originally, he came to Manitoba from Scotland with his mother and elder brother to join the father. He did not attend school, but was instructed at home by his mother. As a very young man he joined the Canadian Seed Growers Association and grew the famous Marquis Wheat. Two years later, in 1920, he made a selection from Marquis seed, and produced a strain which was later known as Parker’s Marquis which proved to have resistance to stem rust. Because of the yellowish colour of the flour from the grain, it did not grade higher than No. 3. Continuing selection through the years along with careful growing and planting resulted in the development of Selkirk wheat which was available to seed growers in 1953. Dr. Anderson, Chief Chemist to the Board of Grain Commissioners, estimated that the resulting wheat was worth over a billion dollars to Canadian farmers, and another billion to the Americans.
Following this achievement in 1955, Mr. Parker was elected the Robertson Associate life member of the Canadian Seed Growers Association. At the time of his retirement from farming in 1970, he was made a life member of the Manitoba Institute of Agrologists. At that time he received a certificate for Meritorious Service from the Dominion Bureau of Statistics for thirty-four years of voluntary service devoted to reporting agricultural statistics.
James Parker was interested in more that overseeing of his own fields. The natural environment of the area between the mountains called on his powers of observation Students of botany at the Universities of Manitoba, McGill and Helsinki study examples from his collections of plant specimens Parker admits that he has donated about seven or eight thousand pressed plants to herbaria at those three universities, and to the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature Some of his donations of living specimens are located in Kew Gardens. He advocated the preservation of a two-section ecological reserve near Cowan, which has now been officially designated by the Province of Manitoba. It is mostly an area of muskeg which harbours Arethusa, Pitcher Plant, Large Lady’s Slipper, Showy Lady’s Slipper, Purple Lousewort, Sweet Gale and bog orchids. Parker Bog in the Duck Mountain has been named in his honour. In recognition of his enduring interest, James Parker was appointed Associate Curator of the Museum of Man and Nature, and was awarded the Seaton Medal by the Manitoba Naturalists.
As well as identifying and collecting plants, Mr. Parker has photographed them both it colour and black and white. Forty-seven of his colour slides have been accepted for the National Collection of Nature Photographs. Many of his slides have been generously donated to the Museum of Man and Nature, the University of Manitoba and McGill University. Black and white photographs have been received by the Manitoba Archives, Fort Dauphin Museum and the Gilbert Plains Historical Society. He has also prepared a photographic history of Gilbert Plains athletes for the community’s rink.
The people of the Fort Dauphin Museum have very much appreciated his co-operation, and recognized his support with an award of Honorary Governor. Parker has always had an interest in the earliest settlement of the area, and set about to document the many local fur trade posts. He published a weekly set of articles entitled, “The Fort Dauphin Story.” Subsequently, the expanded articles were published in 1978 in a book of that title, and sold for the support of the Museum. His research materials remain available for the students of the area who wish to read many of the original journals.
His continued interest in history resulted in a further series which ran in the Gilbert Plains Maple Leaf in 1981. These were part of the celebration of the 75th Anniversary. In addition he has written the histories of several of the local school districts.
Along with agriculture, natural and human history Mr. Parker has done his share of community service in several areas. He has served as Justice of the Peace, secretary of the Sulphur Creek School Division, director of the Gilbert Plains Agricultural Society and first president of the Gilbert Plains Historical Society. He has been involved in baseball and 4-H clubs. He has also been an oratorio choir member and, for seventy years, organist at the Gilbert Plains United Church.
James Parker’s talks on natural history and guided field trips to many habitats have inspired younger folk to take an interest in the district. His faithful years of membership in the Manitoba Historical Society are a tribute to a continuing interest in the Province and beyond. This is truly a noteworthy Manitoban.
Page revised: 19 December 2009