The Garden Magazine 38: 34 (Sept 1923)
CANADA'S GREAT PIONEER HORTICULTURIST
W. T. MACOUN
Dominion Horticulturist

EDITORS' NOTE: Just at this time when another author (E. H. Wilson's Travel Tales of a Plant Collector," pages 33-37) is retracing the footsteps of the great first plant collectors who went into distant countries to bring back riches to their home lands (and incidentally to the world) with their discoveries of new plants, it is a pleasing diversion to look at the reverse workings of the man who, coming into the new world with the avocational interest of the intelligent amateur, won for himself the veneration of subsequent generations for his concrete gifts to Canada's horticulture. This brief outline is appropriately from the pen of his long-time associate and ultimate successor in charge of the Dominion's Farms. Dr. W. T. Macoun, whose winning of the medal of honor at the hands of a thankful people was noted briefly in our July issue.

To know Doctor Saunders was to love him; never boastful of his accomplishments, he worked incessantly during a full life covering and re-covering the breadth of the Dominion each year. To the cold Northwest he gave the first hardy hybrid Apples, not much measured by quality, but as he himself observed to the present chronicler, "Any apple, be it ever so poor, is infinitely better than no apple at all." Doctor Saunders also always had his heart in the esthetics of gardening and experimented greatly with ornamental plants, establishing at Ottawa a unique collection of shrubs suitable for hedge use, all in comparative lines, illustrating forcibly the obvious fact that there is a host of hedge subjects superior to "California" Privet; in fact almost any shrub that can be sheared is superior.


WILLIAM SAUNDERS (1836-1914)
Chemist and enthusiastic agriculturist who bred plants to meet the needs of Canada's severe climate, chief among them being the Apple

THE name of Wm. Saunders is familiar over all North America, for those who have not heard of the Wm. Saunders whose name is a household word in Canada, and of whose life and work some slight account is here given, will recall that there was another Wm. Saunders, a noted horticulturist of the Department of Agriculture, Washington, and especially known as the introducer of the Navel Orange into the United States. It is not often that there have been two such prominent contemporaries of the same name in the same field of work, and for this reason each will keep the memory of. the other green.

The late Wm. Saunders of Canada was a true amateur horticulturist, the love of plants for themselves and the pleasure of working with them being marked throughout his whole career. He loved plants of all kinds and was just as keenly interested in those of economic value as those grown for ornament alone. He began his career as a chemist and before he gave up his business to become Director of the Dominion Experimental Farms he had made a decided financial success of it.

As a diversion from the confining occupation of a chemist he planted a large fruit farm at London, Ontario, as a commercial venture in 1868, but soon he found the management of this too burdensome, and so devoted his spare time after business hours to the purely amateur side of horticulture. He had a great passion for the improvement of plants and was one of the first hybridizers in Canada.

In 1872 he read a paper before the Ontario Fruit Growers' Association on experiments in hybridizing, in which he described the results of his work between 1868 and 1872. In these early years he worked with the Gooseberry, Grape, Raspberry, and Pear. Of this earlier work the Pearl and Josselyn (Red Jacket) Gooseberries are his most noted achievements. The Black Currant was one of his favorite fruits, and he has left some excellent varieties though they are as yet not widely known. Among the best of these are the Saunders, Eclipse, Magnus, Climax, Clipper, Eagle, Kerry, Success, and Beauty. These Currants are very productive and of good quality. Most of his work with Raspberries was in crossing the Red- and Black-Cap, and while many of the seedlings resulting from this work were very productive and of good flavor, they are not sufficiently attractive in appearance to make good market berries. His best Raspberry of this cross is the Sarah, which is a late purple suckering variety of excellent quality. The Brighton and Count are two early Red Raspberries of merit. His Grapes are not offered for sale, but his Emerald, a white grape, is of the highest quality and excellent for home use, and his Kensington is a fine white variety.

A wider field for the development of work which was dear to his heart was afforded him when he became Director of the Dominion Experimental Farms in 1887, which position he filled with marked ability until iii. His work in the improvement of bush fruits was continued at Ottawa, where he came to live after his appointment. Among his interesting hybrids was a cross between the Gooseberry and Black Currant which, being sterile, was of no commercial value. Among ornamental plants he was especially interested in Roses, and his Mary Arnott Rose (a cross between Rosa rugosa and Prince Camille de Rohan), and Agnes (a cross between Rosa rugosa and Persian Yellow), while not yet well known, are two fine varieties. He originated some very interesting and ornamental hybrids of Thunberg's and the common purple-leaved Barberries which are at present under test at Ottawa. Some of these have small purple leaves and are of more graceful habit than Berberis Thunbergi.

His most important work in plant breeding was with Hardy Apples. The winters of the Canadian prairies are very cold and the Apples already in commerce in America do not thrive well there, being often winter-killed. It was found, however, by experiment, that the wild Siberian Crab (Pyrus baccata) was hardy, and with this material Saunders set to work to develop an Apple especially suited for prairie conditions. So hardy are such crosses as jewel, Charles, Silvia, etc. that fruit has been produced at the Experimental Sub-Station at Fort Vermilion, Peace River, in latitude 58° where the temperature frequently falls to between 50° and 60° Fahr. below zero. Thus, though Doctor Saunders did not live to see Apples of good commercial size developed from his work, he laid the foundation of a hardy race.

Wm. Saunders loved the beautiful in nature, and in the planting of the Central and Branch Farms with ornamental trees and shrubs he was able to leave a fine memorial. He was ever looking for new things, and botanic gardens, nurseries, and seed catalogues were searched for plants to test and to learn how they would succeed under Canadian conditions.

Dr. Wm. Saunders, C. M. G., died at London, Ontario, on Sept. 13, 1914, in his seventy-ninth year. He was born in Devonshire, England, in 1836, coming to Canada with his parents at the age of twelve, and from that time continuing to live in Canada. When he died he left a record of useful public service that cannot soon be forgotten.