Sir Charles Edward Saunders (1867-1937) was a Canadian cerealist who developed early-maturing hard spring wheat—in particular, Marquis wheat, an early high-protein variety.
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 died on July 25, 1937.
The best book on Saunders and his family is Elsie M. Pomeroy, William Saunders and His Five Sons (1956). □