The Town of Indian Head

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To celebrate Canada’s 150 Birthday, the Indian Head Community Development Committee has teamed up with the Museum to dive into the depths of their archives, searching through forgotten boxes and dusty shelves, to find the most interesting and unique artifacts from Indian Head’s past! Join the adventure by reading and make sure to visit the Museum to see the real thing!

As you enter the Indian Head Museum’s Agricultural Stations display about the Forestry Farm and the Experimental Farm, your eye lights on a beautiful old desk on which stands a portrait of “Angus MacKay – Superintendent 1888 – 1915.”

Two men left Pickering, Ontario for the North West in the spring of 1882, intent on establishing a farming company somewhere near the CPR railway then under construction. Angus MacKay and Eli Williamson brought a railway car full of agricultural equipment and household effects as far as St. Paul, Minnesota, before turning north on the line toward Winnipeg. Because of a record flood on the Red River that spring, they were delayed at Halleck, Minnesota. Halleck was the same place where Major William R. Bell had managed the large Kelso Farm. MacKay and Williamson were to get to know Major Bell later at Indian Head. Because of further flooding delays, it was not until June 15 that the two men arrived at Indian Head, where they were soon joined by Edward Boone and Robert Miller, their other two partners in the MacKay Farming Company. The four partners farmed their lands in cooperation until they dissolved the company in 1887, when each of MacKay’s partners took his own share of the land to farm on his own.

But Angus MacKay made a different choice. In 1886, the Experimental Farms Act had been passed. In addition to a Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, the new director, Dr. William Saunders, had to choose where to locate four regional Experimental Farms and met MacKay in Indian Head in December, 1886. MacKay was invited to Ottawa in the summer of 1887 and, that fall, accompanied Dr. Saunders on a tour of the North West to choose the site for the territorial Experimental Farm.  Once Indian Head was chosen, Saunders appointed MacKay as superintendent and an official announcement was made at an oyster supper at Indian Head’s Commercial Hotel in February, 1888. MacKay continued as superintendent for the next 26 years, finally retiring in 1913 at the age of 73. He was sometimes called the “Grand Old Man of Saskatchewan.”

Angus MacKay was born in Pickering, Ontario, on January 3, 1840. He grew up on the family farm and took it over when his father passed away. He married Elizabeth Gunn and they had four children – Donald, Edith, Robert and Agnes. While living a very busy professional life, MacKay was also an active member of the Indian Head community and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. He lived in Indian Head until his death on June 10, 1931 at the age of 91. He was buried in the Indian Head Cemetery.

The influence and accomplishments of Angus MacKay went far beyond the town he lived in for 49 years. The impact of the agricultural demonstrations and testing conducted at the Experimental Farm was felt throughout the prairies. MacKay oversaw the introduction and testing of fruits, vegetables, trees and shrubs, field crops and all manner of livestock and poultry.

The raising and distribution of trees for shelter on the prairies was initiated by Angus MacKay and soon the demand for seedlings was so large that a separate station – the Forestry Farm – was created to supply it. MacKay’s name was also associated with the testing and introduction of Marquis wheat. This variety was first developed by Dr. Saunders in 1892. The Red Fife wheat that farmers were trying to grow usually froze because it did not ripen fast enough for the short prairie season. When Marquis became available, wheat production suddenly became feasible and profitable on the prairies. Because of his great lifetime contributions to the development of agriculture on the prairies, Angus MacKay, at the age of 82, received his doctorate, conferred on him by the University of Saskatchewan in 1922. Doctor Angus MacKay’s desk helps us remember his contributions and the many contributions to western agriculture by the Indian Head Experimental Farm. 

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