FIFE, DAVID, farmer; b. 1805, third son of John Fife and Agnes Hutchinson; m. about 1826 Jane Beckett by whom he had eight children; d. 9 Jan. 1877, near Peterborough, Ont.
John Fife brought his family from Kincardine, Fifeshire, Scotland, to Canada in 1820, and cleared a farm in the newly opened Otonabee Township, Peterborough County. After David married, he settled nearby in Otonabee Township, where he lived the rest of his life.
In 1842 Fife received through a friend a small sample of wheat taken from a cargo from Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) as the ship was unloaded in Glasgow. David sowed the sample in the spring, but not many heads developed as it contained only a few grains of spring wheat – later identified as Galician. However, these were carefully harvested and multiplied. The new wheat yielded well, notably on heavy clay soils, was free of rust, threshed well, and produced flour of excellent quality, although it matured eight to ten days after the currently grown varieties.
Until 1848 Red Fife, as it came to be known, was grown by Fife and his neighbours in Otonabee Township, but in 1849 cultivation of it spread first into the adjacent townships and then “rapidly throughout Upper Canada so that by 1860, it had almost completely superseded other varieties of spring wheat.” It spread to New York State and Wisconsin, then to Minnesota and the Dakotas. By 1870 small amounts were grown in Manitoba and from 1882 to 1909 it was the leading variety in the province. However, as the prairies were opened to agriculture to the west and north of the Red River valley, an earlier maturing variety was needed to escape damage from frost. On account of its high quality, Red Fife was chosen as the male parent of the famous Marquis wheat and it enters into the pedigree of most spring wheat varieties now grown on the western prairies.
PAC, RG 31, A1, 1851, Peterborough County, Otonabee Township; 1861, Peterborough County, Otonabee Township; 1871, Peterborough County, Otonabee Township. Henry Bawbell, “Fife’s spring wheat,” Canadian Agriculturist (Toronto), I (1849), 302–3. Peterborough Examiner, 25 Jan. 1877, 31 Dec. 1929, July 1945, 12 June 1950, 24 Nov. 1958, 22 Sept. 1962, 15 Nov. 1963. A. H. R. Buller, Essays on wheat (New York, 1919), 206–15. R. L. Jones, History of agriculture in Ontario, 1613–1880 (Toronto, 1946), 103–4.