Fonds 0383 - John and Irene Wallace fonds

Photographing an apple tree, Beaverlodge, Alberta. Cultivating seedlings, Beaverlodge, Alberta. Beside the greenhouse, Beaverlodge, Alberta. Albright crabapple, Beaverlodge Nursery, Alberta. Glow and Crab Seedling, Beaverlodge Nursery, Alberta. Crabapple in bloom, Beaverlodge Nursery, Alberta. A seedless apple variety, Beaverlodge Nursery, Alberta. Arctic Dawn crabapple, Beaverlodge Nursery, Alberta. Snowcap and Arctic Dawn crabapples, Beaverlodge Nursery, Alberta. Apple samples, Beaverlodge Nursery, Alberta.
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John and Irene Wallace fonds

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CA GPR 0383

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1 cm of textual records
2597 slides
3 video recordings

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Biographical history

John Alexander Wallace, born April 9, 1899, was the son of William and Mary Wallace. Although the family was of Scottish descent, John was born in Leeds, England, where his father was principal of Leeds Coburn High School. John had an older brother, Hugh, and a younger sister, Helen. In the spring of 1907 the family moved to Canada, settling on a homestead at Campsie, Alberta. Because his precarious health prevented him from doing many of the heavy homesteading chores, John spent time working with his mother in the garden, nurturing his interest in horticulture. He also worked with his father and brother testing cereal varieties for Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm. Because there were no schools in the area where they had settled until 1917, John was educated at home by his father. John eagerly read farm journals and Dominion Experimental Farm bulletins and, in the late 1930s, corresponded on horticulture with Dr. W. R. Leslie at the Morden Experimental Farm and Professor George Harcourt at the University of Alberta.

In 1928, John married Gertrude Dodgson of Roselea, Alberta and the couple settled across the road from the Wallace homestead. Although farming was to be their chief source of income, John found his cereal and horticulture projects to be much more engaging. In 1935, he started the Wallace Experimental Gardens with the aim of selling some of his plants to finance these interests. Since it was during the Depression and money was scarce, John was able to get Fred Morris, a neighbouring homesteader who had lost his wife, to help with the building of a greenhouse and hardening frames in exchange for Gertrude taking care of his children. Fred remained at the Gardens for several years. Although local sales of the plants were limited for the first year, John was able to supplement his income by landscaping the grounds of local buildings including the Barrhead Creamery and the Hospital. He also worked on the farm at seeding time and harvest. In 1937, John began leasing more land near Thunder Lake, where the frost-free season lasted longer, to expand his business. However, in 1942 a rabbit infestation destroyed much of his work. In the same year, John’s father died and John developed a severe case of grain poisoning during the fall threshing, causing him to rethink his future. In 1943 he applied for and was accepted as a summer labourer at Morden Experimental Farm in Manitoba. Although offered a year-round position at Morden, he returned home at the end of the summer. On his return, John was once again forced to help with the threshing, as his brother had been involved in a serious accident. Another attack of grain poisoning convinced him that farming was no longer an option.

When John received a letter from W. D. Albright, superintendent of Beaverlodge Experimental Farm, offering him a temporary position as horticulturalist while the regular horticulturalist was overseas, he accepted. In the spring of 1944 John moved north with his wife Gertrude and daughter Shelia. John’s activities included studying the plants growing at the Farm, planting many of the seeds and young plants he had brought from Morden, doing variety tests of vegetables, small fruits, tree fruits, and ornamentals, and participating in the field days sponsored by the Experimental Farm. John also spent time collecting and domesticating native plant material. In 1948, after selling his Campsie farm to his brother, John purchased 15 acres of land between Beaverlodge and the Experimental Farm. John used his land to grow adapted plants suited for the area’s climate, as well as producing bedding and vegetable plants for sale, an enterprise that eventually became the Beaverlodge Nursery. Fred Morris moved to Beaverlodge and was contracted to build a shack and greenhouse on the new property. Fred continued to help with building projects and in the greenhouse until his health declined.

John eventually found that his work at the Experimental Farm did not leave him sufficient time to pursue his independent nursery work, so in the summer of 1949 he quit his job at the Experimental Farm and became a Fuller Brush representative. Finding that this new occupation did not suit him, he returned to the Experimental Farm in the fall of the same year. Although the regular horticulturalist had returned from overseas by this time, he did not remain in Beaverlodge long and John again assumed leadership of the Farm’s Horticultural Department, a position he regularly filled while the Farm was between regular horticulturalists. Throughout it all, the nursery continued to grow.

Irene Hamel was born on April 5, 1920 to Philias and Ernestine Hamel in St. Adolphe, Manitoba. The family moved to British Columbia when she was quite young. By the time Irene was 12, the family had moved again, to a farm in southern Alberta. However, the poor farming conditions of the 1930s necessitated another move to Tawatinaw, where they had family. By this time, the Hamel family had grown to eight children: Gabrielle, Simone, Ernest, Adeline, Germaine, Joseph, and Helen. Irene was interested in becoming a teacher and completed grade 9; however, after her schooling was cut short, she instead became a hired girl on a farm near Legal for nine years. When she was no longer needed, Irene journeyed to Manitoba for a change of scene. Although tempted to stay, she returned to Alberta. Irene planned to enrol in a business course in Edmonton, but as her summer work brought her to Grande Prairie, she attended business training at Grande Prairie’s St. Joseph’s instead. Following graduation, she became a typist at the Beaverlodge Research Station in June 1951. In 1952 she began helping out at the Wallace nursery, eventually becoming an informal partner. Irene’s sister Germaine, who had remained at home caring for her parents, both of whom were in ill health, followed Irene north after their death. Germaine began working at the nursery in 1956, gradually taking over the greenhouse work from Gertrude Wallace.

In 1959, John Wallace retired from his job at the Research Station and was able to devote himself to his nursery on a full-time basis. Irene continued to work at the Experimental Farm and to improve her education through the Department of Education Correspondence Branch. With the expansion and reorganization of the Experimental Farm she advance from typing into clerical. After a few months as a clerk, she was sent to Ottawa for a two-week course in data-oriented bookkeeping. In 1963, Irene took a part-time job as secretary-treasurer at St. Mary’s Separate School. Irene and Germaine’s brother Ernest Hamel joined the nursery staff in 1963. He had visited the year previous between his winter work in a lumber camp and summer farming in Legal. He continued to work in the lumber camps another couple of winters before enrolling in the University of Guelph’s Horticultural Diploma correspondence course. Germaine also took a correspondence course over the winters, from the American Art Schools.

As the plot of land owned by John Wallace was becoming too small, new land was sought and found at the farm of Norman Hauger, near the Beaverlodge River. After a fire in 1961 destroyed the office/living quarters and attached greenhouse, a small house was purchased and moved to the new location. The nursery also rented land on the Beaverlodge River from Louis Houde, which they purchased in the late 1960s.

By 1968-69, John’s daughter, who was married and living in Chilliwack, B.C., had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Gertrude’s health was also in severe decline by this time and she eventually lost both her legs. Shelia died in the fall of 1969, followed by her mother 10 months later.

John married Irene Hamel in the summer of 1971. The nursery continued to expand in the following years with the construction of a new house, office, and greenhouse complex in 1973, the employment of D. John Grant, a horticulture graduate from the Niagara Parks Commission, in March 1977, and the addition of another greenhouse in 1978. The nursery’s prosperity and the slow propagation of some plants were such that they were forced to import certain plants, particularly fruit trees and evergreens, to supplement their own stock. The nursery had both a retail outlet and a large mail order business. John and Irene also continued John’s practice of collecting interesting native plants, even making trips to the Yukon and Alaska and in the Rocky Mountain areas of Thunder Mountain and Kinuso Falls.

Irene retired from her job as Office Manager of the Beaverlodge Research Station in the early 1980s and was able to devote her attention to the nursery business full-time. John Wallace died on March 29, 1986. Through his work at the Beaverlodge Experimental Farm and independently, John Wallace was responsible for discovering, selecting, developing, and breeding many cultivars, the most famous being the Protem strawberry, the Early Yellow tomato, and the Pembina and Smoky saskatoons. In 1989, he was inducted into the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame. He had previously been honoured for his work in various ways including being granted honourary lifetime memberships in the Canadian Society for Horticultural Science in 1980, the Western Canadian Society for Horticulture in 1980, and the Landscape Alberta Nursery Trades Association (LANTA) in 1983 and being awarded the Alberta Horticultural Association’s Centennial Gold Medal in 1967, the WCHS Award of Merit for ‘Dunvegan Blue’ juniper in 1967, an appreciation award from the Alberta Nursery Growers and an award in recognition of his work from the Peace Chapter of LANTA in 1983, and the Manitoba Horticultural Association’s A. P. Stevenson Memorial Award in 1984. John Wallace has also had two memorial gardens (in Beaverlodge and Grande Prairie), a memorial cup, and a shrub rose named after him.

Irene, Germaine, and Ernest continued to operate the Beaverlodge Nursery after John Wallace’s death, although they scaled back their market from Canada-wide to the local Peace area only. Ernest Hamel died on February 15, 1993 at the age of 69. Germaine Hamel died on November 26, 2006 at the age of 81. Irene Wallace died two years later, on December 29, 2008.

Custodial history

The slides and textual records were donated to the Landscape Alberta Nursery Trades Association (LANTA) around 1990. The slides were used to make a video in 1993, which is now also included in this fonds. In 2007 LANTA donated the records to South Peace Regional Archives. A 1980 catalogue originally mailed to Peter G. Harris of Lubbock, Texas, was donated in 2014 by Margit Schowalter.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of material relating to the life and work of John and Irene Wallace and the Beaverlodge Nursery, dating from 1946 to 1993. The records include 2597 slides taken at variety of locations featuring nursery and horticultural activities and a wide variety of plant material, a video presentation prepared using several of the slides, a 1980 catalogue, and a file of various clippings and historical information about John Wallace, his work, and the Beaverlodge Nursery.

The fonds is divided into two series: Slide Collection, and Clippings and Historical Information.

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Immediate source of acquisition

In 2007 LANTA donated the records to South Peace Regional Archives. A 1980 catalogue originally mailed to Peter G. Harris of Lubbock, Texas, was donated in 2014 by Margit Schowalter.


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  • The material is in English.

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Two of the plaques honouring John Wallace were donated by Irene Wallace to the Beaverlodge Cultural Centre in Beaverlodge, Alberta.

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Accession numbers: 2007.032; 2014.092

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South Peace Regional Archives

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  • English

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