Cora Hind: Crop Whisperer

By Laura Neilson Bonikowsky

 

E. Cora Hind during one of her field inspections.

E. Cora Hind during one of her field inspections.

Springtime, but the ground was cold and dry and the wheat grains lay waiting for warmth and moisture to aid them in beginning the growth essential to their task of providing the world with bread. – Cora Hind, “The Valor of Wheat”

Ella Cora Hind, born in Toronto in 1861, grew up on her grandfather’s farm in Grey County, Ont., after her parents’ deaths and ventured west in 1882 to make her fortune, accompanied by her Aunt Alice. Cora had written the examination to become a teacher and received the news that she’d failed after they reached Winnipeg. Though begged by her aunt to rewrite the exam, Cora pursued her real desire to become a reporter. In the ensuing years, Cora would establish quite a reputation.

She applied at the Manitoba Free Press armed with a letter of introduction from a friend of the editor, W.F. Luxton. But Luxton turned her down, saying that the newsroom was not a suitable place for a woman. “Things will change,” she told him, “And I’ll be back.” She later sent an article to Luxton, which he published without giving her credit.

Cora saw an opportunity when she learned that no businesses in the West had a typewriter. She rented one from the East and taught herself to type. Her new skill got her hired by Macdonald and Tupper, a law firm and new owners of a typewriter. Cora worked there until 1893 and then opened her own typing business, the first woman stenographer in the West.

As the railroad made its way west and the prairies abounded in grain, Winnipeg became the grain-trading centre of Western Canada. Cora had learned about farming from her grandfather and was naturally drawn to reporting on agricultural matters. She bought a bicycle and began riding out into the fields to watch crops and cattle. She made her first comprehensive crop report in 1898, when rumours of frost damage were affecting business across the country. Businessmen in the East looked for facts. Cora packed her bags and headed to the western wheat fields, travelling by train and horseback, stopping to examine ripening wheat at hundreds of locations. The report she filed was accepted by business. And the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1901, new editor-in-chief of the Free Press John W. Dafoe hired her as an agricultural reporter. In 1904, as agricultural editor, Cora made her most famous prediction, the first of her 29 annual prairie wheat crop predictions. Black rust was a new threat affecting Prairie wheat fields that year and an American expert estimated the yield in Canada’s West at 35-million bushels. Cora believed the estimate was wrong and went out to the fields to make her own estimate, coming back with a prediction of 50- to 55-million bushels. The actual amount to reach elevators that year was 54-million bushels.

Cora became a world authority on agriculture and livestock as well as wheat yields, driving herself around the province to examine fields and soil and count wheat kernels. Her predictions influenced western crop prices and the Winnipeg Grain Exchange and became the basis for determining the global price of Canadian wheat. She was the first agricultural journalist to write about agriculture as a business and she initiated the western farm reports.

In 1935, the University of Manitoba honoured her contributions to agriculture by awarding her an honorary doctorate of law. After her death in 1942, the United Grain Growers established the Cora Hind Fellowship for research in agriculture at the University of Manitoba.

Cora Hind was also a feminist and social reformer, involved in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Women’s Institutes movement, and among the founders of the Manitoba Equal Franchise Club.

In 1906, Cora wrote: “Let the new-comers remember that it was the labor of the pioneer women that made the west a safe and comfortable place for a woman to earn a living—may their memories ever abide with us, for they builded better than they knew.” Cora Hind certainly earned a place among those pioneer women.

 

Laura Neilson Bonikowsky is a Prairie writer.

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