ARCHIVED - NRC Celebrates Saskatchewan's 100 th Anniversary

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September 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

Saskatchewan Flag
Saskatchewan Flag

It's Saskatchewan's time to shine. The prairie province is celebrating its centennial year in 2005, marking the 100th anniversary of its split from the Northwest Territories to join the Canadian Confederation on September 1, 1905.

The National Research Council has long been involved in Saskatchewan. The establishment of its NRC Prairie Regional Laboratory in 1948 (renamed the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute in 1983) formalizing NRC's long history of agricultural research activities that included the development of canola and the first synthesis of sucrose.

Today, NRC remains an integral part of Saskatchewan's scientific research and development community through its agricultural biotechnology facilities, its key partnerships, participation in collaborative projects such as the Canadian Light Source, and its programs that help local companies achieve their goals.

NRC proudly celebrates its past and present connections to Saskatchewan – a story of great projects, great people, and great future opportunities.

Great projects

Prairie Regional Laboratory

NRC has a rich history of agricultural research in the prairies, and in Saskatchewan in particular. It was here that the NRC Prairie Research Laboratory (PRL) was set up in 1948 and mandated to develop alternative uses for Western Canadian crops to reduce waste and boost farming profits.

In Saskatchewan, NRC conducted research in four main areas: oil seeds, fermentation chemistry and microbiology, agricultural residues, and wheat surpluses. Many projects were aimed at reducing agricultural waste. For example, one project looked at finding commercial uses for wheat straw in paper-making, insulating material, and fuel briquettes, while flax straw was used for twine and linen fibers needed in airplane manufacture. NRC scientists also extracted insecticides from tobacco wastes.

NRC Researchers also led a wheat rust research program that was strongly encouraged by NRC president Henry Marshall Tory. The research ultimately led to the methods of reducing grain diseases.

Over the years, NRC studied everything from cattle tuberculosis to weed parasites and control, and bacon and other food product quality. Most famously, however, they established an oil seeds laboratory to deal with the wartime shortage of edible vegetable oils. NRC scientists helped develop rapeseed – an inedible crop used mainly as an industrial lubricant – into canola, an edible cash crop worth billions annually to the Canadian economy.

Research Milestones

Canola seeds.
Canola seeds.

In addition to the development of canola, many other research milestones came out of PRL. The Saskatoon-based NRC scientists found ways to use cereal grain starches in syrups, alcohols, and even rubber. They also had the first gas liquid chromatography equipment in Canada, which helped identify oils suitable for human consumption.

NRC scientists developed an effective growing medium known as B5, and they demonstrated it was possible to regenerate whole plants from cultured cells, which led them to create plant hybrids at the cellular level. As well, the large-scale fermentation of plant cells made it possible to recover valuable pharmaceutical products from plants not normally found on the prairies.

In 1971, NRC helped establish the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan with the goal of making new crops economically successful in Saskatchewan. This led to the successful introduction and commercialization of dry peas and lentils to the region which had previously had been dominated by wheat.

Dr. Raymond Lemieux, who worked at PRL in the early 1950s, was the first scientist to accomplish the monumental task of synthesizing sucrose – an accomplishment so difficult, it was dubbed the "Mount Everest of organic chemistry." His work paved the way for the development of blood group typing and antibiotics. On 28 May 2005 NRC-PBI, where Dr. Lemieux made his discovery, was designated a national historic chemical landmark by the Chemical Institute of Canada.

NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute

In 1983, PRL officially became the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC-PBI). The name of the institute had changed, but the research success of NRC's talented scientists did not slow down. The following are examples of these successes:

The development of an Enhanced Regeneration System (ERS) gave scientists the ability to produce a large number of embryos and plants from cultured cells in relatively little time. This allowed scientists to genetically engineer wheat.

Using microspore culture, NRC-PBI developed a superior type of wheat called McKenzie wheat. This variety's traits include higher yield, early maturity, resistance to lodging, good protein concentration, and disease resistance.

Scientists here also developed a technique for reproducing cassava plants from uninfected cells, eliminating the risk of viral infection. As well, they continue to develop canola varieties to remove problems associated with their use as livestock feed and to improve disease resistance and oil composition.

NRC-PBI scientists are also working on creating synthetic abscisic acid (ABA) analogs. ABA is a naturally-occurring plant growth regulator that is involved in important plant processes like responses to the environmental stress of drought, cold, salinity and heat. Researchers hope to create synthetic ABA analogs that do not degrade as quickly and that could be used to help plants survive in tough conditions.

Of course not all of NRC's research in Saskatchewan has been the work of the Prairie Regional Laboratory or NRC-PBI. In 1919, a research team led by NRC conducted tests on the destructive action of alkali ground waters on concrete structures. Dr. Thorbergur Thorvaldson, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and his team came up with a steam-curing technique that changed the structure of concrete compounds in such a way as to make them significantly more resistant to this type of damage.

In another project, J.W.T. Spinks and his colleagues in the Soil Science Department (University of Saskatchewan) used radioactive phosphorous and NRC radioisotope equipment to determine the amount of phosphorous in wheat that came from the soil and from fertilizer. These fertilizer experiments led to other studies of soil nutrient absorption using radioactive tracers, as well as to improved fertilization practices.

Great people

Some of NRC's greatest scientists and leaders have ties to Saskatchewan. Among them are the following distinguished figures:


Gerhard Herzberg Andrew George Latta McNaughton Chalmers Jack (CJ) MacKenzie William George Schneider


Arrow GERHARD HERZBERG spent 10 years at the University of Saskatchewan after escaping Germany's Nazi regime in 1935. Herzberg went on to become the "father of modern molecular spectroscopy". He won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1971 for a lifetime of achievement in molecular spectroscopy – the study of the patterns of light emitted by atoms and molecules – which led to developments in many other scientific fields including physics, chemistry and astronomy.

Arrow ANDREW GEORGE LATTA MCNAUGHTON, president of NRC from 1935-1939, was born in Saskatchewan. He led the National Research Council for four years until returning to military service at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Arrow CHALMERS JACK (C.J.) MACKENZIE went from part-time lecturer who became dean of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, joined NRC in 1935. After serving as NRC's acting president in 1939, he became president in his own right in 1944, a position he held until 1952.

Arrow WILLIAM GEORGE SCHNEIDER, born and educated in Saskatchewan, was the director of NRC's Division of Pure Chemistry from 1963-65; vice-president, scientific from 1965-67; and finally, NRC President from 1967-80.

Great future

Dr. John Balsevich (Plant Natural Products group) in an NRC-PBI greenhouse with cow cockle plants.Saskatoon's agricultural biotechnology cluster is thriving and NRC is an important part of that success.

Arrow NRC-PBI is dedicated to plant and crop research and the development of platform technologies like genomics and proteomics. The institute comprises talented staff and guest researchers. Collaboration with public sector organizations and industry has allowed NRC-PBI to contribute extensively to the emergence of Saskatchewan's world-class agricultural biotech cluster.

Crops for Enhanced Human Health (CEHH) is a $10 million NRC-PBI research program in Saskatchewan that will support a prairies-based functional food, nutraceutical and molecular farming industry.

NRC-PBI's Industrial Partnership Facility attracts new companies to Saskatoon and provides them with research space and the chance to collaborate with researchers at Canada's leading scientific organization.

Arrow The NRC Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure Research (NRC-CSIR) in Regina works with government, universities and industrial partners to address the economic, social and environmental aspects of infrastructure sustainability both in Saskatchewan and across Canada. The Centre is currently studying water and wastewater management infrastructure.

Arrow NRC also played a leading role in the creation of Saskatoon's Canadian Light Source, a multi-million dollar, national synchrotron research facility which will give scientists a clear view of the internal structures of advanced materials and biological samples. The project was a collaboration of hundreds of scientists – many of them NRC employees – and is a symbol of Canadian innovation.

Arrow Genome Prairie and NRC are collaborating on a massive research project to study wheat and canola genomics and how these crops respond to stresses like drought and temperature variations. The project includes researchers from five provinces, as well as the University of Saskatchewan.

Arrow In Saskatchewan, NRC collaborates with Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), industry associations, local and provincial governments and Western Canadian universities, on initiatives to increase the capabilities of Canadian SMEs, to support community innovation and to help promote the use of technology to achieve greater economic and social benefits.

Arrow And last, but not least, the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) helps build small and medium-sized Canadian companies by providing access to technical assistance and advances, expertise, facilities and resources. NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisors work in Saskatchewan to help companies such as Kelln Solar, MicroBio RhizoGen Corp, Infraready Products, Ground Effects Environmental, Analog Design Automation develop and meet their goals.

Happy 100th anniversary Saskatchewan! Here's to continued R&D excellence, innovation, and outstanding researchers.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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