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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Early agricultural education in British Columbia: The pioneering role of the farmers' institute Carlisle, Mary


Even though agricultural education was among the first examples of government-sponsored adult education in British Columbia, it has received scant attention from historians of education. Details of early agricultural education in B.C. are contained in the reports of the Department of Agriculture and the Farmers' Institute, the basic sources for this study. The British Columbia Farmers' Institute was created by the provincial government in 1897 to assist a struggling agricultural industry. The founding legislation provided for a dual purpose organization which would promote co-operative systems of purchasing, producing, and marketing. It would also promote and facilitate a program of scientific agricultural education for the province's farmers. A Department of Agriculture had been formed in 1891 and its early work was largely educational in nature, consisting of the collection of information about agricultural conditions in the province, the dissemination of this information to farmers, and the promotion of settlement in rural areas. When the Farmers' Institute was begun, James R. Anderson, the first statistician and deputy minister of agriculture, was appointed Superintendent of Farmers' Institutes and began immediately to organize farmers into local institutes for the provision of scientific agricultural education. In spite of the challenges presented by the geography of the province, the Institute experienced steady growth in its early years. By the end of the period examined in this study, 1897 to 1915, the Institute had nearly 8500 members in various parts of the British Columbia. During this time the province experienced a tremendous influx of population with many of the newcomers settling in rural areas to take up farming. Agriculture flourished too, so that the value of agricultural production in 1914 actually surpassed that of both forestry and mining. Accompanying the growth in the importance of agriculture was an increased awareness of the value of agricultural education to farmers. The Department of Agriculture expanded and decentralized. The federal Agricultural Instruction Act supplied funds to the province for agricultural education and a Faculty of Agriculture was one of three faculties in the new University of British Columbia when it opened in 1915. New agricultural organizations were formed, many with the support of the Department of Agriculture. As sources of agricultural education became increasingly diverse, the focus of the Farmers' Institute shifted toward the promotion of co-operation within the agricultural industry. Its early success in organizing farmers and popularizing agricultural education was partly responsible for the change in role from primary agent of adult education to facilitator of a variety of programs and services to farmers.

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