Charles E. Saunders

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For other people named Charles Saunders, see Charles Saunders (disambiguation).
Sir Charles Edward Saunders
Born (1867-02-02)February 2, 1867
London, Canada West
Died July 25, 1937(1937-07-25) (aged 70)
Toronto, Ontario
Nationality Canada
Fields agronomy
Known for Marquis Wheat
Notable awards Flavelle Medal (1925)

Sir Charles Edward Saunders, FRSC (February 2, 1867 – July 25, 1937) was a Canadian agronomist. He was the inventor of Marquis Wheat.

Born in London, Canada West, he received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto in 1888. From 1888 to 1893, he specialized in chemistry at summer school at Harvard University. In 1891, he received a Ph.D from Johns Hopkins University. He married Mary Blackwell.

Saunders Secondary School in London, Ontario is named for him and other members of his prominent family, including his father, chemist William Saunders.


Saunders learned most of what he knew about hybridization at home through his family. Some of his earliest memories are of driving with his father to a fruit farm outside the city limits, where he would help him hybridize grapes, currants, raspberries, and gooseberries.


In 1888, Saunders received the Bachelor of Arts in chemistry from the University of Toronto. In 1891, he received a Ph.D for chemistry from Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland. From 1892 to 1893, Saunders was the Professor of Chemistry at Central University in Kentucky. Between 1894 and 1903, he studied flute with E. M. Heindl of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the New England Conservatory of Music and with Eugene Weiner of the New York Philharmonic Club. He also received voice training.

Before 1900[edit]

1894 Saunders opened two studios in Toronto, announcing that in addition to accepting commissions for concerts and recitals, he was available to train students in voice and flute.

1895-1896 Became a columnist in The Week, writing about various aspects of music.

1900 to 1920[edit]

1903 William Saunders, Charles' father, appointed him Experimentalist, a title that became Cerealist in 1905 and Dominion Cerealist in 1910.

In the search for a hardy wheat that would mature faster, he made hundreds of crosses, proceeding to test the yields. Tests included one called "chewing", whereby Saunders identified strains with strong gluten by chewing a few sample kernels. "I made more wheat into gum than was made by all the boys in any dozen rural schools of a generation ago." (Pomeroy, Elsie M. William: Saunders and His Five Sons: The Story of the Marquis Wheat Family, p. 141)

Dr. Saunders completed his assessments by qualifying yield. Using a technique he devised himself, he ground his own flour and baked his own bread in small loaves to measure volume.

Working with Red Fife, which had been imported and developed by David Fife from Ontario, Dr. Saunders crossed it with Hard Red Calcutta. The new variety Markham showed great promise, but its offspring were not uniform. After many trials at the Agassiz experimental farm, a winner emerged - Marquis.

1906 Surplus Marquis seed was shipped to Indian Head, Saskatchewan, for additional testing.

1911 Marquis won the Canadian Pacific Railway Prize of $1,000.00 for the best bushel of hard spring wheat grown in North America. This was the first of many prizes.

Marquis' only drawback was its susceptibility to rust. Not until 1947 was a rust-resistant variety developed at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. It was named "Saunders".


1920 90% of the wheat crop in western Canada was Marquis.

Dr. Saunders also applied his methods to barley, oats, peas, beans, and flax, introducing several new varieties of each.

He wrote extensively on the subject and many of his thoughts on cereals were presented to scientific conferences and societies and printed in scientific magazines.

1922 After suffering a physical breakdown, Dr. Saunders resigned his position. He moved to Paris with his wife.

1922-1925 At the Sorbonne, he studied French literature.

1925 He returned to Ottawa briefly, but in 1928 he moved to Toronto. Though retired, he continued to lecture on Marquis wheat and the French language.

1928 Essais et vers, a collection of Dr. Saunders' French essays and poems, was published by Louis Carrier and Cie, Les Editions du Mercure, in Montreal and New York. The work received critical acclaim in the French press, especially in Quebec.

1934 Dr. Saunders was knighted by King George V for his contribution to agriculture.

1937 Dr. Saunders died in Toronto. Tributes to him came from around the world. In The London Daily Express, his obituary read: "He added more wealth to his country than any other man. Marconi gave power. Saunders gave abundance. Great lives, these!"

Charles Edward Saunders was born in London, Ontario, on Feb. 2, 1867, son of William and Sarah Agnes Robinson Saunders. He received his early education in the elementary and collegiate system in London and his university education at the University of Toronto, Johns Hopkins University, and the Sorbonne. He married Mary Blackwell of Toronto in 1892.

Saunders began an academic career as professor of chemistry and geology at Central University, Ky., in 1893. Within 2 years, however, he turned to a musical career in Toronto, where, in addition to acting as an agent, he gave lessons in singing and flute playing and wrote as music critic in a newspaper. His musical career was not a financial success, however, and in 1903 he accepted appointment as Dominion cerealist at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa. The new work was not a break with family tradition, for Saunders's father had founded the system of experimental farms established in Canada, and his brother, Percy, had done considerable work in cross-breeding strains of wheat.

Saunders turned enthusiastically to his new tasks. Following up his brother's research, he developed Marquis wheat in 1904, a variety which showed marked superiority in milling quality for bread flour over other varieties popular in western Canada. Marquis had the advantage of maturing 10 days earlier than its competitors - a factor of great importance in the Canadian wheat belt. The Indian Head Experimental Farm in Saskatchewan raised Marquis wheat for seed, and by 1909 its use was widespread. By 1920 90 percent of the wheat grown in western Canada was Marquis. However, Marquis was not resistant to stem rust. In seeking newer and better varieties Saunders developed three other strains of wheat - Ruby, Garnet, and Reward - specifically adapted to prairie conditions. He was also responsible for improved varieties of oats and barley.

In 1922 Saunders retired and turned to the study of French, a subject which had always attracted him. He spent the years 1922-1925 at the Sorbonne, returning to Canada to write a book, Essais et vers, in 1928. In recognition of his work in the French language he was decorated by the French government and was presented with the Medaille de l'Académie française.

Saunders won honor in his own country also. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1921 and won the society's Flavelle Medal in 1925. He was knighted in 1933. He is a member of the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.[1] He died on July 25, 1937.


  1. ^ The Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame: The Hall, Canada Science and Technology Museum.

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