The Hall

Margaret Newton 1887-1971

It's difficult to imagine the farmers going on strike, but that's exactly what they threatened to do after the 1916 wheat rust epidemic. Unless Ottawa provided research money and scientists to find a method of getting rid of rust fungus, the farmers said they would stop growing wheat. Canadian farmers lost between $5 million and $10 million dollars every year to rust, with the figure going up to $200 million in a bad year like 1916. Despite its economic importance, even the most basic understanding of the wheat rust organism had eluded plant researchers.

I didn't intend on becoming a famous plant pathologist – an expert in plant diseases. If you would like to know more about my early life and education I would be happy to discuss that too, but my real interest is wheat rust.

When I was still an undergraduate at McGill, I made an important discovery that, for the first time, shed some light on this mysterious disease. This discovery launched my career, and I went on to devote myself to unravelling the complex nature of the wheat rust life cycle. I became, eventually, an international authority on rusts, and was invited to speak to scientists all over the world.

As a result of the research carried out by me and my colleagues, wheat rust is no longer a significant problem. Unfortunately, all those years of intensive work with rust spores damaged my lungs beyond repair. Researchers now understand the hazards of working with rust spores and wear filtration masks to protect themselves, but when I began my work we knew nothing of this. Would I do it all again? Yes, without even a hesitation.

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