In 1904, agricultural speculators in Chicago issued a statement saying that the Canadian wheat crop was going to be terrible because rot got into the crop and the best anyone could hope for was 35 million bushels, about half of the usual output.
This sent shockwaves through the Canadian farming community.
Speculation like this could cause prices to crash and farmers hoping for a payday would be left with a fraction of what they hoped for.
But one woman felt the so-called experts in Chicago were way off.
To prove them wrong, she hopped in her car, put on her Stetson hat, and drove hundreds of kilometres per day through the Canadian Prairies.
She climbed over fences and walked through fields to get an idea of what the crop yield would be.
She came back with an estimate of 55 million bushels. Chicago speculators laughed at her prediction.
official figures came in after harvest, and the woman was only off by one million bushels. Just like that an agricultural legend was born.
For the next three decades, she travelled through the Canadian Prairies, as a trailblazer that farmers respected and relied upon.
She was the Oracle of Wheat, Ella Cora Hind.
I’m Craig Baird, and this is Canadian History Ehx!
Stretching from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Canadian Shield in the east you’ll find some of the best farmland in the world.
It’s only 14 percent of Canada’s landmass but combined, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have 51.2 million hectares and 82 percent of the country’s farmland.
Each year, the three provinces generate nearly $30 billion in revenue and agriculture is the biggest industry.
But that was not always the case.
In the 1860s, there was little to no agriculture in the Canadian West beyond some isolated settlements.
Both Alberta and Saskatchewan were forty years away from becoming provinces, and the land was home to Indigenous People and migrating great bison herds.
Indigenous People wouldn’t be pushed into reserves by The Crown for nearly two decades.
Ella Cora Hind was born on Sept. 18, 1861, a world away from the Canadian Prairies in Toronto, the daughter of Jane and Edwin Hind.
Her father was a stone cutter and helped build the Welland Canal, which helped develop Toronto into Canada’s largest city.
Her mother Jane was a gifted and award- winning writer.
Sadly, neither saw Cora grow up.
Her mother died when Cora was two, and in my research, I was unable to find out the cause of death.
Three years later in 1866, Cora’s father died of cholera while in Chicago.
His body was returned to Toronto in a lead-lined coffin for fear of infection and buried.
Orphaned, she moved in with her grandfather Joseph, who moved from the United States in 1832, settled in the Toronto area in 1840 but now was a farmer in Grey County, near Owen Sound.
This is where Cora first learned about farming as she helped her grandfather choose and harvest crops.
She also learned diseases that could strike a crop, and what made for a good yield and soaked up all that information like a sponge.
Alongside her grandfather Cora lived with her aunt Alice who homeschooled her since the rural area had no local school.
Eventually a school was built on her grandfather’s property, which she attended until she went to high school in Orillia located in neighbouring Simcoe County
Upon graduation, Cora’s mind was on teaching.
In the 19th century, teaching was one of the few jobs a woman could have.
Meanwhile throughout the Canadian Prairies, one room schools were popping up and single women were offered jobs as soon as they graduated. However, once the woman married, they were replaced by another single woman or man.
Cora took her teacher’s exam and before she even got the results, she moved to Winnipeg with her Aunt Alice.
At the time the city was the edge of civilization in Canada and the perfect place to start a new life of adventure, which Cora loved.
This was the 1880s, and Winnipeg was booming.
It had joined Confederation a decade earlier in 1870 and with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, it became a hub as nearly every shipment in the Canadian Prairies went through it helping it grow exponentially.
In 1871 the city had a population of 241; ten years later it had grown to nearly 8,000.
By 1911, Winnipeg was Canada’s third-largest city.
But Cora arrived on Aug. 7, 1882, ready to teach and begin a new life in the growing city.
Except as soon as she arrived, she received a letter informing her she had failed algebra, a requirement to be a teacher.
Her Aunt suggested she take the exam again, but Cora refused.
In a new exciting city, she sought a new path…. she was going to try her luck as a journalist.
The Manitoba Free Press was the biggest newspaper in Winnipeg, and all western Canada.
Founded in 1872 by William Fisher Luxton and John A. Kenny when they bought a press in New York City and shipped it to Winnipeg and out of a small shack, they began to print.
As Winnipeg grew, so did the newspaper.
After her failed exam Cora walked right to Luxton’s office and asked for a job as a reporter.
I would like to say that he immediately saw her potential and offered her a job but in actuality, he told her that a newsroom was no place for a woman.
But Cora had traveled from afar and sought adventure… there was no way she was going to give up easy so she began to write articles from home and would send them to Luxton in the hopes he would publish one.
The strategy worked.
A month after she walked into his office, he published a story she wrote but didn’t give her credit for it.
Quickly realizing she needed a Plan B; Cora saw an opportunity in an emerging technology and always the trailblazer decided to be at the forefront.
The first commercial typewriters were introduced in 1874 but did not become common until after the mid-1880s.
During this time Cora rented one of the few typewriters available in the entire city and spent a month learning to type on it.
Once she had mastered this new device, she returned it.
The owner of the shop she rented it from told her that Hugh John MacDonald, one of the most prominent individuals in the city, had recently bought a typewriter and was looking for someone who could use it.
As one of the few individuals in the city who could type, she contacted Macdonald and offered her services.
Hugh John Macdonald was a top lawyer and his father happened to be the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald.
Hugh would eventually become the premier of Manitoba for 10 months in 1900.
But before that happened, he hired Cora to work as a typist in his office, where she often spoke with rural clients, farmers on the fertile soil of the Red River Basin.
She saw the difficulty many faced as these immigrants were hard-working, but came from Europe, where the climate was very different than the Canadian Prairies.
Farming practices there did not always translate because the soil and growing seasons were so different, and they often struggled with knowing what to plant and when.
In 1898, Cora made her first crop predictions.
But only a few people read it, thankfully it wouldn’t be the only one.
At the turn of the century, she created a marketing service for creamery and cheese factories in the province.
This further raised her profile within the agricultural community.
Her predictions earned her a growing audience in Winnipeg, and she was FINALLY offered another chance at a position with the Manitoba Free Press newspaper, but it wasn’t Luxton who gave it to her.
In 1901, William Fisher Luxton left the newspaper he helped create to become the inspector of public buildings in Manitoba. Replacing him as editor was John Wesley Dafoe.
Dafoe saw the accuracy of Cora’s predictions and her growing audience, and he offered the position of agricultural editor.
The offer of employment took two decades to arrive so as soon as it arrived Cora quickly accepted.
And it would give birth to the legend of the Oracle of Wheat.
As soon as the snow melted in the Canadian Prairies in March, Cora Hind put on her riding breeches, high leather boots and a Stetson hat.
Once dressed in what would become her distinctive outfit or maybe more of a uniform.
She got into her car and drove along roads that were then little more than trails through a field.
She visited with farmers, and she spent hours walking on the land while looking at crops.
An unnamed colleague at the newspaper stated she would simply stop her car, walk into a field, spin three times with her eyes closed and grab a wheat stalk to analyze.
After the accurate prediction in 1904 I shared with you at the beginning of the episode put the Chicago speculators to shame, farmers actively sought her out for advice which she was always willing to provide.
She would tell those who asked what to plant and where to plant it.
In 1905, she made another near perfect prediction as a follow up to the one the year before.
She predicted a crop of 85 million wheat bushels.
The official figure came in at 84.5 million.
As her predictions led to skyrocketing notoriety in the agricultural industry, Cora suffered great a personal tragedy.
Her Aunt Alice died in 1908 of natural causes.
Her aunt had been her teacher, her best friends, and they had been lifelong companions, even moving to Winnipeg together a quarter-century earlier.
The loss and grief were great, but Cora had a job to do and through it all she gave arguably her most accurate prediction ever a year later.
Like a true oracle in 1909 she was off by a mere half a percent or 90,000 bushels from the official total.
By1912, Cora had written her first book, The Story of the Big Ditch.
The book detailed how The Great Ditch came to be, from inception to completion and its release coincided with its opening. — Known as The Great Ditch, the irrigated tract of the Southern Alberta Land Company, took water from the Bow River, and sent it to the arid lands in southern Alberta to provide farmers with water for their crops.
The same year Cora, The Oracle failed to give a prediction. It would be the first time in her career. That year conditions were far too wet, making an estimate almost impossible.
She only skipped one other time, in 1926 when she was struck by appendicitis just as she was about to head out on her crop tour.
When the First World War broke out, she helped the Red Cross raise money for the war effort. Not even the Great War could stop Cora from going on tours of western crops and being able to make predictions.
In 1916, she not only became the first woman allowed on the floor of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, but she was also given $1,300 in gold by the Western Canada Livestock Union as a thank you for her accurate estimates and tireless help to farmers. t.
Four years later, Cora received a very unusual gift when the Wool Growers of Manitoba gave her a flock of sheep as thank you.
The advice she gave helped the industry grow and 1924 was one of the busiest years, when she travelled 10,000 kilometres to survey crops throughout the Canadian Prairies.
These trips could be difficult.
While we would like to imagine, Cora toured fields under always sunny conditions the reality is that she worked in the cold, rain, extreme heat, even early and late snows, and by now she was in her 60s.
Yet she always did her job.
Her friend, Edna Kells said,
“The appreciation of beauty and a spirit of adventure, combined with a keen sense of humour and staunch loyalty, helped carry her through many a hard day.”
That loyalty extended to the Free Press newsroom as she provided other reporters with guidance and mentorship.
And it didn’t stop there, she also advocated for women in journalism.
At the time women couldn’t be part of the Canadian Press Club, so Cora formed the Winnipeg branch of the Canadian Women’s Press Club.
She also Cora routinely traveled to Ottawa four times a year, but she wasn’t there to meet with politicians, although she did meet with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King on occasion.
She went to research and met with scientists and pathologists often cramming 60 appointments over three days so she could get a pulse *on innovations in the agriculture industry.
These trips to Ottawa also allowed her to advocate for a town known today as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World, (BEAT MUSIC TRANSITION)
Churchill is located on the western shores of Hudson Bay at the mouth of the Churchill River in Northern Manitoba. It has long cold winters, and short, cool summers as winds from the North Pole jet across the bay. It is on the edge of the Arctic Circle and far from populated areas. The closest major settlement isThompson400 km to the south, while Winnipeg is 1,000 km to the south.
During the 1920s, a railway was built to link Churchill with the rest of Canada.
But Cora hoped that building a port in the town could help transport grain from Hudson Bay to Europe.
After years of campaigning, the efforts were successful, and the federal government started construction on the port which officially opened in 1931.
That’s when the Juventus set sail on its maiden voyage from Churchill with 268,000 bushels of wheat and Cora as a passenger.
She also had the honor of being the first woman to ever depart from the Churchill’s newly opened port.
She sailed through Hudson Bay, and when the crew of the ship worried about her being the only woman on board.
“The spirit of all the early explorers, seamen, adventurers who came and went in the long ago, still live in the mists of Hudson Bay. I could sense their presence around me. I was never alone.”
As she crossed the ocean, she knitted socks for the captain and crew.
By the time she reached England, she was a celebrity.
The London Sunday Express wrote,
“She is the greatest prophet in the world. Fortunes and the future of great industries are affected by her forecasts.”
When she returned to Canada in 1932, she came home to a country that was deep in the throes of The Great Depression.
Across the Prairies, farms dealt with extreme droughts that destroyed crops and left many families struggling.
Cora often saw unemployed men on her travels, some of whom had been farmers reading her predictions just a few years earlier.
“One of the truly pathetic things is the number of men looking for work and not finding it, tramping in the boiling heat with their packs on their backs.”
The Great Depression made farming extremely difficult, but Cora would still be out there touring fields by now, well into her 70s and attempting to help farmers with her predictions.
And remember, conditions made life on the road tough
On May 27, 1934, in southwest Saskatchewan she wrote,
“Absolutely the hottest and driest day I have been on the road in more than 30 years of crop inspections.”
A year later in 1935, the University of Manitoba gave her an honorary degree.
That same year she left Canada on a two-year tour of the world, visiting 27 countries to research crops and to find ways to help Canadian farmers dealing with drought.
At an age when people today would be well into retirement, she was touring Europe, Russia, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Brazil.
But the tour, took its toll and much like the prairie fields back at home…Cora Hind’s boundless energy was beginning to run dry.
In 1937, she turned letters she wrote during her world tour and published them as a book called Seeing For Myself.
It became a massive success and spawned a second book two years later. In 1939 she published My Travels and Findings featuring personal writing as well.
By 1939 Cora’s health began to fail
The crop tours of Western Canadian were already a thing of the past… she had been busy touring the world and writing two books and by 1940 another world war had broken out.
She once again partnered with the Red Cross to help raise money for the war effort.
But it wouldn’t last as the end was near for her.
On Oct. 6, 1942, she suffered a serious stroke and died only hours later.
News of her death spread, and condolences poured from across Canada.
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King said she was one of the greatest Canadian women.
The Saskatoon Star Phoenix wrote,
“There is not a community in Western Canada where someone will not be grieving today at the passing of Cora Hind.”
To honour her the Winnipeg Grain Exchange halted all trading for two minutes in her memory.
The woman who did so much for Canadian agriculture during her life was inducted into the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1963
And 34 years later she was designated as a National Historic Person by the Government of Canada.
Before we end this episode, there is another aspect of Cora Hind that is often overshadowed by her amazing predictions.
But it is equally if not more important.
She was on the front lines fighting for women’s right to vote.
In 1890, while living in Winnipeg, she joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union an organization advocating social reform and during this time Cora campaigned for women’s suffrage She said,
“If members of my sex appear at times to be inadequate, it must be because a wise God created them to match the men.”
In those efforts she formed the Manitoba Equal Suffrage Club with Dr. Amelia Yeomans, the first female physician in Manitoba, who frequently used her medical expertise to help unhoused women, sex workers and women in jail.
On Feb. 9, 1893, Hind and Dr. Yeomans staged a mock parliament in Winnipeg, arguing for the rights of women by taking on the roles of MLAs in the Legislature.
In the early-1910s, Cora formed the Political Equity League with Nellie McClung, who was arguably the most famous suffragist in Canada.
In 1914, the league petitioned Premier Rodmond Roblin for the right to vote but he refused to see them.
One day later McClung and Cora, along with the rest of the league, staged their famous mock parliament that was immortalized in a Heritage Minute in the 1990s.
On Jan. 28, 1916, thanks to the efforts of people like Cora, Dr. Yeomans and Nellie McClung, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to grant women the right to vote.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Nellie McClung Foundation, Memorable Manitobans, Wikipedia, Government of Canada, Canadas History, TIME, Library and Archives Canada, Edmonton Journal, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Regina Leader Post, The Great Depression